Category Archives: Vegetarian cooking

Veggie Feast

Spring has sprung, and that means some pretty incredible produce at the local farmers markets. I’ve never really met a vegetable I didn’t like, so walking through and gawking at all of the gorgeous asparagus, avocados, fava beans and kale is akin to a teenage boy sifting through an issue Playboy magazine. Yes, my friends, springtime farmers markets offer the very best in food porn, but because it’s all good for you and stuff, you never end up feeling guilty. It’s a total win-win!

Speaking of veggie food porn (we were, weren’t we?!) one of my favorite food blogs on earth is 101 Cookbooks, because it features so many clever ways to feed a body good. The food Heidi prepares is so incredibly gorgeous you don’t even realize it’s all meant to give your body all the nutrients it needs and deserves. She’s really inspired me to think differently about vegetarian cuisine- instead of serving up pasta with marinara, why not toss some swiss chard ravioli with cranberry beans, arugula and a generous shower of pecorino cheese? I get some many ideas from reading both her blog and her cookbooks.

Last week I noticed a particularly inspired dish on 101 Cookbooks: Turnip Green Tart. The emerald green hue first caught my attention; the fact that it was encased in a corn meal crust pretty much closed the deal. I headed to my local farmers market in search of some turnip greens, but only one vendor was selling turnips, so I decided to switch gears and ask all of the farmers selling beets for their discarded beet greens and carrot tops. They were more than happy to give them to me, and I think I went a little bonkers on my newfound high of getting good, useable veggies for FREEEEEE and came home with a GIANT bag of both.

In addition to switching out the greens in the recipe, I put in a few more tweaks of my own- I sautéed the greens (80% beet and 20% carrot tops) with 2 cloves of garlic, a pinch of thyme and 1 chopped onion in some olive oil until they were soft, then I blitzed them in the Cuisinart with the liquid ingredients. I noticed there was way more liquid than greens so I decided to toss in some raw beet greens and carrot tops and blitzed it again until I was happier with the consistency. I also decided to add about ½ cup of grated gruyere to the actual mixture before pouring it into two tart shells (I doubled the mixture recipe, and the crust recipe is already for two) and garnished both the extra cheese halfway through baking.

See the red from the beet greens that bled out into the gooey cheese:)?

I was a little curious about how such a loose mixture (Heidi often uses veggie broth to cut heavier liquids often called for in these types of dishes, like cream) would firm up, but I was happy to see that it set beautifully. After letting it cool slightly, we sliced it up and dug in. IT WAS AMAZING. Kind of a revelation, actually. It was so flavorful and not at all “green-tasting” in a bad way…the greens actually made it so rich in texture that you’d never guess the main ingredient was something many people simply discard. I thought it was better than any quiche I’d ever eaten, because although it was satisfyingly hearty, it lacked the dense fattiness of most quiches. This one is a keeper, and I can’t wait to try it with different kinds of greens.

With the tarts we had an array of side dishes that showcased the vegetables I snagged at the market:

Cumin roasted multicolored carrots:

Corn and fava bean succotash with a basil vinaigrette:

Butter lettuce, avocado and grapefruit salad with a grapefruit vinaigrette:

Strawberry, pistachio and spelt flour crumble (we ate warm spoonfuls piled high with vanilla soy ice cream!). The tart crust calls for spelt flour so I had some left over and decided to combine it with some oats, oat bran, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon to make the topping.

Next up: Beet greens and carrot top soup- sounds weird, but it was deeeelish!

Have a great weekend!

Summer Dinner Party

As I mentioned in my last post, we had some friends over for a summer dinner party a couple of weekends ago. For once, I didn’t really have much of a plan and let the Farmer’s Market guide my menu. It turned out to be one of my favorite menus and just really fun to put together.

One thing I had decided was that I wanted to make a side dish with lobster. Since there were six people total for the dinner party I figured it best to not attempt a main course of lobster as to not break the bank; plus it’s a bit of work to get the meat out of the shells. After boiling the two Maine lobsters and extracting the meat, I decided on a salad of butter lettuce, cherry tomatoes, freshly cut corn off the cob and the lobster with a creamy tarragon dressing. You know when you’re thinking of what to make and a dish just sort of comes to you instantly? This salad was like that and I just knew all of those components would work well together. Some fresh chives finished off the dish:

The main course was a variation on the many savory tarts I’ve made in the past. I used what has become my absolute favorite tart crust recipe (it is seriously a JOY to handle and roll out) and made a crème fraiche/egg yolk/cheese paste to spread (similar to the one Suzanne Goin uses in her savory tarts in her Lucques cookbook) on the dough…….

…….before topping that with sliced gruyere, different verities of heirloom tomatoes, grated parmesan and a good sprinkling of black pepper. I love this base which can be made with ricotta, sour crème, grated cheese, whatever- just spread it on your dough and top with anything from bacon to mushrooms to leeks to tomatoes, like I did here:

I did sprinkle the sliced tomatoes with sea salt and let them drain between two paper towels for about 20 minutes before arranging them onto the unbaked tart dough so that the water in them wouldn’t make the tart soggy. It worked very well and helped concentrate the flavor of the tomatoes once they baked:

Initially I thought to do a zucchini or other type of summer squash as a second side dish, but to be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of either as they tend to be watery. Luckily I saw some gorgeous, multicolored carrots which I roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, then tossed with sliced avocado, red onion and a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, cumin, olive oil, agave nectar and lots of chopped cilantro:

Those of you who frequent Southern California farmers markets have probably seen the overabundance of big, juicy strawberries this summer- they are everywhere- so I picked up a bunch before figuring out what I was going to make. I’d purchased these really cute milk glasses at Anthropologie awhile ago and was inspired to make a vanilla bean panna cotta topped with the strawberries which I macerated in a bit of agave nectar and this amazing blackberry balsamic vinegar which I bought at Nicole’s:

A cheese plate and some prosciutto finished off the light menu and we had a great time sipping rose and catching up in the back yard. I hadn’t cooked for a group in awhile and it was like the shot in the arm I needed to get back in the kitchen. I love to cook, but when a menu comes together without recipes, based on inspiration gained from the local produce and ideas gained from years of cooking, it restores your faith in cooking, ha! I had as much fun cooking this as I did eating it and look forward to at least a couple more summer dinner parties before Autumn comes!

Pasadena Farmer’s Market
Victory Park
Saturdays 8:30 AM- 1:00 PM

101 Cookbook’s Corn Quiche in a Teff Crust

I’d wanted to make this dish ever since I saw it on 101 Cookbooks awhile back- something about the deep, brown crust just really reached out and grabbed me. I’m glad I finally got around to it and I certainly won’t let too much time pass before making it again.

As some of you know by now, I hate rolling out dough and am always thrilled to find one that is easy to manage. This dough comes together with just a quick whiz in the food processor and really stays together nicely through the rolling and pressing-into-the-pan process. It also has the huge benefit of actually being healthy- the entire recipe contains only 4 tablespoons of butter and is enriched with teff flour which is high in protein, carbohydrates and fiber.

Heidi’s recipe lets you choose to use soy milk or regular milk for the filling, so I decided to try it with soy milk just to see how it’d turn out. I just blended together some raw corn cut straight off about four cobs, the soy milk, Tabasco, 4 eggs and salt until it make a smooth puree, then added some grated light Jarlsberg cheese, chopped fresh basil and chopped scallions. After decorating the top with some sliced tomatoes and a bit more cheese, I popped it in the oven.

Ready for the oven

The resulting “quiche” was super light and fluffy- almost cloud-like- and the crust was slightly sweet and nutty. I really, REALLY loved the flavor of this crust and am eager to try it with other fillings, both sweet and savory. The filling tasted like a sweet corn chowder and the sweet tomatoes and basil were the perfect additions. The only changes I would make are to not sprinkle cheese on top since it creates a crust that is difficult to cut through since the soy milk makes the quiche so ultra fluffy that it kind of squishes down when you cut (or I guess I could sharpen my knives, duh!) and I may add a bit more texture by mixing in some steamed broccoli or something in the filling next time. My dough also required about double the amount of water called for in the recipe before it came together in a ball in the food processor.

This makes a fantastic breakfast, brunch or even dinner. We had it with some “caramelized” zucchini (just take VERY thinly sliced zucchini and toss it in a very hot pan with a bit of butter until the zucchini turns golden brown) and a salad made with frisee and blood orange segments.

I’d like to add that, in addition to her wonderful website, Heidi has a cookbook out called Super Natural Cooking that is just filled with creative and unique healthy recipes.

Recipe: BBQ Tofu Wrap

Look, ma, more fun with tofu! Ok, this “recipe” isn’t really a recipe and may come as a surprise since I just stated in my last post that I feel tofu works best with Asian flavors, but this one is an exception! I had some tofu leftover from my soba noodle salad recipe so the next day I just tossed together this wrap which will definitely be on my regular menu for quick and easy dinners from now on.

As I did with the tofu in the salad recipe, I weighted down the loaf with some thick paper towels and got a lot of the water out. I then tossed it in some of my favorite BBQ sauce and just pan fried them until they were heated through. It was then time to build the wrap:

I got one Whole Wheat Olive Oil Wrap from Trader Joe’s and filled it with greens and corn cut straight off a steamed cob:

Then added the BBQ’d tofu slices, fresh ripe avocado, sliced red onions and chopped cilantro:

Then rolled it into a nice little wrap……….

…..which I served up with a mixed green salad. And dinner was done!

Happy Friday!

Stuffed Zucchini And A Realization……….

Cookbooks and cooking magazines are practically an addiction of mine. They completely fill up a huge bookshelf that my dad built for me that sits in my kitchen, and they peek out from various desks, blankets and other odd places throughout our house. Most have post-its popping out of the tops, marking the recipes that, when I first saw them, I couldn’t WAIT to try out.

Well now, of course, I see the squares of colored paper looking at me, waving like “Hey..weren’t you going to make the Pappardelle with Boar Ragu at the next dinner party???” or “I thought you were dying to make this Tarte Tatin??” Don’t get me wrong- there are still fewer things I enjoy more than sitting on the sofa with a good cookbook, slowly digesting the information, marveling at the beautiful photographs and daydreaming about how and when I’ll make a particular dish, but lately…..well, I’ve been cooking a lot based on inspiration. It’s strange really- I used to be the type that either cooked something super simple (open jar of pasta sauce, boil pasta) or followed an intricate recipe exactly, but now I find myself cooking with instinct. Cooking based on what I feel like eating, which flavors I want to taste, which techniques I like to use……which, wow……must mean that all those years of cooking-by-the-book and watching my parents in action must be paying off!! I mean, I don’t mean to brag, and I don’t feel it’s bragging……it’s just more of a realization. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been making a lot of simple, uncomplicated yet really delicious and hit-the-spot dishes, using my instincts only. The smell of Autumn inspired me to go out and get a nice, organic butternut squash which I cubed, tossed with olive oil, salt, minced garlic, lots of cracked pepper and thyme, then roasted in the same pan as a bone-in, skin on chicken breast rubbed with a similar mix of seasonings. The skin rendered down a bit while baking and coated the squash which caramelized into a deep, golden brown. The sweet, creamy squash and crisp, savory chicken were seriously a match made in heaven. Paired off with a simple stuffing I created using a stale, cubed wheat batard, reconstituted porcini mushrooms, criminis, stock, porcini water, white wine, garlic, leeks and celery, it felt like Thanksgiving on a regular ol’ night at home in front of the TV. This all coming from the girl who once thought that recipes with fewer than 15 ingredients were too simple and not worth the time. How lame was I???

Which brings me to last night. Awhile back, when I was reading one of my favorite food blogs, Chocolate & Zucchini, I saw a post on some adorable stuffed zucchini- featuring little round ones exactly like those I had just bought at the farmer’s market. I didn’t remember the exact recipe while I was shopping, but I did know it involved a grain of some sort, and having bought a bag of farro the week before, I knew I wanted to test that combination out. When I did check her recipe online, it turned out that she had used quinoa. So, using her recipe more for inspiration and not exact instruction, I made my twist on the dish.

As Clotilde did in her version, I cut the tops off and hollowed out each zucchini, saving the “meat” for the filling. After a light brushing of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, they went into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes while I prepared the rest of the dish. I salted the zucchini “meat” and squeezed it in a paper towel to release all of the liquid, then sautéed it with some chopped red onion, olive oil and salt. After adding a splash of vermouth and letting it evaporate, I mixed it in a bowl of cooked farro (which I had boiled in chicken broth), then added a small scoop of ricotta, a heaping cup of homemade tomato sauce, a nice grating of sharp parmesan and a handful of fresh, chopped basil. After filling each baked zucchini to the rim with this farro filling, I put the zucchini back into the oven for another 12 minutes to warm through.

Although the tomato sauce and zucchini flavors reminded me of summer, the warmth and heartiness of a baked grain dish made it the perfect supper for a cool Autumn night. This makes a perfect vegetarian main dish or would also be an attractive (and delicious!) side dish to grilled fish or roasted meat.

SO what’s the point of this very long post? I suppose it’s just a happy recounting of how I learned to really cook after years of thinking I was really cooking. Make sense? I mean, don’t get me wrong- the next time I have a dinner party it doesn’t mean I won’t reach for my Bouchon cookbook and try out a new recipe, but I realize now that sometimes instinct can be the best guide.