Saturday, October 3, 2015

Goat Cheese and Red Bell Pepper Stuffed Mushrooms

So, I took a new job in August. And I have loved it. As in really loved the new challenges and opportunities and expectations. It's still in education. It's still thinking about academics. But it is much more holistic than just literature and thesis statements and Virginia Woolf. Okay, okay some days weren't all about Virginia Woolf even six months ago, but now they certainly are not. They're about the history of math and STEAM curriculum and debate tournaments and experiential learning as it pertains to physics. And occasionally they get to be about thesis statements and Virginia Woolf.

But it does mean that the time devoted to my blog has been greatly diminished. Not to worry, though, as I still have many plans for dishes this fall and winter.

When this book arrived in the mail, it was clearly a no-brainer for me. I have made no bones about how much I love appetizers. Given an option for morsels, I find that there is no contest. Especially if said morsels are accompanied by a variety of sauces. It's why tapas and dim sum are my close friends. Seriously. I love little bites to pop into one's mouth, and often on a Friday night instead of cooking a full meal, I will stop by a local market and buy a smorgasbord of nibbles and snacks.

Martha Stewart's new cookbook, Appetizers, comes with 200 recipes, including a section on cocktails (hurray!), and a bevy of tips on how to host your next party. From sticking to a budget to front loading the work, Martha (or her hive of writers) assures us that we can still relax, remain calm, and enjoy the company one has collected for a party.

Martha clearly has bigger plans for my Friday nights.

I welcome you Burrata with Hot Pickled Peppers, Roasted Polenta Squares with Fontina and Wild Mushrooms, and Scallop with Watermelon Ceviche. Get onto my plate! But I will say that this cookbook sometimes dips into the 1970s. I swear that Chex Mix (which she calls "Salty-Sweet Party Mix"), Cheese Balls, and Fried Macaroni-and-Cheese Bites all make appearances in this book. And the font just feels a little "throwback-y" to me, too. However, I am not above Pigs in Blankets (see page 126)--especially if they come with a layer of tangy mustard and a sprinkling of poppy seeds on top.

So, last week, I made this little classic number of stuffed mushrooms, and it could not have been an easier or simpler return to posting. And who doesn't love stuffed mushrooms, whether they be such as these in appetizer portions that one can pop into one's mouth or the larger, more substantial portabello variety that one can slice into with a knife and fork and call it a meal? Martha offered up three options for stuffings--Kale and Fontina, Goat Cheese with Red Bell-Pepper, and Sausage with Herbs--and I went with the easy classic of Goat Cheese, in part because of what was in my refrigerator. I admit no other divine intervention.

I then shared these as a quick appetizer with my in-laws who made a spectacular meatloaf (seriously, we had a 1970s-themed dinner that had been updated to the 2010s--perhaps I should have made that Chex Mix) and an evening of watching the first two episodes of Show Me a Hero. Okay, okay. The husband and his parents watched Show Me A Hero.  

I fell asleep on the couch. 

Let's be clear. Even though I have a new job, my sleeping habits haven't changed.


Goat Cheese and Red Bell Pepper Stuffed Mushrooms

Makes 24

2 slices old day-old bread 
Small bunch of chives, coarsely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, coarsely chopped 
2 ounces fresh goat cheese
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
24 large button mushrooms, stems removed and caps cleaned

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Pulse the bread in a food processor until finely chopped (this should make a little less than 1/2 a cup). Transfer to a bowl. Combine the chives, bell pepper, and goat cheese in the food processor, and pulse until finely chopped and well combined. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with breadcrumbs, and stir to combine. Stir in the parsley and 1/2 of grated Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

3.  Place mushroom caps on a baking sheet, lined with aluminum foil. Stuff the caps with the goat cheese mixture, dividing evenly and packing tightly.

4.  Bake until tender about 25-30 minutes. Turn oven to broil. Sprinkle mushrooms with remaining grated cheese, and broil until the cheese is golden, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Ricotta Breakfast Bowl

It has been a little while since I have posted; suffice it to say that with the start of the new school year, the cooking has taken a backseat, or if you owned a station wagon in the 70s, the way-way back. The preparations for school have been in the driver’s seat, careening around like a teenager with a newly procured driver’s permit. However, don’t let it be said that I haven’t been thinking about cooking—and thinking about it a lot—even if I haven’t been doing as much of it as I would like.

I recently received an advance copy of Heidi Swanson’s Near & Far, a cookbook set to come out on September 15. You know it’s a good cookbook if one of your first thoughts is that you want to buy the hardback, full-color cookbook as soon as it’s released—which is precisely what I intend to do this Tuesday as a bit of a birthday present to myself. 

Heidi Swanson is the reason a lot of food bloggers became food bloggers. The original intention of her site—101 cookbooks—was an attempt to cook through the multitude of cookbooks she owned but wasn’t truly using (sound familiar?). She has since moved on to writing her own cookbooks, ensuring that I have even more cookbooks to neglect, feel guilty about, crack open again, cook from, rejoice in, and then neglect. Rinse. Repeat.

This new cookbook, her third, works under the premise that food should be grounded in place. In her introduction, Swanson discusses her copious journal notes that connect her both to home as well as to the places she travels. Embracing the seasonal foods of Northern California as well as the traditional ingredients found in Moroccan, Japanese, Italian, French and Indian cooking, Swanson circumnavigates the globe, anchoring you to a place with a simple meal, without too much fuss but with a plethora of taste.

I have dog-eared pages for Baked Oatmeal (California), Chive Dumplings (en route to any travel), Roasted Tomato Salad (Morocco), Farro Salad (Italy), Vin de Pamplemousse (France),  Baby Radishes and Nori Butter (Japan), and Aloo Bahji (India). But it is with the humble Ricotta Breakfast Bowl that I decided to start my own journey into Swanson’s book.  While Swanson suggests you eat this with a spoon, I spread this on toast. It was the ideal and uncomplicated way to make dinner after a busy second week of school—which is precisely how I need my evenings to go.  

Easy like a Sunday-afternoon drive.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


1/3 cup

1/3 cup toasted almond slices
Fine grain sea salt
1 small garlic clove
8 whole coriander seeds
1/3 cup fresh ricotta

1.  Grind the almond slices with a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt, the garlic clove, and coriander seeds.

2.  Top the ricotta with the nut-spice mixture and serve.

I ate this as a simple spread atop freshly toasted bread. You might choose to eat this with a spoon.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tomato Salad with Crisped Farro, Purslane, Arugula, and Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette

I have been eyeballing the new cookbook, The Broad Fork, from chef (and Top Chef judge) Hugh Acheson for some time.

Southern cooking is booming these days, and Acheson certainly is the expert in presenting it with all the flourishes of his French training tempered by the comforts of okra, gumbo, black-eyed peas, and grits. However, don't expect to see tired (although tried and true) recipes. No, no. Acheson punches up his grits to become "Crisped Pork Belly with Kimchi Rice Grits and Radishes" and his black-eyed peas transform into "Crisp Flounder with Field Pea Ragout and Herb Salad."

This is a foodie's cookbook with a lot of Southern zing.

Acheson asserts that he wanted to write this cookbook because he is a strong proponent of CSA subscription and farmers' market attendance. However, often people don't know what to do with the inevitable mounds of  sunchokes or kohlrabi or salsify that show up in the CSA box. (In fact, he opens the book with his neighbor who asked, "What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?") For a year, Acheson took the ingredients from his CSA box, developed four recipes for each star veggie or fruit, and we're all the richer because of his efforts.

Now there are no more excuses when the unfamiliar veggie shows up in the farmers' market stalls, and Acheson also promises that you can do fancy things with your carrots, cauliflower, onions, and radishes.

Roasting the tomatoes for the dressing.

With hardly a dessert in sight (in fact, the book boasts only three, one of which is "Persimmon 'Pop Tarts'" and thus seems less like a dessert and more a healthier alternative to industrialized breakfast fare), this book focuses on savory, refined dishes often with some pricey ingredients (veal cheeks, crab, and lobster come to mind). However, Acheson provides recipes for larder items (such as "Fig Vinegar" and "Vidalia Onion Marmalade") and some more basic and budget friendly weeknight fare ("Radish and Cucumber Sandwiches" and "Fried Brussels Sprouts with Lime Vinaigrette").

I thought I was choosing a more weeknight dish with this recipe "Tomato Salad with Crisped Farro, Purslane, Arugula, and Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette." And indeed, besides the crisped farro, everything about this recipe is geared toward a quick summertime supper or side. Certainly, one must roast the tomatoes for the dressing, but everything whipped up in a snap.

That is, except the farro.

And even the farro is relatively simple--it just takes a tad bit of patience. The cooked farro is easy enough to do the night before as a sidedish to, say, a pork dish (and then save the leftovers) or to do while the tomato is roasting for the dressing. It's the crisping of the farro that leaves me entirely out of the loop because it requires attention to detail while you ensure that neither the oil nor the farro itself is burning and a willingness to patiently wait so that the farro gets crisp (okay, only about a minute).

I'll admit: the husband crisped the farro for me. I know my limits.

The farro brings a nutty crunchiness that is a pleasant contrast to the juicy, bright tomatoes and the bitter arugula. And if you really, really didn't want to crisp the farro you could throw a handful of sunflower seeds or toasted pinenuts on top, but I promise you that you will be missing out.

And the purslane. Oh my. I, like most North Americans, don't generally use purslane in my cooking; however, the Europeans, North Africans, and Middle Easterners are onto something here. While North Americans often banish purslane (or little hogweed) to the weeds category, perhaps we should reconsider. Its salty sourness is similar to that of watercress but without the bite. It added complexity and depth to an already interesting salad.

Indeed, Acheson delivers on his Southern fare (even if this particular salad doesn't seem decidedly so), and I cannot wait to get my hands on some of the other recipes in this foodie-friendly book.

I think, though, I am going to wait until it's time for more fancy dining.


I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tomato Salad with Crisped Farro, Purslane, Arugula, and Roasted Tomato-Miso Vinaigrette

Serves 4

For the Vinaigrette
1 large heirloom tomato
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp white miso
1 tsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil

For the Salad
1/2 cup farro
2 cups peanut or canola oil
fresh black pepper
2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, cored, halved, and sliced into 1/2 moons
2 cups fresh purslane
2 cups arugula leaves

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

2.  To make the dressing: Core the 1 large heirloom tomato and cut into thick rounds. Season the rounds with salt and pepper, and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the tomato slices are very soft. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool to room temperature.

3.  When the tomatoes have cooled, place them in a blender and add thyme, miso, soy sauce, and vinegar. Puree until smooth. Then with the motor running, slowly add the olive oil.  The recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups (and you need only 1/2 cup for the salad). The other cup will keep for a week in a jar in the refrigerator.

4.  To make the salad: Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a saucepan and add 1/2 tsp of kosher salt and the farro. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook the farro until tender, about 25-30 minutes. Strain the farro of any excess water and then spread it out on a large platter or baking sheet lined with paper towels to get the farro as dry as possible.

5.  In a large saucepan, heat the peanut oil to 350 degrees. Add the farro in batches and fry until crisp (about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes). While you want the farro to be crisp, you don't want it to be hardened. Remove from the oil and drain on the platter, lined with fresh paper towels. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6.  Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a large platter and season them with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette over the tomatoes. In a large bowl, combine the purslane and the arugula and dress them with another 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette. Place the dressed greens in the center of the platter atop the dressed tomatoes. Garnish with the crisped farro and season with fresh black pepper.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Chiles Stuffed with Zucchini (Chiles Rellenos Con Calabacitas)

So I have to make this post somewhat quick, as I am about to run 6.6 miles this morning. You see, I am ridiculously running a 10k in three weeks as part of the Big River Run in Mendocino, and, well, I am absolutely unprepared and so thusly terrified. I think that the last time I ran 6.6 miles was two years ago. So this morning, I am giving it my best shot as a woman newly entered into her forties.

But before I do, let me tell you about last night's dinner.

Up here in Fort Bragg, I stopped by an absolutely delightful store, Astoria Home Store, that has been open only a month. I am in love with the owner's collection of Depression-era glass plates and her pretty combinations and platters. So, I swooped in and snapped up the lovely plates in the photos here. Aren't they gorgeous?

And what plates they were for this delightful, exceptionally simple, and remarkably tasty chile dish.

The recipe is renowned cookbook author and Mexican cooking expert Diana Kennedy's adaptation of a 1911 recipe from a book, Recitas de Cocina, that she happened upon in Mexico City. The original recipe was vague, saying to stuff the chiles with "zucchinis, onions, etc." Kennedy took the etc. to mean lime juice and oregano, and her more precise measurements have produced a tasty dish. The fruitiness of the olive oil next to the zing of the lime juice offset with the dusty green of the oregano is just perfect.

And if you weren't in the mood to stuff chiles and fry them, you could easily dice up a poblano, throw it in with the zucchini during the sauteeing process, and then serve the stuffing as a simple and summery side dish.

Kennedy does suggest serving the poblanos with romaine lettuce and radish flowers. I served it with a side salad of red leaf lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes with a sprinkling of queso fresco. All in all, it turned out as a beautiful late summer dish that is light, filling, and perfectly vegetarian. It was a perfect way to eat as I watched the sun go down last night. Not bad at all.

However, I have almost 7 miles to go log this morning. Enough talk. Time to get running.


Chiles Stuffed with Zucchini (Chiles Rellenos Con Calabacitas)

6 chiles (with a salad, it makes a light dinner for 4-6)

6 medium poblano chiles
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup finely chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 5 1/4 cups)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 tbsp wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (about 1 cup)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
lettuce (optional)
radishes (optional)

1.  To prepare the chiles:  To roast the poblanos in order peel them, you can do this on a grill (charcoal or gas) or directly over a gas stove flame.  Set the peppers on the grill over the flame, turning them frequently, until the skins become wrinkled and loose.  Tongs are the best tool to use for turning.  You can also roast them in a 400 degree oven or under the broiler--just put them on a baking pan and roast until the skin blisters.  For all of these methods, roast until the skins are charred and the peppers have collapsed.  Be careful not to tear the chiles as they collapse.  After you have roasted the chiles, put them in a bowl, set a plate over the top and let them stand for at least 10 minutes, if not longer (the heat and steam loosens the skin).  Once the peppers have steamed, carefully peel or wipe away the skins. Make a slit in the side of each chile and carefully remove the seeds and veins.  Be careful to leave the top of the chile, the part around the base of the stem, intact.  This step can be completed a day in advance.

(I'll admit I did not roast the chiles ahead of time. I wanted some crunch with the chile. You might not. However, cutting out step number one, barring the cleaning of the seeds and veins inside the chile, also cut a good deal of time.)

2. To prepare the filling: Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of the onion and half the garlic and fry gently without browning for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and salt and pepper, and cook until the zucchini is just done--about 8 minutes. (Squash vary in moisture content.  In this recipe, they should steam in their own juices, but if they seem too dry, add a little water; if too juicy, remove the lid and reduce the liquid.)

3.  While the mixture is still warm, add the remaining chopped onion, the remaining garlic, and the oregano, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and cheese. Adjust the seasoning.

4.  Stuff the chiles until they are full but will still meet at the opening. There should be about 1/3 cup of the stuffing left over, depending on the size of the chiles. Fasten each opening with toothpicks.

5. Melt the butter and remaining 1 tablespoon oil together in a skillet. Add the stuffed chiles and fry them over medium heat, turning them over gently so the stuffing does not fall out, until lightly browned.

6.  Arrange the chiles on a serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining stuffing. They can be served either hot or cold as a first course.  Serve with lettuce and radishes.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Strawberry-Kiwi Candy Smoothie

I hate to alarm anyone, but it's August already. How did this happen?

August isn't much for holidays. There is no Labor Day, no Independence Day, no Thanksgiving. But it does mean the anniversary of the signing of the 19th Ammendment (Aug. 26),  National Rice Pudding Day (Aug. 9), Bad Poetry Day (Aug. 18), and (as hard as it is for me to type here) Back to School specials (date varies).

And back to school means back to smoothies for me. For, you see, I am not a morning person. I have to leave my keys in the same place every evening, or I won't be able to locate them the next morning without a husband-led search party of himself and the cats. In fact, I usually shower, choose my clothes, and pack up my work bag the night before. I am lucky to make it out the door with deodorant on, with smoothie in hand, and with caffeine in my cup.

I have a smoothie for breakfast every weekday morning during the school year. I blend these puppies up the night before, put them in a jar, pop 'em in the refrigerator, and grab them (along with my sunglasses, work bag, easily-located keys, workout clothes, and purse) as I go. Perfection.

However, there's one small problem: all of my smoothies look and taste exactly the same because my modus operandi is to throw in all the veggies and fruits I can find in the fridge. You can imagine that they are often brown, indistinct, and a little unappetizing.

And now, lucky for me, I have a new cookbook by Tess Masters (also known as The Blender Girl).

Now, I know you could just use The Blender Girl's App or go to her website, and I can't say that I blame you. But I like a cookbook. (In fact, I am one of those Luddites who likes a book in general.) And this cookbook certainly delivers. With 100 (!) recipes for a huge variety of smoothies, the book boasts stunning photographs (by Erin Kunkel) and an exhaustive list (and benefits) of items that a well-stocked smoothie pantry should have.

You know what you're getting with these smoothies. Before each recipe, Masters labels it with the following: detox, energizing, inflammation, weight loss, protein rich, contains nuts, immunity, alkaline, and unsweetened. She then follows her simple and easy to follow ingredients list with three optional boosters that will kick up one of those labels.

Further, Masters details the six steps needed to make your own spectacular smoothies:

1.) Start with a liquid (nut milk, water, juice, coconut water)
2.) Choose a base (fruits and vegetables, could be a single flavor like watermelon or a combination of flavors like watermelon and strawberries)
3.) Include a textural component (bananas, avocado, coconut, yogurt, oats or other grains, tofu)
4.) Add some greens (spinach, chard, kale, arugula)
5.) Boost with nutrition (chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp oil, probiotic powder, maca powder)
6.) Add magic (spices, herbs, citrus zest, chocolate, vanilla extract, salt).  

Maybe with this list, when I decide to wing it rather than follow a recipe, my smoothies will stop being so brown.

My inaugural smoothie from this book was the Strawberry-Kiwi Candy Smoothie, which tastes just like candy, people. She calls this recipe an immunity blend because of the abundance of vitamin C in the oranges, strawberries, and kiwi and the probiotics in the yogurt. Add one or all three of the boosters (basil, 1 teaspoon flaxseed oil, 1 teaspoon camu powder) and you'll up-the immunity supporting properties, what with all of their omega 3s, fiber, vitamin C, antioxidants, and vitamin K.  

I did make some changes to the original recipe (which you can find here). While Masters suggests that juices "are generally integral to the characters of blends, so changing them may lead to innovations or to flops," I usually avoid using juices as my base in a smoothie, for they lack the fiber that blended fruit gives. Her original recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups fresh orange juice. I peeled 2 medium-sized oranges and threw them in the blender with 1 1/2 cups of water (I like a thinner smoothie, but you could go with as low as a 1/2 a cup of water if you like your smoothies thicker). I also switched out the flaxseed oil for flaxseed meal, (to learn the differences, see here).

Finally, while I made one version without greens (for most of these bright pink photographs), I did make another with a giant handful of spinach--smoothies are the perfect vehicle for those healthy greens that I just don't eat enough of because you don't really taste them--and I wanted to ensure that this recipe is school-ready for the fall.

Turns out it is: you'll note that it's, thankfully, more green than brown.


Strawberry-Kiwi Candy Smoothie

I made some alterations (see above for rationale). If you are interested in the exact recipe from Tess Masters, see here.

Serves 2

2 medium oranges, peeled and quartered
1 to 1 1/2 cups water (depending on how thick you like your smoothie)
3 medium kiwis, peeled and quartered
3/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
2 cups frozen strawberries
2 Tbsp chopped basil  (optional)
1 Tbsp flaxseed meal (optional)
1 large handful greens (spinach, chard, kale) (optional)

1.  Put all of the ingredients in the blender and blend on high for 30-60 seconds, until smooth and creamy.