Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup

If there's a vegetable I'm not such a fan of, I'm afraid it'd have to be the bell pepper. It usually does nothing for me. I don't really like the taste and it's not like it adds any heat like its friend higher up on the Scoville scale. I really think that their only reason for evolutionary survival is the color that they add to dishes and that's about it.

So now that I've probably bored you with that intro, sounding like a certain grumpy old man's hilariously arbitrary prejudice towards fruit, I have to confess that I was recently inspired to make a soup that would showcase this vegetable enemy, maybe considering it a personal challenge. After a really great email conversation brainstorming foodie dreams with some friends recently, I thought I'd try developing one of the ideas mentioned-- a yellow pepper soup. Although admittedly, I think I wanted to do this more for what I hoped would be a pretty and colorful sight and a medium for some creme fraiche. Oh look-- once again, bell pepper used primarily because of its color!

My goal was to play off of the brightness of a yellow pepper and how that vegetable is both sweet yet spicy (not hot mind you, but you know-- that pepper flavor.) I decided to roast the peppers to yield more of its flavor and to use cumin as the main spice since it adds an earthy, complex element without adding heat. Carrots, leeks and sweet onion enhanced the sweet side of the pepper while giving this soup more body. A taste of the soup once pureed was good, but something was slightly off. A last minute couple of dashes of Asian five spice did the trick making this soup taste faintly like a curry but the bell pepper flavor is really distinct and is the main flavor that shines through in the end. Keep this vegan or top it with a spoonful of creme fraiche and the texture of the soup becomes luxurious. The bright color, sunny flavor and slightly cool but creamy feel after adding the creme fraiche made this an amazing summer meal.

4 yellow bell peppers
1 Walla Walla sweet onion
2 leeks
1 large clove of fresh garlic, 1 small clove of regular garlic (~ 1 tbsp minced)
6 small carrots
1 tbsp olive oil
1 quart vegetable broth
2 tsp cumin
2 dashes Asian five spice
salt and pepper to taste
creme fraiche, fresh basil and chives (optional)

Roast the yellow peppers either by broiling close to your broiler's heating element, forking them and holding them over your gas stove flame, or on a grill-- anything to char the skins black. When blackened on all sides, place peppers in a large bowl and seal with plastic wrap, letting sit while you prep and cook your other vegetables.

In the meantime, chop the dark green ends off of the leeks and get rid of them. Slice the remaining stem lengthwise and separate the layers in a large bowl of cold water. Stir around to get the dirt out. Take out the layers, restack them, and slice into thin half moons. Chop the onion and the carrots. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and onions and cook until softened, keeping an eye on the heat because you just want these to sweat, not brown. Add the garlic, carrots and stock.

By now the peppers should have cooled enough that the skins have cracked. Peel off the charred skins then seed and chop the peppers. Add these to the soup pot and bring to a boil then let simmer for 20 minutes. If you're lucky enough to have an immersion blender, blend in the pot until a slightly chunky puree. But if you're like me, add a couple of ladle fulls to your blender and use a towel to hold the top down while you puree. Be careful to do this in small batches as this is hot and can splash! Repeat in batches, pouring your pureed soup into a bowl to keep separate from the unpureed and do a better job than I did about not leaving too much broth in the end otherwise, you'll end up splattering on the wall even though you were careful to not put too much soup in the blender. Once everything is pureed, pour all contents back into the pot to reheat through. Ladle into bowls and if you want, add a dollop of creme fraiche and top with a chiffonade of basil and some chopped chives.

CSA Count
: 3
fresh garlic, carrots, chives

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shredded Zucchini & Carrot Cappellini

After asking John's advice, I've decided that I should blog my failures as well as my successes. After all, my blog description says I'm documenting my "struggles" to live recipe-free and failures are inevitable since I lack formal culinary training. Besides, this way I can document for myself what worked and what could use some tweaking.

This one wasn't a total failure, only a semi-failure. I think the pasta to vegetable ratio was a bit too high, resulting in less of an emphasis on the vegetable flavors I was trying to showcase and also a little too dry for my taste. But it still served its purposes of 1) trying to use up the many little zucchinis we've been getting from the CSA lately and 2) giving a productive form of procrastination from studying for the bar!

My inspiration was a favorite way to use zucchini during the summer-- saute it in olive oil with mint and a little salt and pepper. I had some feta and kalamata olives left over from grilling pizzas with my family who were visiting last week so I thought I'd combine that with the zucchini idea and make a Greek theme out of it. Lastly, I thought carrots would add a nice sweetness and a little pop of color. I decided to shred my vegetables so they'd cook fast and would make colorful threads throughout the pasta. It cooked fast, but as you can see from the picture of it cooking in the pan, it kind of looks like coleslaw.

All in all, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. Again, I think I didn't have enough vegetables in comparison to the pasta since every now and then when there'd be a perfect bite of all the elements, it was complex in a good way. The vegetables did not disappoint in their sweetness which was balanced by the saltiness of feta, the fruitiness of olive oil and the kalamata olives, and a little peppery bite from the fresh oregano and pepper I'd mixed in too. I still have lots of zucchinis left; maybe that's a sign I should shred some more to mix in with my leftovers...

4 little zucchini
3 small carrots
1 very large clove fresh garlic (yielded ~2 tsp minced)
1/2 Walla Walla sweet onion, sliced thinly into half moons
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 tbsp feta crumbled (per serving)
12 ounces fresh cappellini
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil divided
salt and pepper to taste

Heat water for pasta. Melt the butter and about 1/2 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet. Shred the zucchini and carrots-- pretty fast and easy when you have a food processor with a grating blade, but can also be done with a grater using the side/section for large shreds. Cook the onion in the skillet over medium heat, careful to not let them brown, just sweating until softened. Add the shredded carrots and zucchini, cooking for about 5 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss in the mint and oregano. Salt the water and cook pasta according to package directions. When pasta is cooked, drain and add to the vegetables drizzling with the rest of the olive oil as you mix it in and adjusting seasoning to taste. Plate and top with some of the sliced olives and some feta.

CSA Count: 3
zucchini, carrots, fresh garlic

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pork Tenderloin and Salad with Cherries & Port Vinaigrette

Pork tenderloin is really one of those great secret weapons that can make any person seem like a fabulous gourmet. It's simple to dress and when it cooks, it always comes out juicy and tender. In fact, as far as my memory serves, pork tenderloin was the first "fancy" dinner that I made for John that really seemed to impress him.

That was back when we lived in Cleveland. I had bought a cookbook to support the local PBS station that contained recipes from the city's best restaurants, most of which we couldn't afford at the time on my nonprofit salary and his student loans. But we were able to splurge every now and then, including a dinner at Oz where I made sure to get the famous pork tenderloin and cabbage noodles. I bought the cookbook particularly because it had that recipe. It did not disappoint as it shows how much flavor can be yielded by a good cut of meat when the only thing you do to is put some simple seasoning on it and cook until it's the right temperature. That recipe taught me some basic skills which I used here.

I always return to that pork tenderloin in the fall or winter, mostly because the cabbage noodles make such a comforting meal. But lately with cherries in season, I keep running across menu items and recipes for pork with cherries. That still seems like an autumnal meal to me, maybe because of the sweet richness of a wine reduction. Since our CSA gave us a bag of delicious, deep red Bing cherries, my thoughts turned to a salad of some kind to lighten up pork tenderloin into a summertime meal. I thought I'd try making a vinaigrette using port as a nod towards cherry wine sauces and maybe as an excuse to have a glass of port while cooking, but you won't judge me, of course.

The main CSA challenge for me with this meal? Lavender. For the last 3 weeks we've received a bunch of lavender in our share. Lavender is the one thing I do not need: 1) we have bunches of it growing around our house, and 2) I can't stand the taste-- it's like having the taste of old lady in my mouth. Blech! The first week, I had John put the lavender in with our CSA share of lilies. Faced with a new bunch the following week, I thought that I should try putting it in something I make to eat, just to give it a try.

So with a lot of trepidation, I tried a sip of the port with the lavender to see how they paired together. I winced as I put a small leaf on my tongue but was surprised to find that instead of the flavor of grandma, it was peppery! I thought that this might actually be a nice sharp contrast to the sweetness of the cherries, and when you add some fresh thyme, the woodiness of the thyme helps the flavor of the lavender mellow into those cherries resulting in what John said, a flavor that's reminiscent of Thanksgiving-- kind of perfect for what was intended to be a light, summer tribute to a fall meal. :)

Pork Tenderloin

1 lb pork tenderloin
1/2 tbsp Kosher salt (I'm guessing at a smaller amount since I over-salted mine)
1 tsp course black pepper
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
8 oz shitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut in half
1/2 medium onion, sliced in half moons

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Blend together the 2 oils and use 1/2 of it to coat the pork tenderloin. Mix together salt, pepper, and thyme and coat the outside of the tenderloin. Sear each side of the tenderloin until browned, about 3-4 minutes per side. Add the rest of the oil on both sides of the tenderloin and add the onions and mushrooms on each side. Cook in the oven until the pork's internal temperature reaches about 160 degrees. Remove and let the juices redistribute before cutting on a bias and plate, spooning the mushrooms and onions over the slices and pouring any juices from the pan on top as well.

Salad with Cherries & Port Vinaigrette
1/2 cup cherries, pitted and sliced in half
Butter Leaf and Little Gem lettuce
2 oz chevre
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1.5 tbsp port
1 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp fresh thyme
pinch of dried lavender leaves
1 tsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil
scant amount of salt and pepper

Mix together the port, vinegar, thyme, lavender, honey, salt and pepper. Using a whisk, mix in the olive oil until combined. Plate the lettuce and top with chevre, walnuts and cherries then drizzle with vinaigrette.

CSA Count: 3
Cherries, Little Gem Lettuce, lavender

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fresh Mozzarella, Tapenade & Arugula Panini

It's no secret that I'm always daydreaming about a career that doesn't involve practicing law. A frequent fantasy is to run a store of some kind. My ideal would be a yarn store, situated in a cool looking house with an area where customers can work on projects and have cupcakes and tea. John says that it would just be our living room, not an actual business, but I see nothing wrong with making people feel so comfortable, like they're guests in my home.

Alternatively, my friend Liz and I have frequently dreamed about opening a coffee place that promotes social justice activism. We'd offer free refills if you show us that you wrote a letter to the editor while you were using our free WiFi and host conversation circles and neighborhood events. We'd call it the Human Bean.

The latest fantasy has been inspired by my neighborhood. There's an amazing park that's under construction just a couple of blocks from my house, and recently, a cute little space opened up on the main avenue that is also near the park. I envision that the one thing my neighborhood really needs is a cute place that sells ice cream and sandwiches that people can pick up and enjoy while they're walking through or hanging out at the park. I'd need to learn how to make some seriously good ice cream, but I already know at least one sandwich that would be on the menu: this panini made with fresh mozzarella, tapenade, arugula and fresh basil.

This is such a great sandwich on its own or served alongside a bowl of soup. The peppery arugula and the basil add a fresh, verdant flavor to the saltiness of the olives that's rounded out by the smooth milkiness of the fresh mozzarella. Of course, I don't know why I'm even trying to write a description of how good this is-- it's grilled cheese essentially, so of course it's good!

1 tbsp butter, melted
2 small cloves garlic, smashed
4 slices of a crusty Italian bread, cut on a bias.
6 thin slices of fresh mozzarella
6 leaves of fresh basil, cut into smaller pieces
1/2 cup of arugula
4 tbsp of olive tapenade

Melt the butter with the garlic so that the garlic flavors the butter. Heat a medium-sized pan over medium low heat. Brush the garlic butter on 2 slices of bread then flip them over and top each slice with 2 tbsp of tapenade, 3 slices of mozzarella, the basil and arugula then top with the other slices of bread. Place the sandwiches buttered side down in your heated pan and weigh them down with something heavy like another pan or in my case, two small cast iron skillets. After about 3-4 minutes your cheese should be melted and a nice, browned crust should have formed, but you may want to check to make sure you don't burn the sandwiches. Butter the tops of the sandwiches then carefully flip them over. Weigh them down again and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes or until toasted on the other side. Slice on a bias and try not to burn yourself by eating it fresh out of the pan.

This is totally my favorite sandwich of late, and I actually frighten myself a little because it makes me realize how much I'm like my dad with this little sandwich shop fantasy described above. A couple of years ago, my father really impressed himself with his teriyaki chicken sandwiches and wanted to run a restaurant that served them exclusively. I don't think this sandwich can be an exclusive menu item, but if I do open my little store, I suppose I could make room for his chicken sandwich too. :) What other sandwiches should be on my menu?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lentil Soup

It's July, and I just sat down to a hot, hearty bowl of lentil soup. Yeah, I'm sure that if you're lucky enough to be experiencing weather that's actually appropriate for mid-summer this post is going to be totally disgusting to you. So maybe you'll come back to it when it's cold and frosty outside?
But lentil soup was totally right for this chilly, blustery day in Seattle. It's also right for another reason. Two good friends just had a baby yesterday, so I also wanted to make something that would make enough leftovers to share with these tired, busy, new parents. This soup seemed like the right choice since it's a filling, comforting one-pot meal. It was also a good opportunity to use this beautiful bunch of rainbow chard from our CSA.

Lastly, soup also seemed like a good choice for "replenishing your womanly goodness" as John likes to summarize my mother's obsession with soup after certain, um... female life experiences. :)
I took a tip from a recipe I saw once that suggested steeping the lentils with tomatoes and their juices as the acid from the tomatoes will help the lentils keep their firmness so you don't end up with a mushy mess. I wanted a balance of sweetness and spice: the base is loaded with sweet onions, carrots, and celery, offset by a jalapeno, fire-roasted tomatoes with green chilies, a big palmful of cumin and a couple dashes of cinnamon. The starch from the potatoes helped thicken up the soup into more of a stew, while the chard added a slightly bitter but mostly refreshing green taste throughout the soup. The end result tasted almost Ethiopian to me which added to the comfort of the soup since I've always enjoyed the communal nature of eating Ethiopian food with different groups of friends over the years. To round off this comfort meal, I paired it with my favorite sandwich of late, which will be described in a separate post. It's really delicious so I hope you'll come back to read about it!

1 16oz package of lentils
1 tsp olive oil
5 strips of thick cut, uncured bacon, cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 large Walla Walla onion
2 small sweet onions
5 carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
4 celery stalks, chopped into 1/2 pieces
5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed (because Rike's a wuss about spice, but not about labor!), minced
1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes with green chilies
3 tbsp tomato paste, double concentrated
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp cumin
2 dashes of cinnamon
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, diced.
10 cups chicken broth
1 bunch rainbow chard, rough chopped.

Rinse the lentils and set aside. In a big stock pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Toss in the bacon and let cook half way. Add onion, carrots, celery, jalapeno and garlic and let your vegetables sweat without caramelizing, about 10-15 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent. Add the lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaves. Let the lentils steep in this mix for about 10 minutes. Mix in the rest of the spices, broth, and potatoes. Bring this to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the chard and continue to cook for about 5-10 more minutes until the stalks of the chard have had time to soften. Ladle into bowls and serve.

CSA Count: 4
sweet onions, fresh garlic, carrots, rainbow chard

Friday, July 10, 2009

Confetti Peas

Thursday's CSA delivery arrived with a better share than we were told originally that we were getting. Among the goodies: zucchini, dill, and cherries! Oh, and more peas. But different peas, thank goodness. No more snow peas; onto shelled peas and snap peas. Only problem? I couldn't identify which was which. I submit Exhibit A:

In fact, at first, John and I just assumed that perhaps our CSA had just given us two bags of the snap peas. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that one was fatter and the shell looked like it should be split down the middle:

I decided those must be the shelled peas and lo and behold, they were. But a half hour spent shelling them only yielded this much:

I was kind of sad, since recently, I'd had an awesome fresh pea salad (giggle!) at a favorite restaurant downtown; just a big plate of fresh peas tossed with a light garlic aioli and tiny threads of prosciutto. This seemed too small to make into a similar salad, so what to do? I just started thinking about what was in the fridge and started haphazardly putting things together. You can skip the next paragraph if you're too afraid to get a glimpse into the strange workings of my mind.
I had those prosciutto threads in mind so had my heart set on including that in the mix. I also still had small sweet onions from the previous week's CSA basket and thought that caramelized onions might be good to mix in too. Should I add the dill? Nah... those were already going on some old potatoes to brighten them up a bit. All of a sudden I remembered we still had CSA carrots. Sure-- peas and carrots go together, could be one of those modern twists on a classic deals? Oh, but the onions and prosciutto are in threads so maybe grate the carrot to make similar threads? At this point I started to fret that I was making Frakenpeas and it might all be a bit too much, but it was too late to turn back.
In the end, I ended up with a mix of peas, all those above named ingredients, tossed in a little butter, salt, pepper, and a chiffonade of basil. It actually freakishly worked! The prosciutto added a little salty bite which contrasted with the sweetness of the carrot and onion. The sweetness was kept in check by the slight licorice of the basil, and the peas were still firm and not mushy. Best of all, despite all the ingredients, the flavor of the peas still shined through which is as it should be. Oh, if only there were a quick and dirty way to describe that flavor...

1 lb of shelled peas, unshelled (yielded about 1.5 cup of peas)
2 slices of prosciutto, chiffonade
1 small sweet onion, sliced into thin half moons
1 small carrot, grated on the small side of the grater
1 tbsp fresh basil, chiffonade
scant amount of salt and a little more pepper
tiny pat of butter
1 tsp olive oil

In a small pan heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Toss in the onions and let them caramelize (about 15 minutes) stirring occasionally. Try not to let them burn. Take out the onions and wipe down your pan with a paper towel to get rid of any excess oil. Melt the butter and pour in the peas. Cook for a few minutes until they are bright green. Add back in the onions, and while you're at it, put in the carrots and prosciutto. Add a touch of salt and pepper, then plate and top with the fresh basil.

This was a great second side, served along side some oven fries tossed with chives and dill and a chicken, bacon, avocado sandwich paired with some of John's home brewed Trippel. But then again, what doesn't go well with a chicken, bacon, avocado sandwich?

CSA Count: 3 (not bad for such a small dish!); 5 if you count the fries
shell peas, sweet onion, carrot, basil and dill

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Gnocchi with Roasted Beets and Wilted Greens

I used to hate beets. I think it's because when I was little and we'd go to a restaurant with a salad bar, my mother would take me with her and ask me to pick out anything I might want. I saw what looked like canned cranberry sauce: sliced rounds of something deep red and jello-esque and was drawn to it, thinking it was that stuff I liked from Thanksgiving. Mom would say, "I don't think you want that. I don't think you'd like it." I'd stubbornly insist that I indeed wanted that, so she'd shrug and put it on her plate. Back at the table, you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when instead of the sweet but tart jellied goodness I was expecting, I'd instead find something pickled and slightly crunchy. Like the stubborn adult I am today, I'd keep eating it just to avoid admitting I had been wrong.

But this dish made me a convert. Our CSA included a batch of golden beets in our basket last year and included a recipe for gnocchi, beets, goat cheese, and garlic butter. I decided to give it a try but tried roasting the beets instead of boiling them and thought that it was a shame to waste all those lovely beet greens so I thought I might stir those in as well. I love the way beets smell as they're roasting (I do mine with a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle of salt and pepper with a couple of sprigs of thyme from our garden): the caramelizing sugars almost smell like cookies to me, but there's an underlying verdant aroma to it. So cookies outdoors? Not sure. Also, the greens smell grassy to me, but once they cook, they're subtle in flavor, but a little acidic (as John rightfully pointed out.) The acid is a good counterbalance to the creaminess of the goat cheese and the sweet but distinctly vegetable flavor of the beets. But it's the toasted walnuts that really pull it altogether for me. The crunch is a good texture contrast to the softness of the rest of the dish, plus toasting them brings out the melted butter and who doesn't love that? This paired nicely with a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc we bought on our trip to Napa last September from the Sequoia Grove Winery.
Yep. I like beets. Not enough to eat this, but I wouldn't want to miss a summer or a fall that didn't have at least one dinner with beets. If you think you don't like beets, please give this a try. The colors alone will entice you.

1 16 oz package of gnocchi (unless you have the time to make your own!)
1 bunch of beets (don't know... 1lb?) with the greens still attached.
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
2 oz chevre
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tbsp basil, thinly chopped
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the stems from the beets and reserve the greens. Wash the beets thoroughly and cut each one in half lengthwise. Take a longish piece of aluminum foil (enough so that when folded in half you can make a packet to fit all the beet halves) and drizzle with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the beets and lay the thyme sprigs on top. Fold the foil over to cover the beets and roll up the sides. Cook in your oven for about 40 minutes or until fork tender.
In the meantime, toast the walnuts in a toaster oven at about 325 degrees or in a dry pan. Cook for about 10 minutes or until you can smell them (but why trust me? I burned my nuts. That's what she said!) Rough chop the greens and wash and drain them thoroughly. When the beets are done, unwrap the foil and let them cool until you can touch them without burning your fingers off. Peel away the skins and slice the beet halves lengthwise or whatever way you think makes them look pretty.
Cook the gnocchi according to package directions and drain. Heat the remaining tbsp of olive oil in the pot and stir the greens around until wilted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste then set aside. Melt the butter and add the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat until the garlic is softened and cooked but not burned. Toss the gnocchi and the greens in the butter until heated through then plate. Sprinkle the beets, walnuts, goat cheese, chives, and basil in hopefully a pretty way and serve.

CSA Count: 3 (4 if you count the lettuce in our salad)
Beets, chives, garlic, little gem lettuce

P.S. Unless you like your food to look like that shirt you were thinking of buying at Filene's Basement, I wouldn't recommend doing this with red beets. The shocking pink stain to the gnocchi is not appetizing (she says from past experience.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Baked Tofu Stir Fry

It's Wednesday which means tomorrow a new batch of CSA goodies will arrive so I must do the best I can in getting rid of last week's crop. We've been inundated this year with snow peas-- 1.5 lbs each week so far, which means, lord help me, we've consumed 4.5 lbs and expect another 1.5 tomorrow (unless they turn out to be sugar snaps.) I honestly don't have any good ideas about how to use them except in stir fries and once I added a handful, chopped into bite-sized pieces to a salad, but found it kind of boring. So far we've had them stir fried with shrimp, beef, and last week as a side dish mixed with carrots, almonds, and garlic scapes (that was my favorite so far). Tofu was on sale so I thought I'd try that as the protein for what has become a weekly staple meal.
Most carnivores I know don't like tofu. It weirds them out texturally or they complain that it has no taste. I love it, but of course, I love it best when it's fried. In fact my favorite tofu dish is pan fried triangles of tofu then top with a mix of soy sauce, hot peppers, cilantro, garlic and lime juice on a bed of raw spinach from the Sundays at Moosewood cookbook.

But as much as I love fried tofu, I hate making it-- the spatter of the oil no matter how much I try to squeeze the water out of it always leaves me irritated and feeling like it's more trouble than it's worth. I still wanted some of that crisp edge for a crunch to go with the vegetables so I thought I'd try marinating the tofu and baking it at a high temp. I then aimed to mix the cooked tofu with snow peas, carrots, and shitaki mushrooms that were glazed with Tamari soy sauce and sesame oil, the mixture that I've loved the most for the nutty taste that contrasts with the sweetness of the peas and carrots.

This one was a little bit of a downer though- I'm not entirely sure what to do to improve it, but I think overall it was a bit too sour. The tofu sure smelled good while baking though. The five spice, particularly the star anise, made my nose tingly in anticipation. I think if I did this again, I'd try adding some brown sugar to the marinade and maybe some more five spice powder. We'll see.

1 tbsp Hoisin sauce
2-3 tbsp Tamari soy sauce
2 small garlic cloves (or 1 medium), rough chopped
1 tsp ginger, rough chopped
2 tsp Siriacha ("Vietnamese" hot sauce as I recently learned that it's like chop suey and is actually American)
3 dashes of 5 spice-- probably equivalent to 1/2 tsp-- I'd up it to a full.
1 tsp sesame oil
little bit of salt and some pepper
Protein & Vegetables
1 16 oz block of firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes. (If it's packed in water, place it between two plates and put a bowl of water on top to press out the water first.)
1 lb snow peas, unzipped (you know-- remove the tough stringy part on the size of the pod where the peas are attached)
1 small sweet onion, sliced in half and thinly sliced in half moons
2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger (blech)
3 small carrots, sliced on the diagonal
8 oz shitaki mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 tbsp Tamari soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil, divided
1 tbsp canola oil
a little bit of salt and some pepper
steamed rice

Mix the marinade together and toss in the tofu. Stir it around and let it marinade for at least an hour. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spread the tofu out on a baking sheet and cook for 20-30 minutes, mixing them around for even cooking about half way through. Heat the canola oil and 1 tsp of sesame oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, toss in the garlic and ginger and stir around for 30 seconds until you can smell it, careful not to burn the garlic. Throw in the onions and stir fry until soft and slightly translucent. Next, add the mushrooms and cook until shiny. Finally, add the carrots and snow peas and cook for another 3-4 minutes until they're a vibrant orange and green color-- that way they're still crisp. I also sprinkled a pinch of sugar over the vegetables to bring out their sweetness. Pour around the soy sauce and remaining sesame oil then stir around so they glaze the vegetables. Put the tofu in the mix then stir it around and serve on rice.

CSA Count: 4
fresh garlic, those damn snow peas, sweet onion, and carrots

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lamb & Black Bean Burgers

My husband has recently become a devoted follower of Amazon Fresh. I admit to loving it too-- after all, I got my grocery shopping listed (but not purchased) before we left for our holiday weekend in Cannon Beach. Ground lamb was on sale, so we added that to the list. I started off dreaming about lamb burgers, maybe with a tzatziki sauce of some kind, but John nixed the sauce idea. Apparently I've made falafel a little too often as of late.
I'm not sure where the inspiration to use black beans came from, it mostly came to mind because I had an extra can sitting in the pantry. Sometimes Amazon Fresh only lets you order items at a minimum quantity of 2. This can's mate was used in my burritos (will probably post that sometime) and I lacked any plans for this can other than probably for another set of burritos. Perhaps I was partially inspired by this favorite recipe for black bean cakes, but I think it was because I thought about the flavor profile that links lamb and black beans together in my mind-- the earthy spice of cumin.

These burgers came together nicely: seared in a hot cast iron skillet so it had a nice crust on the outside and the black beans helped the burgers retain moisture while giving a nice, almost al dente bite to mix with the softness of the ground meat. I topped it with my favorite sandwich spread of late: a mixture of mayonnaise, sour cream, whole grain and Dijon mustard with a little bit of chopped chives from the CSA. (Admittedly, the sauce is a modified version of one from Ina Garten.) If I had more patience, I would have put these out on the grill instead of the pan but I couldn't wait for coals to heat up not that it mattered since we don't have any charcoal at the moment. My other thought is that I slightly overcooked these-- they would have been better on the rarer side (time suggestion below is adjusted accordingly.) Also, John and I are still in disagreement about the condiment: I'd still like to use tzatziki as I think the slight sour of the yogurt and the cool crunch of the cucumber and mint might be a nice contrast to the burger's spice but John thinks it'd cover up the spice which is what he liked about this. What do you think?

1 lb ground lamb
1 15 oz can black beans, drained
~ 1.5 tbs Montreal Steak Seasoning
Dash of cinnamon
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
2 chopped green onions
2 cloves fresh garlic (from the CSA)
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp whole grain mustard
salt & pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives.

Mix together the lamb, beans, spices, green onion and garlic, but be careful not to over mix. Divide into four portions for 4 hefty-ish patties. Heat a cast iron skillet on medium high heat then add 1 tbsp of olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle salt (preferably kosher) and pepper on both sides of your patties so they'll get that nice crust. Place the patties in the pan and sear for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side or until they reach your desired doneness. Let them rest while you toast your buns. (hehe... buns.) Mix together the ingredients for your sauce (unless you're like me and the sauce is left over from a little over a week ago when you made sandwiches of some kind) and top your burgers with about a tbsp each. I served mine with some homemade stove top mac n' cheese (look Mom-- cheese and lamb-- you don't like either!) and a fresh salad that John threw together using CSA butter lettuce and arugula from our garden. A nice summer time dinner, especially when paired with some rose sparkling wine which we drank because it's been sitting in our fridge for a couple of months now.

CSA Count: 2- fresh garlic and chives (but if you count the salad then 4, adding butter lettuce and carrots.)

The Year from Hell

That's actually an understatement. This year has been one of terrible personal loss, and add to it, I'm a recent law school grad, unemployed and studying for the bar exam to obtain a license I'm not even sure I'll use in my intended profession. The year is only half over and I'm afraid to see what else it has in store for me.

So why start a blog now? Because cooking has been my one of two saving graces throughout law school (the other being my husband and family-- sorry that I'm relegating you to a paranthetical phrase!). It's how I would unwind from a long day of thinking through complicated legal treatises. I'd find the mechanical motions of chopping vegetables to be a relief from cerebral exercise, the hiss of onions and garlic hitting the pan would coincide with the release of tension from my shoulders, and most importantly, I'd relax and have a good conversation with my spouse to catch up on each other's day as we ate whatever I put out on the table. It's also helped regulate the funk I've been in due to aforehinted at loss and since I'm reeling from a second, fresh one, I figure this will be a good distraction.

I think what makes cooking such an escape for me is that it gives me a chance to tap into my creative side. I notice that it's not as much of a release for me during times of extreme stress and time constraints because I'm more recipe dependent. So like a runner hooked on endorphins (or consider this my meth), why not try to maximize my high when I need it most by trying to live recipe free? I'll still religiously read food blogs and watch cooking shows for inspiration, but my goal is to know flavor combinations and techniques well enough that I can throw stuff together based on what's on sale at the store, what's in my fridge, and during the summer-- what's in my CSA basket and available in my husband's vegetable garden.

Like any good law student, I have to make a disclaimer: I am not a professional cook, nor do I claim that what I put on my table is good enough to replicate at home. This is really more for my personal reference when I stumble upon something that I liked so I can repeat it. If you think it sounds tasty, you're welcome to try it out and let me know your suggestions on how to improve.

Thanks for joining me!