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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Okra with Black Beans and Avocado

I know that Greenmarket season is right around the corner, but I am getting antsy. I love my local supermarket, but I am getting tired of the predictability of what will be there every time I shop and feel like I am running out of choices.  I've got the winter doldrums and need some fun on my plate. Of course, there is always kale and the possibilities of what to do with that are endless, but aside from that, there is only so much broccoli a girl can eat.  And don't get me started on apples...  So I got super excited with I saw a few packages of Okra in the produce section.   I know it's not in season and we don't grow it anywhere near here even when it is, but this okra was calling me.  It just looked so lovely sitting there and it was reasonably priced and super fresh.  I could not wait to get it home and play with it.  After I complained to the store manager about the styrofoam plate it was packaged on...
The pods looked fresh and intact with no mold or soft spots, so I figured it would hold up to some high-heat and a bit of sauce.  
I decided to sear it to get a bit of a char and some smokiness.  The pods were also around the same size, so I was able to cook them in one batch, but I did them separately before the rest of the dish to keep them from getting slimy.  After the okra was cooked, I used the same pan to cook my base of peppers, onions, and mushrooms.  Then I took them southwest with fresh tomatoes, black beans and avocado.  I loved the big crunchy pods mixed in with the creamy black beans and the tang from the tomatoes and I had some fun colors going on thanks to my yellow baby bell peppers.  I served this as an entree but with the pods sliced after cooking, it would do well as a burrito filling or stuffing for a pepper.
I prefer fresh beans, but canned are fine.
The link to the post on how to cook dried beans follows the recipe.

Okra with Black Beans and Avocado  
Serves 2

About 2 Dozen      Okra Pods, rinsed, patted dry, ends trimmed if necessary
1/2 Red                  Onion,ends removed, peeled, cut in half then into large dice
6 Baby or 1 Large Pepper (I used Yellow), washed, dried, cored, cut in half, seeded, diced
4 Large                   Crimini Mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp paper towel, diced
1 Large                   Tomato, washed, dried, cored, diced
1 Cup                      Black Beans, fresh or drained and rinsed, liquid reserved
1/4                          Avocado, peeled and diced
                                Canola or Safflower Oil
                                Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Heat a large heavy-bottomed or cast iron pot over high heat.
Drizzle in about a tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat.
Add okra to pan in a single layer.
Cook over high heat, shaking constantly, until pods are sears, about 3 minutes.
Remove pan from heat, cover with lid and allow to rest about 2 minutes more.
Okra should be softened.
Transfer okra to plate, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover with paper towel, and set aside.
Return pan to medium heat and add a bit more oil if necessary.
To the pan, add the onions, peppers, and mushrooms, and cover with lid.
Cook about 3 minutes, remove lid, and stir.
Continue to cook until vegetables are somewhat soft - al dente.
Add a bit of bean liquid if the pan looks dry.  Increase heat if contents are too wet.
Toss in beans, tomatoes, and avocado; pour in enough bean liquid to cover the pan's bottom.
Stir well, replace lid, and cook 1 minute.
Remove lid, stir in okra, check liquid - should be a thickish sauce by now.
Re-cover and cook 1 minute, until hot - okra and other contents should be the same temp.
Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer vegetables to plate with a slotted spoon and pour sauce over.

For the post on how to cook beans from scratch, please follow the link below:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Broccoli with Peppers and Onions

This has been a long, hard winter here on the east coast (and pretty much every where else). People are looking a bit beaten down and I'm sure all those comforting meals in the dark have taken a tool on the American waistline.  Although I have no problem eating healthy through the colder months, I to0 get tired of casserole-y type things and miss my cold & crunchies.  The cool freshness of a salad is great as a post-workout pick-me-up and I love to snack on raw cucumbers and celery between meals, but when it's in the single-digits or lower outside, hot food is the most welcoming option.  To keep my dishes colorful and give them varied texture, I turn to peppers and red onions. Their bright colors keep things cheerful and still have a bit of a crunch even after being sauteed. The trick is not to add fats or other liquids which make them soften and swell. Broccoli, also affordable and available all, can add a shot of toothsome green to any dish.  I like to blanch some ahead of time and keep it in the fridge to add to finished dishes when they need a little something-something. Please eat the stems if they look good.  They are an amazing source of fiber.  But cook them separately from the florets as they take longer.
Here is a basic sautee using those lovely elements that I serve as an entree.  It would also be great over (brown) rice like a stir-fry, (whole grain) noodles, or as a side for a holiday meal.

Broccoli with Peppers, Mushrooms, and Onions
Serves 2

1 Head                     Broccoli, rinsed and drained, woody ends removed, cut into large pieces
1/2                           Red Onion,ends removed, peeled, cut in half then into large dice
6 Baby or 1 Large  Pepper, washed, dried, cored, cut in half, seeded, diced
8 Large                    Crimini Mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp paper towel, quartered
                                 Canola or Safflower Oil
                                 White Wine, Vegetable Stock, and/or Water
                                 Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a bowl of ice water.
Separate the broccoli stems from the florets and cook separately in 2 batches.
Blanch the broccoli florets in the boiling water until al dente, about a minute.
Shock in the water bath.
When cooled through, drain and transfer to a bowl lined with several layers of paper towels.
Repeat with broccoli stems, cooking up 2 a minute longer than the florets.
Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of oil in a saute pan and swirl to coat
Add the peppers, mushrooms, and onions to the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Stir with wooden spoon to lightly coat with oil.
Place over medium heat and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
Cook about 5 minutes and stir well.
Drizzle bottom of pan with stock, wine, or water if it looks dry.
Replace cover and cook another 3 minutes, until vegetables are softened
Add the broccoli, splash with white wine, stir, turn heat up to high, and replace lid.
Cook until the broccoli is hot, about two minutes more.
Season with salt and pepper and transfer to plate with a slotted spoon.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Egg-Topped Portabellas

Egg-filled Portabellas
Cross-section of finished dish

Although I eat a largely plant-based diet, I still do eat eggs - for now anyway.  They are a great source of protein, and Omega 3 fatty acids.  Egg yolks contain a substantial amount of Vitamin E, which is extremely important for hair, skin, and nails during harsh, dry winters.  At one time, there was a controversy about the yolks being too high in fat and cholesterol, the American Heart Association recently accepted that up to 6 eggs per week can be a part of a healthy diet, even for those on restricted diets because the benefits outweigh any negatives.  Of course, they are referring to the eggs themselves.. Once you start scrambling them with heavy cream, frying them in fat, and serving them on a buttered bagel with bacon, you've negated any benefits.  So, as with any healthy food item, simple is always the best way to go.  Scrambled plain, hard (or soft) cooked, poached, or steamed as -I've done here - are great options.  
Vegetables make a great vehicle for creating a substantial, healthful egg dish and are just as good if not better than bread for sopping up a nice, runny yolk.
Ones that are the size of a cracked egg or larger are your best bet.  Even better if they are hollow and have a space for the egg like mushrooms like in the picture or avocados.
Because of the size of the mushrooms, just one egg makes a hearty serving.
I like to cook my veggies first; roasted, sauteed, or blanched.
I did this all on the stove so I wouldn't have to fire up the oven (which is coincidentally still on the fritz), but there is a lot of room for improvisation here and, as always, I encourage you to tweak my recipes to suit your particular tastes and health issues.
Half a hollowed-out baked sweet potato with a layer of black bean salsa would also be pretty awesome with an egg baked on top. 

Egg-Topped Portabellas
Serves 2

2 Large Portabella Mushrooms, stem removed, wiped clean with a damp paper towel
2 Large Eggs
              Canola, Olive, or Safflower Oil (Not Extra-Virgin)
              Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Place the mushrooms in a large bowl.
Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and massage to coat.
Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat until it is hot to the touch.
Place the mushrooms, stem side down in the pan.
Reduce heat to low and cover pan with a tight-fitting lid.
Cook about 5 minutes.
Occasionally tilt the pan to distribute the liquid that will come from the mushrooms.
Check halfway through.  
If they are browning too fast or the pan gets dry, add a splash of water.
When the mushrooms are softened and lightly browned, flip with tongs.
Crack one egg into the cavity of each mushroom and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Drizzle a little more water into the bottom of the pan and re-cover.
After 3 minutes, lift lid.  Check to make sure mushrooms remain moist and eggs are cooking.
Cook 3-5 minutes more depending on progress, tilting covered pan occasionally.
Serve with a green salad and fresh fruit.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cilantro Mushrooms

I've done lots of things with mushrooms and they never steer me wrong.  I add them to pretty much everything I make because they are bulky and meaty and add depth and earthiness to dishes.  They go well in sautees and stir frys and casseroles.  I've also made them the main dish as well as the "meat" of a meal. Often, I use them as a side dish with little added other than some seasoning.  Here I've sauteed them with red peppers, onions and garlic in red wine with cilantro added at the very end.  
This can become a meal with some grated queso and whole-grain tortilla chips.  

Cilantro Mushrooms 
Serves 2

1/2 Large   Onion, ends removed, peeled, cut into small dice  
1/2 Small    Red Pepper, washed, dried, cored, cut into small dice
10 oz            Crimini Mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp paper towel, quartered.
2 Cloves      Garlic, ends removed, smashed, peeled, de-germed, and minced
Handfull      Cilantro Leaves, washed, dried, and chopped  
                     Canola or Safflower Oil
                     Red Wine 
                     Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper
                     Red Pepper Flakes

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.
Add garlic, cover pan with tight-fitting lid, and reduce heat to low.
Cook about 3 minutes, shaking pan occasionally to stir.
Remove lid.  Mushrooms should be reduced in volume and gently browned.
Pour in enough wine to just cover the bottom of the pan.
Stir well, increase heat to high and cook another minute or so until very little liquid remains. 
Toss in cilantro and just a quick shake of red pepper flakes.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir well to combine.
Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary 
Serve immediately.

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.
Add a little room-temperature water if pan looks dry.  
The peppers need the steam to cook through.
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.