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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Blistered Baby Bell Peppers

Thanks to a week at a hotel in DC down the street from a nice little gastropub, blistered shishito peppers have my new favorite bar snack.  I love to come home and re-create food I've had in my travels, but of course, I never end up copying the actual dist verbatim and often just take the essence of the dish.  For my version, I decided to use the colorful baby bell peppers I love so much as a less spicy and more accessible alternative.
Because I am cooking at home and not in a well-ventilated, temperature -controlled restaurant kitchen, I knew I could not cook them in as hot a pan uncovered or for as long as I would have on the job.  And because the effing oven is still out of service, broiling was not an option - although I recommend either of those for you to try.  The method below created a soft, slightly-charred product with a sweet flavor, perfect for eating by the fire on a cold winter night. 
With any food that has natural size variances, I suggest sorting the peppers by size and cooking them in like batches.  You may core them before cooking if desired, but the peppers hold together better and steam from the inside if you leave them intact.  The stems pull off the blistered peppers easily and most of the seeds will come with it.  Eating a couple of is harmless and not unpleasant.  I like mine plain, just sprinkled with sea salt.  
But for a party, I might pull out the cores and stuff them goat cheese.  They are great hot or room temperature, but tasty cold as well.  Leftovers may be refrigerated, diced, and chopped into salads, a stir fry, or pretty much any other main dish.

Blistered Baby Bell Peppers
Serves 2-4

About 2 Dozen  Baby Bell/Shishito Peppers, washed, dried, separated by size into 2 batches
                            Canola or Safflower Oil
                            Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper
                            Sea Salt to finish

Line a plate with at least 2 layers of paper towels.
Place a heavy-bottomed saute or cast-iron pan over medium heat.
Put the largest peppers into a large bowl.
Drizzle with about a tablespoon of oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
Pour the peppers into the pan and cook about 5 minutes.
Shaking the pan constantly to char all of the peppers on all sides.
Reduce heat to low and cover pan with tight-fitting lid.
Cook until soft, about 5 minutes more. 
Transfer to towel-lined plate, sprinkle with salt, toss to coat.
Repeat with second batch of peppers, cooking for slightly shorter periods of time.
Serve hot.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mexican-Style Skillet Breakfast

In teaching beginner cooks kitchen basics, I remind my students that practice in cooking is just as important as in any other craft.  The more familiar you are with a recipe, the better the final product will be. You know "If at first, you don't succeed; try, try again". At the same time, I encourage experimentation and tweaking recipes based on the cook's own abilities, needs, and preferences. So I provide some saves for recipes gone awry - including; "If all else fails, crack an egg over it".  This adage can hold true for many savory dishes.  Not only are eggs a hearty add-in to boost the protein in a dish, they also have the effect of turning just about any hot dish into a fancy brunch item.  Here, I turned a bowl of chili into a hearty breakfast by warming it in a saute pan and adding a pair of eggs.  The link to the original chili recipe is provided below.

Mexican-Style Skillet Breakfast
Serves 1

1 Cup      Fresh or Canned Chili
2 Large   Eggs
1 oz         Grated Cheddar Cheese
                Capsaicin or Tabasco Hot Sauce to Taste
                Bean Liquid
                Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper
                Canola or Vegetable Oil Spray
                Nonfat Greek Yogurt/Sour Cream and Warm Whole-Wheat Tortilla optional

Spray a small saute pan with oil and place over medium heat.
Pour in chili and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is boiling.
Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a heavy stock pot over medium heat.
Crack the eggs over the pan in pour evenly over chili.
Sprinkle cheese over top and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
Cook 3-5 minutes, until eggs are set.
Loosen chili from the bottom and sides of the pan with a heat-proof spatula.
Carefully slide egg-topped chili onto plate with spatula
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and splash with hot sauce.
Serve hot!  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Goat Milk and Beet Ice Cream with Toasted Walnuts

I don't eat eat ice cream frequently, but it is definitely one of those quintessentially "summer" foods that are fun to indulge in on occasion.  When I do have some, I just have a little and choose a healthy option.  Making my own allows me to control what's in it.  That also makes me enjoy and appreciate it more that just ordering it from the window of a Mister Softee truck or picking it up in a carton at the supermarket.  I make my ice cream using a custard base.  I find it give the most authentic taste and texture.  It contains eggs and full-fat milk, so it is not low calorie or low fat.  But ice cream is a "sometimes" food.  It is not the type of dessert that one should consume regularly or in large portions.  Plus, if it tastes good, you need less to be satisfied.
In making my own ice cream, I get a thrill out of creating my own unique, signature flavors that celebrate the season.  I've done Peach Praline and Wild Black Raspberry-Cinnamon in summers past.  This one in particular, I had been making in my mind for a while before I actually had a chance to put the recipe in action.  Since I don't care for things that are super sweet, I wanted to do something unique and savory, but still suitable for dessert.  There was a trend a few years ago of ice creams with basil and even garlic and some high-end restaurants still serve ice creams, sorbets, and gelatos that are not sweet as a palate-cleanser.  I have yet to see any like the one I imagined, tho.  The idea came to me two summers ago at the county fair.  There was a vegetable stand, animal barns, nuts roasting, and a slow-churn ice cream truck.  All of those smells together were so wonderful to me - nostalgic and earthy - a collaboration of everything the season means to me.  Here, I attempted to bring the essence of that experience together with goat milk, beets, and walnuts.  It may sound crazy, but the result was amazing.  The flavors are not an uncommon pairing, but the setting makes it fun, especially with that bright pink color. Which makes me think of red hot fire balls.   Hmmm...cinnamon and Tabasco, perhaps?  Maybe next summer.

Goat Milk and Beet Ice Cream with Toasted Walnuts
Makes about 2 quarts

3 Cups    Goat Milk + More for pureeing beets
1/2 Cup  Sugar Substitute - I used Coconut Crystals, but Stevia would also work
1              Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped OR 1 tsp Vanilla or other Extract
4 Large   Egg Yolks
2 Large   Beets, washed, roasted, peeled, and pureed with about 3 Tbsp Goat Milk
1 Cup       Walnuts, toasted and chopped

Freeze ice cream machine canister overnight.

Set a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl set over an ice-water bath and set aside.
Combine goat milk, 1/4 cup of sweetener, vanilla seeds and pod in a medium saucepan. 
Place over medium heat and stir well.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugars are dissolved, and steam appears, about 5 minutes.
In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup sweetener until thick and smooth.
Slowly whisk the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, a few tablespoons at a time.
This will incorporate the milk into the eggs without cooking them.
Then, slowly whisk the tempered egg yolks back into the remaining hot milk mixture.
Cook custard over medium heat, stirring frequently until is it very hot but not simmering.
Strain batter into the prepared bowl in the ice bath.
Cool mixture, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
Remove the custard bowl from the ice bath an wipe the water from the bottom.
Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 3 hours.
Take custard from the freezer and stir in the pureed beets until homogeneous.
Place frozen canister in ice cream machine and turn it on.
Pour batter into the canister and churn according to machine’s instructions.
Mine takes about 20 minutes to reach the consistency of soft serve.
Add the chopped walnuts and churn about 30 seconds before stopping the machine.
Transfer the ice cream to an airtight, freezable container.
Press plastic wrap against the surface and cover with a lid.
Cover the container and freeze until firm, about 3 hours.
Remove from freezer about 20 minutes before serving to temper.
This ice cream will last months in the freezer.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Buffalo Green Beans

I was not super hungry for lunch today.  I did feel like I wanted something a little more interesting and substantial than just the raw cucumber spears and sugar snaps I like to much on, tho.  I had some lovely green beans from the farmer's market that I thought would be nice broiled.  As I pulled my cast iron pan out the the oven - where I store it - I had the genius idea to season them like chicken wings.
So I whipped up a quick batch of sauce.  I tossed the beans in it before cooking and sprinkled some bleu cheese on them at the very end of cooking.  Definitely one of my better ideas.  They were delicious and a handful of beans prepared this way with a little cheese was very filling and still pretty healthy.
I'm thinking this will make a nice addition to our Super Bowl snack table.

Buffalo-Wing Style Green Beans
Serves 1-2

1/2 lb    Green Beans, washed, dried, ends snipped if desired
2 Tbsp  Cayenne Pepper Sauce like Frank's Red Hot
2 Tbsp  White Vinegar
1 Tbsp    Canola or Peanut Oil
               Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper
               Bleu Cheese Crumbles 
               Bleu Cheese Dressing for Dipping if desired

Place oven rack in the top position.
In a medium bowl, combine the pepper sauce and vinegar and drizzle with oil.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and whisk until combined and thickened.
Add beans to bowl and toss well to coat.
Arrange beans in a single layer on a sheet tray and drizzle over any remaining liquid.
Place in the oven and set to broil on low.
Cook beans until they begin to soften, about 15 minutes.
Remove tray from oven, stir beans, and replace on oven rack.
Cook about 5 minutes more.
Take tray out once again, stir again, and sprinkle with cheese.
Place tray in oven, increase heat to high, and cook one minutes.
Sprinkle with salt and serve hot with bleu cheese dressing if desired.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Spinach with Oyster Mushrooms & Cannellinis

I love mushrooms and cook with the run-of-the-mill white buttons or baby 'bellas quite regularly.   
I don't often splurge on the fancy ones, tho. I make most meals at home and try to keep my grocery costs down by limiting the super gourmet purchases like truffle oil and fresh figs to special occasions. So when I see oysters, shiitakes, enokis, or a pre-packaged combination of varieties marked down at the store, I grab them (and give 'em a thorough inspection, of course).  
I like to use hearty fungi like Oysters and Maitakes as the meat in a main dish but really, any type will do.  Their earthiness goes especially well with spinach and kale and those pairings provide a nice contrast in color and texture as well as just about every nutrient a body needs.  A pop of color from tomatoes, red pepper, or both, makes a well-rounded dish as I've done here.  White beans tossed in at the end make it super filling and protein-rich.
The mushrooms cook fast and if you use canned beans, this meal can be put together in about 20 minutes including prep.

Spinach with Oyster Mushrooms and Cannellinis
Serves 2

1/2 Large  Onion, ends removed, peeled, cut in half, thinly sliced (I used red and white)
1/2              Red Pepper, washed, dried, cored, thinly sliced
6 oz             Oyster Mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp paper towel, and pulled into strips.
2 Cloves     Garlic, ends removed, smashed, peeled, de-germed, and minced
1/2 Large  Beefsteak Tomato, washed, dried, cored, and diced
3 Cups        Spinach, washed, dried, woody stems removed if necessary
1 Cup          Cannellini Beans (2/3 of a 15 oz can, drained and rinsed)
                    Canola or Safflower Oil
                    Vegetable Stock
                    Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a large shallow pan over medium heat.
Add onions to pan and stir well to coat.
Cook about 2 minutes to soften and stir in the red pepper.
Increase heat to high and toss in the mushrooms.
Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until softened and browned.
If pan gets dry, remove from heat for a moment and drizzle with a little bit vegetable stock.
Be careful not to get splashed with hot stock.
Return pan to stove and stir in garlic and tomatoes.
Cook about 1 minute and stir in beans.
Reduce heat to low, pour in a few tablespoons of vegetable stock, and stir in spinach.
Cover pan with a tight-fitting lid.
Cook about 3 minutes until spinach is soft and beans are warmed through.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir or toss with tongs.
Serve immediately. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Vegan Kale and White Bean Souffle

I enter a lot of contests.  I like winning things, so this is something I do for fun.  I have won a jar of Turmeric from an herbal supply store, tickets to a food festival, and passes to a ski resort.  I am super competitive and have been known to launch aggressive FB and email campaigns like the one to win a year of dresses or my annual appeal to be on the cover of Fitness Magazine.  More frequently than not, tho, the challenges are of a professional nature.  Most of what I do is about working toward my goal of having my own cooking show, bringing traffic to this blog, and raising funds to start a mobile cooking school. So I go on auditions, submit recipes, and yes, go on reality cooking shows with cash prizes when they'll have me.  I fully understand that the likelihood of me "winning" any of these "prizes" are slim at best.  So I don't beat myself when I get a "no" or don't receive any notification at all.  It is a lot to keep track of and if I won't take home top prize, it can be easier to bear when I just read the list of winners after it's all over.  That is how I found out that I didn't win (or place or even get an "Honorable Mention") in a magazine's reader brunch recipe call.  I had forgotten all about the deadline for notifying the winner and saw the photos of their favorite dishes in this month's copy.  Because I have simultaneous pending entries going on at once, it helps to be organized. I create an online folder for each contest and keep the application, rules, photos, and any other respective pertinent information about it in the folder. Unfortunately, I can't post any of this stuff on my blog for the sake of confidentiality.  I say "unfortunate", because these folders contain some of my best work - mean to win and impress.  So the upside of learning the results - win or lose - is that I can finally share my entry.
I made this souffle for Vegetarian Times "Best of Brunch" reader recipe contest back in January.  I wanted to do something original and healthy, so of course it is packed with kale.  I made it vegan because I thought that would give it a broader appeal but listed the dairy options as well.  Turns out this was apparently not what the staffers were looking for and the gold went to Pancakes, Oatmeal, French Toast, and Eggs.  Go figure.  Perhaps my time has yet to come in that arena.  At least now I can share it with you.  I think you're going to love it.

“Cheese-y” Vegan Kale and White Bean SoufflĂ©

Makes one 8” “cake”
Serves 8 as a Side or Appetizer, 4 as a Main Course

Start to Finish: 1 hour

1 Tbsp                  Powdered Egg Replacer or 2 Large Eggs
½ Cup                  Unsweetened Almond Milk or Fat Free Milk
1 Bunch                Kale – washed and dried, ribs removed (about 12 oz)
1 Cup                    Soy or Nut Cheese, grated or Monterey Jack
1 clove                  Garlic, minced
15 oz Can             Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
                              Cooking Spray
                              Kosher Salt
                              Freshly-Ground  Black Pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Coat cake pan with cooking spray.
Whisk the egg or egg replacer powder into the almond milk.
Beat until frothy and thickened
In the food processor, add a small amount of kale and chop finely.
Continue with the rest of the kale, adding it in small batches.
Add the garlic, cheese, egg substitute and almond milk mixture, and half the beans.
Process until just combined.
Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber or silicone spatula.
Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper and stir in remaining beans.
Run the processor again for about 10 seconds.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl again, remove the blade, and scrape that off.
Stir well.  Batter will be thick and there should be pieces of cheese and beans intact.
Pour kale mixture into prepared pan and place in the oven.
Check and rotate cake after 20 minutes
Bake until set.
Toothpick inserted into the center will come out fairly clean, about 40 minutes total.
Remove from oven and let stand in the pan for 5 minutes.
Run a knife along the sides of pan to loosen.
Place a plate over the top of pan and turn out onto it.
Flip onto cutting board and cut into slices. 
Serve warm.
Cool any unused cake to room temperature and refrigerate up to three days or freeze up to a month.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


I eat a low carb, low fat, and low G.I. diet. It's not that weird or difficult honestly.  However, it would not be unusual for you to find me picking bits of cheese or croutons from what most people would consider the healthiest of salads.  I am also not a huge "snack"er.  If I start to feel hungry and it's not mealtime, I am more likely to reach for an apple than a bag of chips, since I steer clear of the processed foods as well.  That being said, I do loves me some popcorn.  Aside from fruit or vegetables, it can be one of the healthiest and most fun treats out there.  Plain, air-popped popcorn is low fat, full of antioxidants, high in dietary fiber, low on the glycemic index, and 100% whole grain at just 31 calories per cup.  
Plain popcorn.  Air-popped.  No butter.  Some people find plain popcorn to be dry and bland. You can eat it that way a few times and eventually, you may re-train your taste buds to appreciate the subtle, toasty flavor and amazing texture.  Or you can shoot it with a little bit of peanut oil and a few splashes of hot sauce like I do. Like I wrote, it "can" be a healthy food.  Once you start adding salt and fat, it becomes less healthy altogether.  Once you get into "Movie Theater" territory, you might as well eat a Big Mac.  I have seen not-so-horrible bags of air-popped, lightly seasoned stuff at the health food store, but you've got to read the label. Microwave options may be fresher, but I have found there is controversy over potential release of toxins when nuking those serving/storage bags. I have an air popper that my mom bought me when I got my first apartment more than mumble mumble years ago and it's still one of my favorite electric appliances.  Sometimes, I place the popper and bowl on the floor and let the cats try to catch the fluffy white stuff as it comes out.  We also have one of those hand-crank stove top models that makes you feel like you're actually cooking and does emit more of that fresh-popped aroma.  Fancy apparatus is optional, of course.  The "big pot on the stove" method most of us grew up with still does the same thing and you really don't need the 2 or more tablespoons of oil that you think you do.  Spraying the pan with oil is fine.  It will even cook properly dry if you keep the pan moving.  Or you can just toss 4 tablespoons of popping corn in a paper bag, fold it over a few times, and cook it in the microwave, folded side down, for 1 1/2-2 minutes.  

Air-Popped Popcorn

1/4 Cup White Popping Corn (Organic, if possible)
                Peanut Oil Spray
                Hot Sauce (Optional)
                Medium-to-Fine Ground Sea Salt

Place a large bowl under the spout of popper.
Turn the machine on and give it a moment to warm up.
Pour in the corn.
Enjoy a moment of Zen while the kernels swirl around the machine and allow the warm vapors to open your pores.
Keep an eye on the popcorn as it comes out of the spout as it may not always hit the bowl.
Serve hot and plain or season gingerly with a spritz of oil, dash of salt, hot sauce if you desire.