Posts Tagged With: vegetarian

birthdays are better with ratatouille

I’m turning 30 on Friday, but this post is about a much more famous birthday.

All you foodie folks probably know that Julia Child, if she were still alive today, would be one of those 100-year-old ladies that Willard Scott always used to introduce on the Today show.

(Does he still do that? Is he even still on the show? I haven’t watched in a decade or two…)

What amazes me about Julia Child?

She wasn’t French, and yet she brought French cooking to America before people could just plop down at a keyboard and Google recipes for beef bourguigneon or ratatouille.

She got people excited about cooking outside their comfort zone.

And she wasn’t pretentious or snooty about French cuisine–her vision was that everyday people could use everyday ingredients to make delicious food. She was down-to-earth, funny, and so charming.

I can’t say Julia’s been a direct influence on my life as a cook, because I don’t own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (though I’ve adapted a recipe from it at least once) and honestly am not sure I’ve ever seen a full episode of her show.

But she has influenced my cooking–and your cooking and everyone else’s cooking–the same way the Beatles forever changed the face of pop music.

Rock and pop bands today, whether they enjoy the Beatles’ music or not (or, for that matter, whether they’ve ever heard of the Beatles or not) have been influenced by Fab Four. Music today is different, and better, because the Beatles existed.

And cooking nowadays is different, and better, because of Julia.

Now, the ratatouille.

Two weeks ago, I was headed to my good friend Amy’s house for a cookout. Her husband was grilling cornish hens, another friend was bringing bread, dessert was covered, and I was supposed to bring some sort of vegetable.

I had only been back from Portland for a couple of days at this point, and Micah and I had picked up a few things from Daily Groceries, but we didn’t have a lot of any one vegetable. That made it kind of hard for me to come up with any single side dish.

What did we have? Garlic, an onion, a few tomatoes. One eggplant. A huge summer squash. Three bell peppers.

Ratatouille, it turned out, was not just a practical solution for combining all those yummy summer vegetables. It was also delicious, and a natural complement to Trey’s perfectly grilled little chickens.

slow-simmered veggie goodness

Julia Child inspired the recipe I used, which was posted by Priya on her lovely blog, quête saveur. Of course, I not only multiplied the recipe by 1-1/2 for our large group, but I also made some changes. My apologies, Julia!

What did I change? I cooked the vegetables slightly out of order and all together instead of in batches to make this a super-easy one-pot dish. And I seasoned my ratatouille differently from how Julia wanted me to, because I didn’t have any parsley but did have some other stuff that seemed like it would work.

I don’t know how my results compared with Julia’s vision, but this ratatouille was darn good.

What’s in it:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant, about 3/4 pound, peeled and diced (salt it and let it sit for ~20 minutes while you prep the other veggies)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, about 3/4 pound, chopped
  • 1 large summer squash, about 3/4 pound, sliced
  • 3 bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 3-4 medium tomatoes, about 1-1/2 pounds, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the oil in your biggest skillet over medium heat.
  • When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes or until they start to become translucent.
  • Stir in the bell pepper and squash and saute for another 4-5 minutes.
  • Drain off any water your salted eggplant has released and add the eggplant to the pan. Cook for 5 more minutes.
  • Finally, add your tomatoes, lemon zest, and herbs.
  • At this point, your ratatouille might look a little dry, not stew-y and delicious. Don’t add water or chicken stock–just let it cook for at least 30 minutes. The vegetables will release plenty of liquid, and you’ll end up with a savory, hearty pot of stew that you can easily sop up with a warm slice of homemade bread.
  • Season to your liking with salt and pepper, and enjoy!

The best thing about ratatouille is that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways.

The night I made the ratatouille, we ate it as a side dish with those aforementioned cornish hens.

The next day, I used the leftovers as a salsa for brunch of leftover steak frites and eggs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I made a second batch at the end of last week, which we ate as an entree. First over some steamed brown rice (which was kind of bland) and then over polenta (oh, my goodness! highly recommended!).

The last of the ratatouille and polenta was also my lunch today, chosen over several other lunch options because, of course, I wanted to commemorate the Julia who inspired it. 🙂

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quick lunch – 7.2.12 – a bowl of Southern summer goodness

Summer in the South is a magical time.

A time when tomatoes plump to their juiciest fullness, when squashes just grow and grow and grow, when sweet corn practically bursts from its husks, when a myriad of hot and sweet peppers are ripe for the picking, when okra pods stretch to that perfect two or three inches, when pungent onions and garlic just beg to be dug up and sauteed in a bit of butter to mellow out and flavor everything you eat.

A time when, goshdarnit, I just can’t get away from Athens Locally Grown or Daily Groceries without spending ungodly sums of money on all those gorgeous, flavorful local veggies.

And, since I’m a teacher, summer is also the time when I can cook at least two meals a day if I want–and that’s quite often the case, because heaven knows there’s not so much time for culinary tomfoolery once school starts back in August.

So when I surveyed the contents of our kitchen a few weeks ago after a particularly splurge-y spree at the market, looking for lunchtime inspiration, here’s what I found:

all that’s missing is one of those fancy wicker cornucopias

A most inspiring collection of colors and flavors, if I do say so myself.

So I set to slicing and dicing and sauteing and stirring, and here’s what I came up with:

bright, beautiful, delicious!

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 2 cups stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium sweet onion (or, in my case, 3 tiny ones), diced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, quartered and sliced
  • 1 medium summer squash or zucchini (I used zephyr), quartered and sliced
  • 1 ear of corn, cut from the cob
  • 6 okra pods, thinly sliced (the smaller okra is, the sweeter and more tender it’ll be–look for pods that are 2-3″ long)
  • a big handful of cherry tomatoes (ours were sungolds)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a big handful of fresh basil, cut into slivers

Step-by-step:

  • In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the quinoa and toast it in the oil for about 5 minutes.
  • Pour in the stock/broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
  • Cover the quinoa and let simmer for about 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  • While the quinoa cooks, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the garlic, onion, and bell pepper. Saute for 3-4 minutes or until the onion starts to look translucent.
  • Stir in the squash and corn. Saute for another 5-7 minutes or until the squash is almost tender.
  • Mix in the okra and tomatoes and cook for about 5 more minutes.
  • Add the cooked quinoa to the skillet and stir just until the mixture is combined.
  • Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Divide your veggies and quinoa between two bowls and top with the fresh basil.
  • Eat up!

Our bowls of Southern summer goodness were enjoyed warm as a light but satisfying entree. For dinner, add your favorite protein for a heartier meal. (I’m betting shrimp would be amazing.) Or try this recipe as an excellent summer salad. Just chill it in the fridge for a few hours to serve cold alongside smoky burgers, crispy fried chicken, or your favorite grilled seafood.

And, of course, I whipped this meal up from a huge heap o’ veggies that I happened to have on hand, but you could easily adjust the recipe to match your own vegetable availability and tastes. As long as you use what’s fresh and in season, there’s really no way this quinoa veggie bowl could turn out anything less than fabulous. 🙂

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supper tonight – 5.29.12 – beet & carrot salad, couscous with lentils (plus a quick lunch with the leftovers)

Root vegetables.

They’re kind of amazing, if you think about it.

All you see above ground are stems and greens. Sometimes tasty, sometimes bitter. Sometimes edible, sometimes poisonous.

Who in our hunter-gatherer ancestry first mined the hidden gems that flourish underground? Who was first curious enough to discover that some plants have wiry tendrils for roots, while others stand on concealed, crisp, bulging nuggets of stored nourishment? Who was first brave or hungry or reckless or stupid enough to unearth and eat one of these mysterious fruits from the earth, willing to risk sickness or death for the sake of a strange thing that might–or might not–be food?

It’s easy to scout your garden for the perkiest basil leaves, the fluffiest fennel fronds, the plumpest strawberries, the tenderest figs.

But until you part the earth to release its buried root treasures, you won’t know whether your carrots are pretty and slender like a maiden’s fingers or knobby and hooked like a witch’s claws. You won’t know what shape your potatoes or yams have taken until they’re out of the soil and in your palm.

(You can estimate size, of course–pretty accurately, even–based on when you planted those veggies and what above-ground signals they’ve transmitted. But really, you will never know for sure until you hold those secrets in your hand.)

Here’s the other thing about root vegetables: you’ve got to work for them.

Fresh herbs? Snip a few sprigs as you need them. Fruit and berries? Pluck ’em from the bush and enjoy. Quick, easy.

But with roots, the magic happens under the soil, and you can’t see it or hold it or taste it until you dig it up, unearth it, get a little grit and grime under your fingernails. Brave the worms and grubs and bugs, brave the mess, brave the unknown.

Carrots and beets? Prepare to get dirty. Prepare to scrub. Prepare for food that doesn’t really look like food at first, not until you’ve shined it up and shown the beauty underneath.

And once you’ve unearthed these treasures, please, do let them shine.

the (mostly) unadorned beauty of roots

Our salad, enjoyed warm, was simple: roasted beets and carrots tossed with crumbled feta and fresh parsley, drizzled with a cumin vinaigrette. The recipe comes from our favorite cookbook, Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South, which I know I’ve written about plenty already. But it’s our favorite, so it’s hard not to cook from it as often as we do. 🙂

What’s in it (the cumin vinaigrette):

  • 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (another wine vinegar would probably work well)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (Hugh toasts and grinds whole seeds, which we didn’t have–I’m sure this would add even more flavor)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, and cumin.
  • Gradually whisk in the olive oil, then the mint.
  • Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

This makes about 3/4 cup of dressing, so you will have extra leftover after you make the salad. You won’t mind, though, because it makes a great dressing for other salads or a crisp cabbage slaw (which I’ll tell you more about in another post).

What’s in it (the salad):

  • 1/2 pound carrots, left whole or halved if they’re very small, or cut up if they’re larger
  • 1/2 pound beets, halved or quartered if they’re very small, or cut up if they’re larger
  • a little olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • 2-3 ounces crumbled feta
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons cumin vinaigrette

Step-by-step:

  • Get a pot of salted water boiling on the stove.
  • Add the carrots, boil for 1 minute, then remove to a bowl to cool.
  • Add the beets and boil until they’re just tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain the beets and allow them to cool for a few minutes.
  • Preheat your oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Toss the carrots in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, then spread them out on one side of the baking sheet.
  • Do the same to the beets, then spread them out on the other side of the baking sheet.
  • Roast for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and slightly browned.
  • Let the vegetables cool for a few minutes.
  • In one bowl, toss the carrots with the feta, half of the parsley, and about a tablespoon of the vinaigrette.
  • In another bowl, toss the beets with the rest of the parsley and another tablespoon of the vinaigrette.
  • Add carrots to your plates first, then top with the beets and a little more of the vinaigrette.

We followed these instructions exactly, but if you don’t mind your beets bleeding a little on the rest of your salad, you could certainly mix them with the carrots on the roasting pan or when you toss the veggies with the vinaigrette at the end. This is probably what we’ll do next time.

The amount of salad this made could easily have been a light lunch for two or sides/starters for four. We were pretty hungry, so we added lentils and couscous to the meal to make it a little heartier, plus a bottle of white wine, because…well, why not?

the whole meal, with Micah waiting patiently in the background

The flavors in our mugs of lentils and couscous paired perfectly with the salad, so I’ll share how I made them, too.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry lentils
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon dehydrated minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup dry couscous
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the lentils and stir around for a few minutes to coat them with the oil.
  • Add the tomato paste, diced tomato, orange zest, minced onion, and spices. Stir to incorporate.
  • Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.
  • Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are just tender.
  • Add the couscous. Bring to a boil again, then reduce the heat to very low and cover the pot. Let stand for about 15 minutes.
  • Uncover the pot, stir in the vinegar and white wine, then season with salt and pepper to taste. If you have more liquid then you’d like, you can simmer and reduce for a few minutes.

The orange zest, balsamic vinegar, and white wine brightened up the smoky, earthy flavors of the lentils and paprika, and the Mediterranean-inspired seasonings meshed beautifully with that colorful beet and carrot salad.

Really, the only problem with our lentil and couscous dish was that we made too much. If we’d eaten no salads, or much smaller salads, we would have had plenty of beans and starch for a main course–about 3-1/2 cups. But with our substantial vegetable dish, this was just too much to finish in one meal, so about a third of it went into the refrigerator as leftovers.

I love eating leftovers just as they are, especially if they were good the first time around (as this definitely was). But I also love experimenting with ways to transform old leftovers into something new and different, so of course that’s what I decided to do on Sunday for lunch. 🙂

similar flavors, completely different texture and form

What’s in it:

  • about 1-1/2 cups leftover couscous and lentils
  • 1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs (I used panko because that’s what I had in the pantry)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mixed Greek olives, finely chopped (or you could try subbing capers or a ready-made tapenade)

Step-by-step:

  • Use your hands to smoosh together the leftover couscous-lentil mixture, breadcrumbs, and egg (kind of like making a burger).
  • Divide the mixture into fourths and form into patties.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the patties to your pan and cook for about 4 minutes per side or until they’re nicely browned and firm.
  • Top with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of olives.

Wow. These came out better than I could’ve hoped or expected.

Of course I knew they ought to taste pretty good since we had enjoyed the original dish so much, but I worried about the texture. Needlessly, because the outsides of these couscous lentil cakes were nice and crisp, while the insides were moist and flavorful. Combined with the creamy, tangy yogurt and the salty, briny olives, this lunch was even better than the leftovers that inspired it.

So good, in fact, that I know we’ll have to cook up these little cakes again the next time we make a batch of that splendid root vegetable salad.

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quick lunch (for one) – 5.22.12 – zucchini frittata

What to do when your husband’s out to lunch and you need a quick meal at home?

Make a frittata.

I say this authoritatively, like I do it all the time. But in reality, today was the first time I’ve ever made a frittata, and it’s pretty rare that I’m cooking lunch for one. 

As I had never cooked this Italian omelet-like dish before, I kind of winged it based on my best guess (and what I’ve seen folks do on the Food Network). I knew I needed eggs, plus some kind of vegetable and/or cheese filling, and I knew I needed my skillet o’ stuff to start on the stove and end in the oven.

Apparently, that’s all you really need to know.

you say frit-TAY-ta, I say frit-TAH-ta?

What’s in it:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 of a large zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • a sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten with a little more salt and pepper
  • 1 ounce feta, crumbled

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a 6″ oven-proof skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to brown.
  • Add the zucchini, marjoram, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the zucchini is tender and starting to become translucent.
  • Pour in the beaten eggs. Let them cook, without stirring, for 3-5 minutes or until they are starting to set on the bottom.
  • Sprinkle on the feta.
  • Transfer your skillet to the oven and broil for about 5 minutes or until the frittata is golden brown and puffy (it’ll deflate when you take it out of the oven) and the egg is cooked through.
  • Use a heat-resistant silicone spatula to loosen the frittata from the skillet and slide it onto a plate.
  • Enjoy with fresh fruit, a green salad, and/or a slice of crusty bread.

Yum! Now that I know how to cook a frittata, and now that so many beautiful summer veggies are coming in, and now that I’m on vacation from school…I have a feeling I’ll be making more of these soon.

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supper tonight – 5.21.12 – hoppin’ john griddle cakes

Before you read on, I must tell you that this recipe lacks two main hoppin’ john ingredients: rice and salt pork. So it’s not quite exactly hoppin’ john.

Confused about who John is and why he’s doing all that hoppin’, anyway?

For all y’all non-Southerners, here’s some background:

Hoppin’ John is a classic soul food dish of field peas (or black-eyed peas) and rice, traditionally served on January 1st, often with a side of collard greens and some iron skillet cornbread.

Legend has it that this magical plate of food will bestow the eater with wealth and good fortune in the new year–and considering this meal’s easy-on-the-wallet ingredients and its hearty, homey flavors, I’d say it succeeds on both counts.

Anyway, rice and salt pork aside, our dinner last night did include the obligatory beans, greens, and cornbread, and it was certainly a fortunate experiment.

PBR not required, but highly recommended for maximum satisfaction 🙂

What you can see: savory cornmeal pancakes topped with a mess o’ collard greens.

What you can’t see: all the sweet, spicy, tangy potlikker those griddle cakes absorbed, plus a hearty layer of black-eyed pea hummus smeared between them.

Man, oh man.

What’s in it (the collard greens):

  • 1 tablespoon butter (or bacon/sausage grease for some yummy, porky flavor)
  • yield from 1 pound of collard greens, stems removed, washed, and chopped
  • 1 cup broth/stock (we used chicken)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (we used habanero hot sauce from TaylOrganic, a local purveyor of excellent canned goods)
  • 1 tablespoon sorghum syrup (you can sub molasses or brown sugar)

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the fat of your choice in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Toss the collard greens into the fat and stir them around for about 10 minutes or until they start to wilt.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10-15 minutes or until the collard greens are tender.

(Most collard green recipes call for the leaves to be boiled in large quantities of liquid for an hour or more, but we thought these turned out perfectly tender in very little liquid and less than half the time. Maybe the 10 minutes of sauteing helps…?)

What’s in it (the cornmeal pancakes–heavily adapted from this recipe):

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

Step-by-step:

  • Heat a skillet or electric griddle on medium to medium-high heat (about 350-375°F)–you’ll know it’s ready if a drop of water will skitter around on the surface.
  • Mix together the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • Pour the water over the dry ingredients and mix to form a thick paste.
  • Stir in the melted butter, then the eggs, then the Greek yogurt.
  • Use a ladle or measuring cup to spoon about 1/4 cup of batter onto the griddle for each pancake. (I got 8 pancakes doing it this way.)
  • Cook the pancakes for about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until they’re nice and golden brown.

(My pancakes omit the sugar from the original recipe because true Southern cornbread isn’t sweet, and I also left out the flour to really play up the cornmeal-y taste. I also subbed Greek yogurt for the buttermilk, just because I could. 🙂 Finally, I skipped and combined some steps at the beginning. Blame my friend Lazy for that one.)

If you follow all these steps, you’ll have four servings, with two pancakes per person. But, of course, if you’re really hungry or just don’t want leftovers, you could easily make two massive servings instead. (We were tempted to do this, but decided we didn’t want to have to roll ourselves away from the table!)

To put it all together, start each plate with one cornmeal pancake. Top it with a generous dollop of black-eyed pea hummus, then another pancake, then a towering pile of collard greens. Finish by spooning a good-sized ladle of potlikker over the top of the whole thing. Enjoy with beer, or an ice-cold glass of sweet tea.

I promise–you’ll feel quite lucky indeed.

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party snacks – 5.18.12 – black-eyed pea hummus

Growing up in rural Georgia, I didn’t learn much about food culture as a kid.

My mom’s part German, part Italian, so I did eat her homemade meatballs, and I watched her mom (my Mammaw) top hot dogs with sauerkraut (which I was pretty much disgusted by until I was an adult). And, of course, Hartwell has its small-town, Americanized versions of Mexican and Chinese food, so I snacked on plenty of quesadillas and egg rolls, enchiladas and moo goo gai pan.

I was never squeamish about eating foods that the Hartwell folk considered weird, but there just weren’t many opportunities to try anything exotic. I tasted sushi for the first time as a teen one evening before a concert in Atlanta. Fancy cheeses like brie and Roquefort weren’t even on my radar until I studied abroad in France my freshman summer in college. And at some point during my college years, the word hummus became part of my vocabulary.

I can’t tell you the first time I tried this tasty chickpea dip. It was probably at some party with a group of my more cultured college friends (the ones who grew up in the Atlanta burbs), and I probably smeared it on some pita points or raw veggies. There was no revelation, no magical, memorable moment when this amazing stuff brought me to tears. But sometime in my early twenties, I realized I loved hummus, and that was (conveniently enough) around the time when it became pretty easy to find in the deli section of most grocery stores.

When Micah and I got married at Farm 255 here in Athens back in 2009, one of the foods we chose to have on the buffet was the Farm’s homemade hummus, which is pretty awesome. Some of the Hartwell folk weren’t so sure about it, but we gobbled the stuff down.

Varieties of hummus abound, many made with the traditional garbanzo beans, others more outside the box, like Frugal Feeding’s butterbean hummus and Hugh Acheson’s boiled peanut hummus.

My newest incarnation of this now-ubiquitous party snack showcases the deliciousness of a humble home-style favorite: the black-eyed pea.

What’s in it:

  • 1-1/2 cups dry black-eyed peas + water to cook them in (shortcut: 3-1/2 to 4 cups canned peas)
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Step-by-step:

  • I used a slow-cooker to get my dried beans done overnight. 8 hours on low heat did the trick. You could also cook them on the stove, or just buy them precooked and canned (in which case you will most likely need to reduce the salt in this recipe!).
  • Put all of the ingredients in your food processor, reserving some of the cooking liquid (or canning liquid) from the black-eyed peas.
  • Process until your hummus is thick and creamy, adding extra liquid if necessary to get the right consistency.
  • Enjoy with chips, crackers, veggies, or whatever you feel like dipping! (Next time, I might try making mini cornmeal pancakes and topping them with the hummus. Mmmm….)

This stuff is so deliciously addictive. I’ve made it for two parties in the last two weeks, and it has been a huge hit! The cider vinegar adds a terrific tang, reminiscent of homemade pickles or the potlikker from a mess o’ greens. And the smoked paprika lends an almost bacon-y flavor. It’s amazing!

got a few cracker crumbs on my bowl of dip…oops…

My Southern-inspired hummus hasn’t traveled home to the boonies with me yet. When it does, I might just call it black-eyed pea dip so as not to frighten the locals. Then maybe, just maybe, for at least one adventurous Hartwellian, it could serve as gateway grub to other excellent ethnic edibles. 🙂

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quick lunch – 5.7.12 – quinoa with tomatoes, feta, and mint

Maybe I caught a little bug, or maybe it’s just the last few weeks’ insane rush of activity catching up with me, but I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather these last two days. My symptoms (headache, stomach cramps and discomfort, and some serious fatigue) don’t point to anything specific that I can think of, but I’m hoping that taking a sick day today and spending most of it working from home in my pajamas will help me recover enough to return to school tomorrow.

Yes, working from home. Since our students only have a week and a half left of school, today was the day to send overdue notices home with kids who still haven’t returned their library books. I’m also working on suggested summer reading lists that will go home with the kids in the next few days. So while I did stay home sick, I’ve actually done about half of the work that I planned to accomplished at school today anyway. Which still puts me a half day (or more) behind….but that’s pretty normal. 🙂

Sick or well, a gal’s gotta eat. Breakfast was easy–reheating a pear oatmeal muffin and brewing some coffee–but we don’t really keep much easy lunch food around the house since we usually take dinner leftovers to work with us during the week…and today, we didn’t have any leftovers left. So, I had to come up with something quick that I could cook without much effort.

Quick starches in our pantry included pappardelle, couscous, and the last of the rainbow quinoa, so I gave Micah his pick. He chose the quinoa (surprising, because although he likes the flavor, he usually gripes about it getting stuck in his teeth).

This was the result:

the mint was the best part…

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided in half
  • 2/3 cup quinoa (we used rainbow)
  • 1-1/3 cup stock or broth (we used chicken)
  • 1/2 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 4 ounces feta, crumbled
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

Step-by-step:

  • Heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the quinoa and toast it in the oil for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the stock/broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover for about 20 minutes. (I forgot to set my timer and let ours go a little long. Oops.)
  • While the quinoa cooks, crumble your feta, dice your tomato, and chop your mint.
  • When the quinoa is finished cooking, remove it from the heat. Stir in the remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, along with the vinegar, tomatoes, mint, and feta.
  • Divide between two bowls and enjoy! (We ate this warm, but I’ll bet it would be delicious chilled as well.)

I thought our lunch turned out pretty tasty, and Micah loved it. The feta, an Athens Locally Grown item from Greendale Farm in Madison, GA, was really delicious–Micah said it was the best feta he’d ever tasted! And I might just have to agree. That sharp, tangy, salty cheese made very good friends with the cool mint and the sweet tomatoes.

My favorite thing about this recipe is that I can see so many possibilities for yummy variations. Our lunch was kind of Greek/Mediterranean, but why not go Italian by replacing the sherry vinegar, mint, and feta with balsamic vinegar, basil, and cubes of fresh mozzarella? Or travel south of the border with fresh lime juice, cilantro, and crumbled cotija?

I’m still not back to 100%, but enjoying such an easy, delicious lunch definitely made me feel a little better. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

supper tonight – 4.16.12 – gnocchi with mushrooms and sage

Ah, gnocchi. When prepared correctly, these little potato dumplings make for a delicious, hearty meal. Imagine delectably light, fluffy pillows of flavor-absorbing amazingness. That’s how good gnocchi feels in your mouth.

Bad gnocchi is dense and heavy, sitting in your belly like a rock for hours after you eat it (because, if you’re like me, you just can’t bring yourself to waste it, so you slather on some sauce and choke it down anyway).

Hm. Now that I think about it, my first attempt at gnocchi sounds suspiciously like my trial run with biscuits. Both kitchen disasters were precipitated by a heavy hand with the flour and, well, heavy hands in general. Over-kneading a mix that’s already got too much gluten activating is a surefire recipe for dough-bombs. Not so good.

That said, we did not make gnocchi last night.

This dinner started back in January. I was laid up in bed after a hernia surgery, so my sweet husband took over pretty much all the kitchen duties while I convalesced. We had way too much milk that was about to turn sour, so Micah made a quick batch of ricotta (no cream, just 2% milk+salt+lemon+heat). Then, we had this massive bag of potatoes that my grandma gave us because she bought it…and then realized her doctor told her she wasn’t supposed to eat potatoes. (Don’t ask–I honestly can’t explain.)

Anyway, so we had a crap-ton of spuds plus about a cup of save-the-milk-before-it-rots ricotta, and it immediately made sense to cook this gnocchi recipe from Mike’s Table. (Not the sauce, just the gnocchi, possibly with substitutions…? I can’t tell you how the gnocchi making process actually went, because I was lounging in a lazy haze of prescription drugs at the time. I can, however, relate that these gnocchi are pretty darn ugly, misshapen, odd sizes…but they taste really, really good.)

Anyway, the thing about this recipe is that it transforms a boatload of potatoes into…a boatload of gnocchi. So we ate gnocchi that day in January (with some other kind of sauce Micah made using some other random leftovers), but then we froze a big bag of it for later. And since gnocchi’s pretty rich for everyday eating, we’ve still got a good bit in the freezer.

Fast forward to yesterday, when neither of us really felt like cooking, but we had some lovely mushrooms in the refrigerator that were about to not be very lovely anymore. (Speaking of mushrooms, anyone ever try growing your own? Apparently, it’s a great idea! :))

We adapted a recipe for gnocchi with a sage butter sauce, cutting the two-serving recipe down to one because, really, is it advisable to cook dinner for two with a half stick of butter on a weeknight? (Delicious, sure, but not advisable.) And we added our mushrooms (not part of the recipe) at the beginning of the process in the hopes that some butter would soften them up a bit (it mostly did).

Not the prettiest dinner (and why is the upper half blueish? I don't know!), but this simple meal sure was tasty.

What’s in it:

  • 2 servings of gnocchi (we ate about 12 each, but it depends on the size)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, slivered
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 3-4 tablespoons shredded parmesan

Step-by-step:

  • Start a large pot of salted water to boil.
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  • Add the mushrooms and garlic to the skillet and get them nice and buttery while you wait for your pot to boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, add your gnocchi and set a timer for about 2-3 minutes. Or, if you’re using store-bought gnocchi, follow the directions on the package. (These babies are done when they float to the top.)
  • While your dumplings cook, turn the skillet up to medium and stir in the sage, salt, and pepper.
  • When the gnocchi are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the skillet. Toss lightly in the buttery mushrooms until your dumplings are coated in herby, garlicky goodness.
  • Divide the gnocchi between two bowls and top with shredded parmesan.

While the recipe we adapted referred to the finished product as a sauce, the way we cut it down made it more like a glaze that coated our mushrooms and gnocchi. But really, if your dumplings are light, fluffy pillows of flavor-absorbing amazingness, they don’t need sauce anyway. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

supper tonight – 4.12.12 – an Ethiopian feast!

I mentioned a while back that I was reading the book Cutting for Stone (which, I’m ashamed to admit, I still haven’t finished–things really have been busy around here!).

Anyway, my book club meets monthly, and last Thursday it was my turn to host the group for dinner and conversation about the novel. The story is set mostly in Ethiopa, so I decided I would try cooking some native dishes for us to enjoy.

We have one vegetarian in our group, so my search centered around recipes that she could enjoy with us, and except for the chicken stew, the entire meal was not only vegetarian but also super-easy to veganize. Also, each individual recipe was quite easy, though cooking all of them in a few nights proved a bit of a challenge. 🙂

I quickly figured out that before you can cook Ethiopian food, you need two key ingredients:

  • Berbere: a spice mixture that combines the heat of dried chiles with the cozy warmth of all those great pumpkin pie spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)…not to mention a couple of ingredients that I had to shop for (fenugreek, cardamom pods).
  • Nit’r qibe: a spiced butter that aromatics are usually cooked in before other ingredients are added.

So, my first task was making big batches of berbere and nit’r qibe, because almost every recipe I found called for one or both, and I figured they might be good things to have around the house for future cooking adventures. And let me tell you, I fully intend to keep both of these in stock at all times, because they’re really damn good.

I also went ahead and mixed up dough for injera, the traditional Ethiopian sourdough flatbread that customarily serves as both dish and eating utensil. I still planned to provide plates and forks to my guests, but thought the bread would be good for sopping up all the stews and veggies I was making. If I were Ethiopian (or had access to a really good African grocery), I would’ve used teff flour, but I had no idea where to find that, so I followed this recipe instead.

Well, my injera dough was nice and thin like crepe batter, just like the recipe said. My pan was nice and hot, a solid medium-high, just like the recipe said. My dough spread thin and got nice and bubbly on top, just like the recipe said.

But  (why is there always a “but”?) somehow, despite being less than tortilla-thick, my bread was sticky and doughy in the middle no matter how done the outside was.

So, I scrapped that kitchen disaster and got Micah to implement the back-up plan, a mixture of white and brown basmati in the rice cooker. Not the traditional starch for an Ethiopian meal, but it was perfectly fine.

What did we eat with our not-so-Ethiopian rice?

The finished feast:

clockwise from 9:00 - fosoleay, atar alecha,
doro wat with hard-boiled eggs, misr wat,
gomen wat (plus rice in the middle)

Not only was dinner delicious, but we enjoyed a yummy pre-dinner snackie called dabo kolo. These are spicy little peanut-sized nuggets, kind of like a cracker. They’re traditionally fried, but mine were baked per the recipe I used and still ridiculously addictive! In fact, we kind of ate them all before I could snap a photo. But this is what they look like:

well, okay, these are much prettier than mine turned out!
(image from abreadaday.com)

Finally, I was at first saddened to learn that Ethiopia doesn’t really have a traditional dessert. But I did read about a traditional layered fruit drink that sounded light, sweet, cool, and pretty much perfect for ending our hearty, spicy meal. So I made my own version with pureed honey-sweetened avocado, mango, and strawberries:

So thick, you have to eat it with a spoon. The avocado at the bottom was the best part!

Micah and I are still enjoying the leftovers from this delicious feast, though I’m sad to say we’ve already devoured the dabo kolo snackies as well as the entire batch of split peas, so I need to make more. Soon.

I knew nothing about Ethiopian food before last week, and I have no idea if my dishes would pass muster with the natives, but I do highly recommend all of these recipes if you’re eager for some culinary globe-trotting. 🙂

Categories: places, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

supper tonight – 4.3.12 – arugula, goat cheese, and tomato pizza

Last night, I wanted to make Growandcook’s cauliflower soup for dinner.

Micah said he wanted something heartier than soup.

I said I could make grilled cheese sandwiches to go with it.

Micah said he wanted something heartier than soup and sandwiches.

I said I could save the soup recipe for later and make some nice, hearty pasta with arugula, goat cheese, and tomatoes.

Micah thought about it for a minute, agreed that pasta would be okay…but then said, “Just make the soup. I’ll eat something else if I’m still hungry.”

Argghh!

At this point, I was already a bit hangry (hungry+angry, see previous post about this here), and no matter how whole-heck-of-a-lot-much I love Micah, one thing that drives me absolutely bonkers is when he disagrees with me until I change my mind…and then decides to change his.

“So what are you in the mood for, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Pizza or something?”

Eureka! This conversation might’ve only taken you a minute to read, but I’m transcribing the condensed version. The actual exchange took at least five or six excruciating minutes.

My normal recipe for pizza dough (and bread, and dinner rolls, and calzones) takes a good three to four hours, as do many yeasty-dough-type procedures with mixing, rising, shaping, rising, and (finally) baking. No way in hell was that going to work.

So, my good friend Google helped me find many, many recipes with titles that combined the words “quick” and “pizza dough.” Some that required instant yeast (which I don’t keep around), and several that weren’t as expedient as advertised. Then, I found this little gem at Oven Love and decided to give it a shot.

The verdict? Although not quite as chewy-crispy-crusty as the long-rising recipe I know and love, this pizza was freaking awesome. And just as quick and easy as Natalie promised it would be.

I might've gone a tad OCD with the spacing of the toppings...

If you ever need to make a pizza from scratch in an hour or less, I highly recommend this recipe. Or even if you’ve got all the time in the world and just want to make a pizza really fast….well, this recipe rocks.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm (105-115°F) water
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, separated
  • 4 ounces fresh arugula (we used whole leaves, but would chop it next time for easier biting)
  • 4 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on how big they are
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F. Grease a pizza pan.
  • Put the yeast, sugar, and water in a large bowl (if you have a stand mixer, use the bowl for that).
  • Add the flour, salt, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix until the dough comes together, then knead for 5 minutes (by way of your stand mixer’s dough hook, or by hand on a lightly floured surface).

The dough really does turn out this beautiful! (image by Natalie from Oven Love - click to visit)

  • Press the dough onto your greased pizza pan, spreading it all the way to the edges. 
  • Brush with the 3rd tablespoon of olive oil.
  • If you like a not-so-crispy crust:
    • Go ahead and add your toppings (arugula, tomatoes, goat cheese) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    • Bake for about 15 minutes.
  • If you like a crispy crust: 
    • Slide your pizza pan in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. 
    • Remove the partially baked crust to a cutting board. 
    • Top with the arugula, tomatoes, and goat cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    • Bake for 8-10 more minutes directly on the oven rack. 
  • Stuff your face with piping hot, delicious pizza! 

The last step: give your husband a big hug and apologize for being so cranky earlier about cooking dinner. And plan to cook the cauliflower soup the day after tomorrow, because tomorrow night, you’ll want to eat the rest of this pizza. 🙂

Categories: links, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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