December 22, 2011

Portobello Mushrooms

Frankly, portobello mushrooms are not my favorite, I often find them much more tough and dry than most mushrooms, maybe because we consume them at an older age than most other mushrooms. However, when portobellos are allowed to braise slowly with onions, fresh herbs and garlic, they become very flavorful and quite delicious. Portobellos, conversely portabellas, are, in fact, a mature variation of Agaricus bisporus, the common white or brown mushroom native to Europe and North America, which is known by many different names depending upon their coloring, age and location. Braising the mushroom cap on top of the onion gill side up, lets the onion caramelize and the mushroom to braise in its own juices, creating a rich and hearty dish. They are lovely served with greens, asparagus and salad.

4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed

1 small onion, sliced into 4 ¼" thick rounds

4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped

4 sprigs rosemary

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1. Coat the bottom of a large skillet or shallow pan with olive oil and arrange the onion rounds so they are evenly spaced in the skillet or pan. Place the portobello mushroom caps on top of the onion rounds, gill side up. Generously season the mushrooms and place a clove of garlic and sprig of rosemary on each mushroom cap.

2. Turn the heat on to medium-low, cover the mushrooms and braise until tender, 15-20 minutes. Occasionally check the heat, to make sure the onions are not burning, and reduce as necessary. Once the mushrooms are fully cooked and tender, remove from heat and set aside for 5-10 minutes.

3. Serve the portobello mushrooms warm, along with the cooked onions and juices from the pan, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 portobello mushrooms

December 14, 2011

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Sweet potatoes have been on my mind lately, possibly because they are commonly served during winter holiday meals or maybe because I am in the south, where sweet potatoes have been cultivated since the 16th century. In the southern States, sweet potatoes seem to be preferred over regular potatoes and due to their sweeter nature; they are found in a wide array of both savory and sweet dishes, including pies, casseroles, breads, stews and fries. Lately, I have come across sweet potato pancakes on menus and signs; at first I thought were similar to a European potato pancake using grated sweet potatoes as a base, which sounded delicious. However, I subsequently learned, in the south, they are referring to traditional breakfast pancakes, in which cooked mashed sweet potatoes are used in addition to the flour. I found baking the sweet potatoes before adding them to the pancakes, added a depth to the pancakes and created a rich sweet potato flavor in the finished product.

Sweet potatoes can be baked in advance. Sugar and spices can be adjusted to taste, depending upon personal preference.

1 lb sweet potatoes

2 c flour

2 ¼ c milk

¼ c butter, melted

2 eggs

4 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

½ tsp salt

vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the whole sweet potatoes in the oven and bake until tender, 30-45 minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly, peel and blend until smooth in a medium mixing bowl.

2. Add the dry ingredients to the blended sweet potatoes and thoroughly combine. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, eggs and butter, add to the dry ingredients and potatoes, and gently fold to combine into a smooth batter.

3. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat. Once heated, coat the griddle or skillet with oil. Drop about ¼ c of the batter on to the griddle or skillet, repeating until the griddle or skillet is full. Cook pancakes until bubbles appear on the surface, flip and cook until both sides are golden brown and pancakes are fully cooked. Repeat process with remaining batter.

4. Serve sweet potato pancakes warm with butter and maple syrup, if desired.

Serves 3-4

December 8, 2011

Ratatouille

From the French term touiller, to toss food, ratatouille is believed to have originated as a dish made by peasants around Nice in the Provence region of France as ratatouille niçoise, influenced from neighboring Spanish and Italian cuisine. Essentially a stewed vegetable dish, ratatouille generally contains eggplant, summer squash, bell peppers and tomatoes, which are baked, braised, roasted, sautéed or stewed with various herbs, garlic and onion. Because ratatouille can be made any number of ways using any number of ingredients, it is an easy and delicious dish to prepare and serve as an entrée, side dish or leftover. Baking the vegetables gives helps retain their integrity and them a rich flavor. Socca, beets and tangerines or polenta go well to compliment ratatouille.

1 small eggplant, thinly sliced into rounds

1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds

1 medium yellow squash, thinly sliced into rounds

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced into rounds

1 large tomato, diced

1 tbsp basil, roughly chopped

1 tsp parsley, roughly chopped

1 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until lightly browned, 5-10 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes and continue sautéing until the tomatoes are tender and beginning to form a sauce. Fold in the basil and parsley, simmer until herbs are fragrant and remove from heat. Cool slightly before placing tomatoes in a food processor, purée into a fine sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread sauce evenly on the bottom of a medium baking dish, roughly 9"x9". Layer the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red bell pepper evenly on the sauce. Drizzle the remaining olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper.

3. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake until vegetables are tender and lightly browned on top, 30-45 minutes. Remove the ratatouille from the oven and set aside to cool slightly. Top with Parmesan, goat or cheese of choice and serve ratatouille warm or room temperature.

Serves 3-4

November 29, 2011

Sesame Chicken with Mustard Greens and Shiitake Mushrooms

Mushrooms continue to be one of my favorite vegetables; both their firm yet tender texture and earthy flavor are appealing to me. Shiitake mushrooms are no exception, and might even be one the best varieties due to lovely appearance and smoky taste. Native to south Asia, shiitake mushrooms have been used in both medicine and cuisine for thousands of years. Though known by different names depending upon the country, the term shiitake, as we use in the States, is Japanese and refers to the type of evergreen tree on which shiitake mushrooms, among others, grow. Shiitake mushrooms have only been permitted for cultivation in the States since the early 1970s due to confusion with another variety of mushroom, Lentinus lepideus, which is an invasive species and prohibited by the USDA. Like other mushrooms, shiitakes are an excellent source of various vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein. Sesame chicken is especially good with rice and vegetables.

1 lbs chicken thighs, skin and bones removed

1 bunch mustard greens, roughly chopped

2 c shiitakes, stems removed

1 bunch scallions, cut into 2" segments

2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped

¼ c sesame seeds, toasted

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp mirin

salt and pepper

1. Place toasted sesame seeds in a bowl, add chicken thighs and toss until well coated. Heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy bottom pan over medium heat, add chicken and brown each side, about 5 minutes per side.

2. Once chicken thighs have browned, add mirin, garlic mustard greens and shitakes, reduce heat to low, cover and braise until mushrooms are tender, 5-10 minutes. Add scallions, gently stir to combine and remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve chicken warm or room temperature.

Serves 3-4

November 20, 2011

Succotash

Succotash, from the Narragansett word msickquatash for boiled corn kernels, is a traditional American dish with a base of beans and corn. Based upon similar dishes made by the Algonquian tribes, American colonists are thought to have interpreted and incorporated succotash into American cuisine during the 16th or 17th century. Many believe succotash was served during early American Thanksgiving meals and later became a staple during the Great Depression due to available, inexpensive and filling ingredients. Succotash can be made with any number of different ingredients including various meats and vegetables and cooked in a variety of ways including casseroles and potpies. I prefer the simplicity of a vegetarian succotash salad, though browned bacon is a delicious addition, because it can be served as a side dish, salad or entrée and tastes great at most any temperature. Succotash pairs well with german potato salad, zucchini-squash fritters and stuffed bell peppers.

2 c frozen lima beans, defrosted

2 ears corn, kernels removed

1 medium tomato, finely diced

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

1 small yellow onion, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped

1 tbsp butter

salt and pepper

1. Heat butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and parsley, stir to combine and remove from heat.

2. Place lima beans, corn, tomato and sautéed onions in a medium mixing bowl and gently fold to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.

Serves 3-4

November 13, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower

Sometimes it seems cauliflower is relegated to being overcooked and covered with thick sauces, neither of which seem to truly compliment the vegetable itself. Cauliflower, another member of the cruciferous family and so an ancestor of wild cabbage from Asia, widely cultivated in the Mediterranean thousands of years ago, popular in 16th century Europe and now commonly eaten around the world. Cauliflower, like other cruciferous vegetables, is high in nutritional value related to the antioxidant, detoxification and anti-inflammatory systems of the human body and comes in a variety of colors other than the typical white including orange, green and purple. Lightly roasting cauliflower brings out its delicious flavor while slightly maintaining its nice crunch. Roasted cauliflower goes very well with pumpkin purée or warm lentil salad.

1 head cauliflower, florets trimmed from stem

1 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread cauliflower evenly on a baking sheet.

2. Place cauliflower in oven and bake until tender, 8-12 minutes, stir occasionally to cook evenly and prevent overcooking. Remove cauliflower from oven and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve cauliflower warm or room temperature.

Serves 3-4

November 2, 2011

Kale Chips

Kale, a member of the brassica family, is a nutrient rich and delicious vegetable, which is gaining popularity in American cuisine. Kale contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatory benefits, cancer-preventing phytonutriets, cholesterol-lowering properties, detoxification support, fiber and a host of other important vitamins and nutrients. As kale becomes an increasingly popular vegetable, there is an increase in the varieties available, which creates more culinary possibilities and options. I like to prepare kale using any number of different techniques and in a host of different recipes. Kale chips are one way to consume kale on its own, as a snack, or in addition to soups and salads.

Any variety of kale will work, though the larger the leaf the greater amount of chips.

1 bunch kale, washed

¼ c olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely pressed

salt and pepper

1. Combine olive oil and garlic in a small bowl and set aside to marinate for 1-2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Remove kale ribs from leaves, and place leaves in a large mixing bowl. Add garlic and olive oil and thoroughly massage onto leaves until they are well coated. Season leaves to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Spread leaves evenly on a baking sheet. Place kale in oven and bake until crisp but still green, 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent over cooking. Remove from heat and adjust seasoning as desired.

Makes about 4 c

October 25, 2011

Bacon and Broccoli Quiche

A quiche seems like one of the quintessential French dishes adopted by American cuisine during the 20th century, savory cream and egg custard filling in an open face pastry crust. However pastries filled with savory custard date back to at the Romans and the term quiche comes from the German word kuchen for cake, as the modern idea of quiche came about in medieval German cuisine. Any number of different meat, cheese and vegetable variations may be made into a quiche, though bacon and cheese is especially classic given the popularity of quiche Lorraine. I am fond of quiches with vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, leek, onion or mushrooms in addition to desired meats and/or cheeses.

The bacon and broccoli can easily be substituted for any number of alternative meats, cheese or vegetables depending upon availability and personal preference.

1 c flour

½ c butter, cubed

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

1 tsp fresh herbs, finely chopped

cold water

3 eggs

1 c cream

1 head broccoli

2 strips bacon, thinly sliced

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

1. Combine flour, salt, pepper and herbs in food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until well combined with flour. Add water 1 tbsp at a time while pulsing until flour mixture just begins to hold together. Remove from processor, form dough into ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

2. Place flattened dough in between two sheets of parchment paper and roll dough into a 12" circle. Place rolled dough on a 9" pie pan, gently press dough into the shape of the pan and form edge of dough as desired. Refrigerate the dough in the pie pan for 30 minutes before baking.

3. Place bacon in a medium frying pan over medium heat and brown bacon, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Once bacon has browned, combine bacon with broccoli and set aside. Whisk cream, eggs, salt and pepper until thoroughly combined and set aside.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pre-bake crust until set and lightly golden brown, 10-12 minutes. Once crust has set, remove from oven, leaving oven on. Arrange broccoli and bacon evenly along the bottom of the crust. Pour egg mixture over broccoli and bacon. Return quiche to the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until firm and clean to a knife. Remove quiche from the oven and let cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

5. Serve quiche warm, room temperature or chilled.

Makes one 9" quiche

October 19, 2011

Sprouted Lentils

As a child, my parents co-owned a small sprout business based in Montana and only recently have I revisited the culinary practice of sprouting seeds. Germinating seeds into sprouts for consumption, either raw or cooked, is most commonly known as sprouting. Sprouting has a long history of use among humans, recorded by Chinese physicians thousands of years ago; sprouting continues to be a popular culinary tool in present day societies. To sprout any seed, two basic steps need to be followed including soaking the seed in water for a period of time and draining the seed thus exposing the sprout to oxygen required for continued growth. Seeds germinate best at temperatures around 60-75 degrees out of direct sunlight. Different seeds have different soaking and draining requirements, depending upon the dormancy of each seed. Sprouted seeds are a versatile ingredient and may be consumed raw or cooked depending upon the seed sprouted and personal preference. For more information on sprouting any number of nuts, seeds and grains, visit sprout people.

½ c lentils

water

1 quart glass jar

cheese cloth

rubber band

1. Place the lentils in the quart glass jar. Add about 3 c water. Cover the opening of the container with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Keep the container at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Soak the lentil for 8-10 hours.

2. Leaving the cheesecloth and rubber band intact, drain the lentils, thoroughly rinse them and drain again. Place the drained lentils at an upside down angle, to allow proper and thorough drainage (e.g. on an angled dish rack). Keep the upside down container at room temperature and out of direct sunlight for 24 hours, allowing the lentils to sprout.

3. Drained and mostly dry sprouted lentils may be kept in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.

Makes about 1 c sprouted lentils

October 12, 2011

Potato Pancakes

Potatoes were most likely introduced to Europe by Spanish explorer during the 16th century, so potato pancakes were born after their introduction. Potato pancakes are a staple of many traditional European cuisines especially in Eastern and Northern Europe and one of my favorite ways to eat potatoes. The vegetable pancakes are made using any number of different ingredients depending upon the culinary tradition followed, though all contain either raw or pre-cooked potatoes. I love them because they are reminiscent of the hash browns I loved as a child and can be eaten warm, room temperature or chilled with any number of toppings. Potato pancakes are delicious served with dark greens including collard or kale and bacon braised chicken.

1 lb new potatoes, grated

1 yellow onion, trimmed and grated

2 scallions, finely sliced

1 stalk celery, finely sliced

1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

2 eggs

1 tsp starch, potato or corn

¼ tsp pepper

½ tsp salt

1-2 tbsp olive oil

1. Combine the grated potatoes and salt in a medium-mixing bowl, set potatoes aside for about 10-15 minutes. Drain liquid from potatoes by squeezing them and tightly wrapping them in a clean towel, removing as much excess water as possible. Return drained potatoes to original mixing bowl.

2. Next, combine the potatoes with the scallions, parsley, onions and celery. Add the eggs, starch and pepper and thoroughly combine with the vegetables creating the batter for the pancakes.

3. In a medium frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of oil over medium-low heat. Place a tablespoon of batter in the pan, flatten into a pancake and fry each side until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Repeat process with remaining batter, adding additional oil as necessary.

4. Serve pancakes warm or room temperature, with sour cream or applesauce if desired.

Serves 3-4

October 6, 2011

Vegetarian Borscht

Beets were initially domesticated along the Mediterranean for their edible leaves and later for their sweet colorful roots. Though borscht may be served hot or cold, spelled any number of ways and made with a great variety of ingredients, the essential ingredient of borscht is beet. Borscht originated in Eastern Europe, likely in the Ukraine where the greatest number of variations on the soup are found and was predominately a peasant dish as beets were inexpensive. Eastern European and Middle Eastern immigrants introduced borscht into American cuisine and it continues to be a commonly served soup. Borscht is delicious served with a leek galette and arugula salad.

4 medium beets

2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 stalks celery, trimmed and roughly chopped

1 medium onion, trimmed and roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 sprig rosemary

1 sprig parsley

1 sprig oregano

3 tbsp butter

3-4 c water

salt and pepper

sour cream

parsley

1. In a large pot and steamer basket, steam beets until tender, 30-45 minutes. Peel beets while still warm and roughly chop. Set beets aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a large heavy bottomed pot, heat butter over medium low heat. Add onion, garlic, celery, carrot and herbs. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, 15-20 minutes.

3. Once vegetables are tender, add steamed beets and 3 c water. Return to a simmer, remove from heat and cool slightly. Using a blender, food processor or immersion blender, purée ingredients until smooth, adding additional water as desired.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add sour cream and fresh parsley as desired. Serve borscht warm, room temperature or chilled.

Serves 3-4

September 30, 2011

Fresh Lemon Tart with Sweet Rosemary Crust

Lemon, Citrus x limon, is the tart fruit of an evergreen, by the same name. Likely native to Asia, lemons were generally utilized for their medicinal properties as well as ornamental appeal. They spread to the Middle East and Europe about 2000 years ago, but were not truly cultivated until 500-1000 years ago. Lemons were brought to the States by Italian explorers, as they were being cultivated in Italy at the time, and eventually made their way into cuisine in the States during the 18th and 19th centuries as their cultivation increased in California and Florida. Lemons might be one of my favorite fruits to cook with due to its endless versatility. A fresh lemon tart is delicious with a little cream and a chilled glass of white wine sangria.

Lavender may be used in place of rosemary.

For the lovely Annie, on her birthday.

2 lemons, sliced paper thin

3 tbsp sugar

1 c flour

1 tbsp sugar

½ c cold butter, cubed

1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped

½ tsp salt

1 cold egg

1 tbsp butter, melted

1. Combine lemons and 2 tbsp sugar, cover and macerate lemons in a non-reactive dish for 12-24 hours at room temperature. After macerating, adjust sugar to taste.

2. Next, combine flour, sugar, salt and rosemary, add butter and gently work into dry ingredients. Add egg and gently work in until crust barely holds together. Place dough in the refrigerator until chilled, about 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using fingertips, press chilled crust into a 10" tart or 9" pie pan. Chill crust in pan for about 15 minutes.

4. Place crust in the oven and pre-bake until lightly golden brown, 8-12 minutes depending upon thickness of crust, watching carefully so as not to over cook. Leave oven on, but remove crust from oven.

5. Drain lemons, retaining liquid and spread evenly over baked crust. Combine liquid from macerated lemons and melted butter, evenly spoon over lemons. Return the tart to the oven, allowing lemons to heat and slightly brown, 2-4 minutes, watching carefully, so as not to overcook. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

6. Serve tart warm, room temperature or chilled. Plain or with cream or ice cream.

Makes one 9-10" tart