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Posts from the ‘Vegetables’ Category

butternut squash ravioli with toasted pecans & sage

Many of you are well-acquainted with the Italian gentleman whose handsome head pops up on many pages around this neighborhood. Always nattily dressed in dark suit and narrow tie, always raising his glass and leaving kind words to cheer us. He’s known to us as Chicago John. And he’s a legend in these parts.

You’ll find John cooking up a delicious Italian storm in the Bartolini Kitchen, every Wednesday.  The smells that rise from his oven and bubbling pots will make you hungry. They’ll make you wish you could pop into his kitchen and pull up a chair and spread your napkin and toast the cook and lift your fork and stay long into the night! They might make you wish you’d grown up Italian, with family recipes handed down, and down again to you. For sure they’ll make you wish you could cook like John does. And that’s where this little journey began for me…

SquashRavioli-1

Only a handful of times in my life have I made pasta from scratch. I should be throttled for that! The man I married (who calls himself my grateful guinea pig and is such a good sport) is an enormous fan of pasta. Wrong word choice…he likes pasta, a Lot. So it was that when I spotted John’s series of posts on pasta – and then – Ravioli! – I knew I’d just discovered the Holy Grail – no question about it – this was D.i.n.n.e.r. – written in the Guinea Pig’s own Language of Love.

Now you understand, I’m not the one to learn pasta making from. No, no. I’d head over to John’s if I were you. Below is the recipe for the Bartolini’s pasta dough. It’s the one I used (Naturally!) I followed his expert guidance on how to roll and what dies to use as a novice raviol-ist. I prayed the rosary (ok, not exactly), asked John for one more encouraging word and then I dove right in. Fearless! (ok, not exactly.)

(You’ll be able to view this recipe better if you click on it.)

SquashRavioli-4

It all went quite well, just like John said it would. I had mechanical issues with my pasta roller and I think I’m tossing it (but not til I’ve found a replacement.)

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I made a sweet & savory butternut squash filling…

(recipe follows)SquashRavioli-2

Closed those little pillowy parcels up…SquashRavioli-3

Gently boiled them in salted water, drained them and then slid them into a simple sauce of browned butter, garlic & sage, thyme & parsley & toasted pecans. G.P. will probably chime in here and tell you about it, but if he’s still tied up licking fingers, I’ll tell you…

it was pretty fine!

SquashRavioli-12

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Butternut Squash Ravioli with Toasted Pecans and Sage

1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds

Vegetable Oil – just a wee bit for brushing squash

 Cayenne Pepper – a Dash

Freshly-grated Nutmeg – (about 5 passes over the grater – to taste)

Salt & Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Freshly-Grated Parmesan –  ½ cup

dried bread crumbs – ½ cup

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Freshly-Made Pasta ala Bartolini (recipe above)

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Brown Butter with Pecans & Sage

Butter – 4 to 6 Tablespoons, melted

Garlic – 1 medium to large clove

Chopped Fresh Sage Leaves – 2 Tablespoons

Chopped Parsley – 2 Tablespoons (divided)

Chopped Fresh Thyme – 2 teaspoons

Toasted Pecans, ½ cup coarsely chopped

Freshly Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano (I prefer the latter here)

Prepare the filling: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) Slice the squash in two, from top to bottom and scoop out the seeds. Brush the cut surface with vegetable oil and place cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat. Bake until soft – about 40 minutes (though begin checking at 30.) Scoop out the flesh and measure 2 cups full. Drop it into a food processor (or mash well with a fork) blending with 2 Tablespoons butter. Season with a dash of cayenne, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Season to your own tastes. (It will not need to be fully seasoned with salt since the cheese will bring some of its own.) If the squash seems a bit too liquid-y you can dry it out by dropping it into a skillet on high heat for a few moment. Add bread crumbs and cheese. Set aside.

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the guinea pig goes to college

The past two weeks have been quite out of the ordinary around here. It all started when the Guinea Pig went back to school…Stanford is training him how to be a business leader…I know…he’s really kind of somethin‘! I decided to use this time as a bit of a retreat of my own and do the sorts of things I don’t generally do when he’s around.

I set up a long table in front of the big window where I normally shoot my food photos. Outside that window are maybe half a dozen different sorts of bird feeders and a place for birds to drink. Nearby are the tall trees where they nest. For days and days, I sewed together squares of colorful flowers and polka dots for the little one who calls herself Lala. As my machine whirred, I watched the birds, literally by the hundreds, swoop in, grab their nuts or thistle, catch their wind and retreat to a nearby branch. I watched the fog rise and descend like a quilt’s airy batting, forming tiny glittering crystals on everything it touched. I watched a determined squirrel (already obese) hang upside-down, each sticky little paw clutching tight a different branch, as he filled his cheeks, trying hard to empty the bird feeder before again losing his balance.

These have been unusually cold days, with both a glorious sun and a freezing fog alternating through the day.   It’s been quiet and serene at this window and I’ve had a chance to contemplate the sorts of things I’d hoped to, love lots on my dogs, and sew a quilt for Lala. This all came at a good time, coinciding as it did with a new year.

I made a discovery early on…without the ever-grateful G.P. here to share the table, some of the joy of cooking has been absent. I’ve eaten very simply…which isn’t all bad. And I’ve eaten a lot of leftovers. This earthy warm tagine got me through several wintry nights…

YamCarrotTagine-2

Served over couscous, this syrupy, caramel-y tagine makes a delicious vegetarian meal served with salad. But it would also go well paired with grilled or roasted meats. Substitute butternut squash or sweet potatoes for the yams, or small shallots for the pearl onions if you like.  You don’t need a tagine to prepare this dish – use a heavy-bottomed casserole dish if that’s what you have. (And if you don’t have preserved lemons…I suppose you could make it without…or…here’s a thought: you could make some!)

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a Tagine of Yam, Pearl Onions, Carrots, Prunes & Preserved Lemons

2 to 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil along with a pat of Butter

Fresh Ginger Root – 1½-inch piece about the thickness of your thumb, minced or grated

2 sticks Cinnamon (or 1½ to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon)

10 ounces Pearl Onions* peeled (See NOTE below on how to peel)

2 pounds Yams or Sweet Potatoes, in bite-size chunks

2 medium Carrots, in bite-size chunks

¾ cup Pitted Prunes

2 teaspoons Maple Syrup

1¾ cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock

Preserved Lemon (rind only) from ½ lemon, small dice

small bunch Cilantro Leaves, roughly chopped

several Mint Leaves, chopped

salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

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*  (or 10 – 12 very small shallots)

In a heavy-bottomed casserole dish or a tagine, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the ginger and cinnamon sticks and stir for one minute. Toss in the peeled pearl onions and when they begin to color, toss in the yams or sweet potatoes, the carrots and the preserved lemon. Sauté for several minutes, then drop in the prunes and maple syrup. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, top with a lid and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes…until vegetables pierce easily with a fork. 

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creamy carrot soup & preserved lemons

On a winter’s afternoon, weeks still before Christmas, a good friend Carolyn and I came together in my kitchen. We’d amassed on the counter several bags of organic lemons, sea salt, a few herbs and spices, and a collection of pretty jars.  We washed, sliced and stuffed the lemons with salt. We packed them tight into their jars. Then tighter still. We dropped bay leaves and pink peppercorns and allspice berries in behind them, and then squeezed juice enough from other lemons to cover them. We talked about what we’d do with them and who we’d give them to as gifts for Christmas. In six weeks they’d be ready. Carolyn hadn’t tasted them before, so she could hardly wait.CarrotSoup-1Some time – too long ago – I posted on how to preserve lemons. I (kind of) promised that I’d share recipes that used these indescribably delectable “preserves”. (In all truth, though, you don’t really need a recipe in order to use them. You can strew them on a salad or in the salad’s vinaigrette; or in with roasted or steamed vegetables; make a simple sauce sort of extraordinary; add them to stews or soups; flavor grilled or poached fish with them. I reach for them several times a week, at least!) Over the next couple months I’ll share a good handful of really good recipes. One of them will be from my friend Carolyn who invented it on the spot (she does that sort of thing, and created herself a beautiful shrimp dinner in about 15 minutes.) She told me about it and I made it and we loved it. (Expect to see more from Ottolenghi too.)

This one today is from Mike – Mike, married to my daughter, is a good good cook. They received a jar of Preserved Lemons for Christmas. One day my girl and I were on an outing and she raved about the dinner Mike had made the other night. By that afternoon, I was texting Mike…

He generously shares his soup:

Creamy Carrot Soup with Preserved Lemons

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 -3 Tablespoons butter or olive oil

 2 cloves of garlic, minced

1½ teaspoons finely minced ginger root

 2 cups chicken stock (or good vegetable stock)

2 Tablespoons dry sherry or white wine

8 to 10 medium carrots, sliced thinly

1 to 2 sections of preserved lemon, diced finely (See NOTE)

1 to 1¼ cups milk (from whole milk to 1% to your preferred milk alternative)

Salt & Pepper (white if you have it) to taste

NOTE on preserved lemons. By “sections” we mean quarters of lemon. After soaking in a briny liquid for 6 weeks, the flesh of the lemon has given over much of its juice to the jar. The rinds of the lemon have softened, and in a way quite impossible to describe, have mellowed, given up their acidic bite and become more roundly-flavored, very lemony still, but not mouth-puckeringly so. To use them, you remove the flesh (either discard it or toss it back in the jar) and use only the rind, which you rinse well first and then (generally) finely dice. If you cook with it, it will impart its lemony-ness to the dish but in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. If you use it fresh, without cooking first, you get little lemony bursts.

CarrotSoup-2

If you don’t want to make them yourself, you can find them in many markets. That said, they’re easy and (we think) fun to make…especially with a friend.

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so what’s in a salad?

Fresh-air markets, booths and stalls stretching for blocks and blocks, wooden tables piled high with newly-picked fruits and vegetables.  Luscious juice-sweet fruits, all round-body shapes and colors. Rustic root or bright green vegetables some with the earth still clinging to them. Farmers in aprons, their hands, soil-worn and calloused, paring off samples for us to taste. And we held out our hands and we tasted, and we bought what we couldn’t resist. But we’d made some kind of cosmic mistake! We had no kitchen to take our booty to, no salad bowl, no wooden tongs. No aprons of our own. So it happened that everywhere we went, my longing for brilliant color tossed in a bowl grew. We had some nice salads while away, but they weren’t the salads of home. And  the salads of home are the foods I miss most of all when we’re away.

So here, for you (and for me) brilliant color in a bowl. (and between us, so delicious it’s startling!)

Once again, as is usually the case with salads around here, a list of ingredients but no amounts. I’ll give some rough guidelines, but you know how you like your salads from home, so no one will be as good a judge as you …

 

Brilliant Winter Green Salad with Pomegranate, Apple & Almonds

Baby Spinach – or Arugula  (which do you prefer, mild and green, or slightly bitter? Or maybe a mix of the two.)

Apple, cored and sliced

Pomegranate seeds (see a previous post for the most ingenious way to remove these wonderfully tart & crunchy little seeds)

Basil – leaves laid out on top of one another, rolled tight like a cigar and sliced thinly

Slivered Almonds, toasted brown

Shallot, sliced thinly and sauteed to a toasty brown in a bit of oil

Soft, mild goat cheese – Optional

Vinaigrette (see below)

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Thinly slice the shallot and drop it into a small medium-hot skillet to which you’ve added a small amount of oil. Stir occasionally until browned. Remove to a paper towel.

Toast the almonds – in a 350° oven for perhaps 15 minutes. Check frequently. (The last bit of browning goes very quickly.) About the last 5 minutes you might (might!) want to place the shallots in the oven along with the almonds to dry and crisp them a bit more. 

Remove the seeds from the pomegranate. (See previous post link above. You’ll also find another delicious salad there.)

Toss all ingredients into a bowl (reserving a little of the seeds, nuts and shallots for sprinkling on top.) Toss with a little vinaigrette. Taste to see if amply dressed. Drizzle more as desired. Sprinkle bits of brilliance on top.

Would you like me to taste it for you and tell you why it’s so good?

Even this time of year, most markets will still have fresh crisp baby spinach leaves. These leaves taste mild and green and like Health itself. (Arugula, a little or a lot, but only for those who like the mildly bitter. I do!) Crisp sweet-tart apple, toasted almonds tasting of the hearth, threads of fresh basil winding throughout (these you nearly taste in your nose), crunchy smoky bittersweet bits of shallot, bursting tart seeds full of juice…and then…if you like this sort of thing…mild and creamy, exquisite white cheese of goat.

I . love .  this .  salad !

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green beans in summer

Keeping it simple, keeping it cool.

Fresh, crisp green beans, lightly and barely cooked then chilled. Drizzled with walnut oil. Scattered with toasted walnuts and fresh thyme leaves. Sprinkled with crunchy salt & crumbles of blue cheese. Served with anything off the grill or as one of a trio of summer salads. Simple and cool, like lemonade and a run through the sprinkler, just what we need, just as we need it.

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A few secrets to beautifully cooked green beans: 

Lots and lots of water…a big pot full of roiling, boiling water.

Lots of salt…way more than you think you’d need.

quick cooking.

And, unless you’re serving immediately, a good ice-cold bath & toweling off. (the beans, I mean … but it might be just what you need too.)

Why so much water? Because when you drop the beans in, the temperature will naturally drop and will need to return to a boil…that takes far less time the more water you have. Why so much salt? It helps lock in the color AND salted water boils at a higher temperature. (Don’t worry – very little of it will be left on the beans.) As quick a cooking as possible because the longer they’re in hot water the limper and paler they become and the more of their vitamins and minerals they’ll lose. Why the quick ice bath? If you don’t cool them immediately, they’ll continue cooking outside the pot, well beyond their perfect doneness. (Thank you Julia Childs – how to cook good green beans, one of the first things I learned from you as a young cook.)

As usual when presenting vegetables, I’ll leave quantities safely in your own able hands. Here are just a list of ingredients & a few guidelines.

Green Beans in Summer with Walnut Oil, Walnuts & Blue Cheese

Fresh, crisp brightly colored green beans

Walnut oil (so delicious! You won’t be sorry you picked some up if you haven’t already)

Walnuts

Coarse, crunchy salt (like Fleur gris or Maldon) – (See NOTE)

Blue cheese

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

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NOTE on salt – if you enjoy salt, you’ll much prefer the crunchy little bits of a coarser, slower-dissolving kind in a dish like this. It adds another element & a distinctive texture to this simple dish.

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wednesday vegetables thursday

It was bound to happen.

Set an intention, make an appointment, pledge a promise, cross your heart.

But perhaps you’ve noticed –

life isn’t always a respecter of such things…and really, why should it be?

Life is bigger (& thankfully, more mysterious) than that.

But had I been able to keep my appointment with you to bring vegetables on Wednesday,

this is what I would have brought.

You would have really liked it I think…

Spinach with Chickpeas

serves 6

(more delicious by far than the photo can say)

2 pounds fresh spinach

Chickpeas (one 14 oz. can)

4 – 6 cloves garlic, chopped

1½ teaspoon ground coriander

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Pepper

Optional: Juice of 1 lemon

Optional, but wildly delicious: chopped preserved lemon

 Wash the spinach, removing only the thick long stems if there are any. Drain excess moisture from the leaves.

In the largest wok or sauté pan you have, add the olive oil.  Turn heat to medium. When oil begins to shimmer warm, drop in the chopped garlic and ground coriander. Stir until the aromas rise. Without adding any additional water, pack in the spinach leaves, place a lid on the pan and reduce temperature to low. Read more

green salad with blueberries, kiwi & goat cheese

For at least the next several weeks we have a three-part kitchen. The refrigerator is still where it belongs, but next week will be heading to the garage. Our prep space is on a long craft table set up in the dining room in front of the window – where until recently I took photos to share with you. We have the bare necessities there – the sorts of things you’d likely find at a campsite – well, okay, maybe an RV park, minus the generator. The clean up space (and the nearest water) is in our laundry room, about 100 yards (or more) away from everything. That’s also where we keep our espresso machine, because how could we consider going camping without it?

Between the clean-up space and the prep space are some stairs. On this side of the stairs are our dogs. On the other side of the stairs, a demolition crew going in and out the front door. Separating the two, at the base of the stairs, is a dog gate that I climb over with arms full of food, cutting board, salad bowl, etc etc etc. If you had a few minutes and you’re into pratfalls, you’d get a kick out of it. I’m bringing armloads of stuff to my office to prepare a salad and then to photograph it. So as you can imagine, there are a lot of “steps” involved in preparing something around here, especially something to share with people of such enormously good taste as yourselves. A lot of “foot-steps” that is. Apart from that, we’re keepin’ it simple around these parts. Here it is another Wegetable Vednesday and the show must go on!

This morning I headed to another one of Portland’s Farmers’ Markets, and this time I brought big girl camera and cash. This market too is on Portland’s park blocks, but smaller, cozier than last week’s. And, sadly, no fiddles. But there were glorious flowers and loads of beautiful vegetables and herbs to choose from.

I’m kind of a freak for salads, so I head to the greens first. But I’m apprehended by the perfume of fresh bouquets of mint and tender pillowy leaves of basil. And the greens, half of them were shades of purple! How could I resist? Another vender was selling goat cheese. Into the basket. (See those orange beets in the photo above? Those made it home too, but didn’t make it to the salad.) What did make it into the salad: the greens & the purples, the goat cheese, mint and basil, some plump bursty blueberries – and kiwi just ripe, back  at our campsite. They got tossed into a bowl, drizzled with olive oil and (blueberry infused) balsamic. But never mind if yours isn’t blueberry flavored, any balsamic you love will do! A little salt and pepper, glorious! Took a few photos then feasted simple!

(No amounts will be specified – just wing it! Have fun! We’re camping!)

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just another ‘ordinary’ breakfast in India

Last fall I introduced you to my friend Amit who grew up in Delhi, India. (See a wonderful rice and beans dish of his mother’s, Rajmah, that I posted at the time.) Amit, a man who loves all things associated with the kitchen, has inspired me in my own. Now borrowed from him are chai, rice and bean dishes, chutney, a couple salads and several curries that he brought to the US when he immigrated here. This is Amit’s father’s birthday month and in honor of that, I was asked if I could share a favorite dish of his Dad’s too. I told my good friend I’d be happy to.

Have you ever heard the expression that a person grows into the name he or she was given? It appears to be the case with Amit’s father, a gregarious man with a smile that lights up his entire face, and possibly the entire room. His name: Prakash Chandra Jain. Prakash means light, and Chandra – moon! Can you imagine being given such a name?! And then, having the privilege of growing into it?

Seen here with wife Anjana, at the wedding of their son Moni to his new bride, Richa.

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Sri Prakash Chandra, since retired, had his career as an experimental physicist.  He’s always been an exacting man – both in his lab and in the kitchen where he loved to cook for his family. His interest in the culinary world was already well-evidenced by the time he was a young man in college where he took the lead in his dorm’s dining hall — purchasing the food, planning the recipes for the cooking staff and in general, managing the kitchen. Experimentation wasn’t restricted to his physics lab either – he’s been known to work and work on a recipe until he’s perfected it. And one of his favorite dishes is one that Amit and his family grew up eating on a typical (ever-delicious) Delhi morning.

Paranthas stuffed with cauliflower & spices

served with cumin raita and an out-of-this-world green chutney

Sounds complicated, no? Well, it’s not a bowl of instant oatmeal or a cereal bar grabbed on the way out the door (but who writes of that?)  It’s sit-down food, meant for moments to savor.

Cauliflower stuffing

  • 1 medium cauliflower, shredded (using a coarse grater)
  • Grated ginger root (using fine grater) – a piece about 1 x 1-inch
  • Cilantro: 2 to 3 Tablespoons, chopped (Amit’s family uses leaves only)
  • 2 teaspoon Garam masala
  • 2 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeño pepper (optional, but we like) – minced

(NOTE: Amit has also made this stuffing with purple potatoes, cooked & chopped finely, then prepared as in the directions for this stuffing. How very pretty that would be.)

Heat oil in a pan. Add ginger and sauté until just slightly brown. Add the cauliflower and spices. Cook uncovered over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes (or until tender).

Should you have any left over, this stuffing is delicious to eat as a side.

Green Chutney

fresh ginger – 1 inch x ½ inch piece

1 Tablespoon cumin seeds

15 – 20 leaves of fresh mint

2 whole bunches of fresh cilantro

2 cloves garlic

1½ salt  (Amit likes 2)

juice of 2 limes

1 jalapeño – ribs and seeds removed

¼ to ½ water (more like 3/8)

1 to 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt  (optional – I wanted to preserve the brilliant green color so didn’t add)

3 Tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut

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things topsy turvy & a new feature at cooking-spree

In earlier posts I’ve alluded to “things about to happen” around our house, but I can explain further now. First there was the joyous birth of our little Drew baby! And even a bit before, and a lot since, we’ve been preparing for a good-sized remodel – two bathrooms and our kitchen.Once work begins on the kitchen, things will get especially interesting. We have a gas grill, and a portable induction burner that’ll hold one pot at a time. And we’ll have boxes full of herbs and spices and plates and forks and knives.

How do I prepare for what has been described to me variously as “completely disruptive”, “awful”, and “just plain hell” (really?!) ? I accept that things will be turned on their heads for a while, and I’ll be here to document it. I’ll photograph the destruction and mayhem.  I’ll play my part in this creative process, from demolition to gleaming completion. I know it’ll be challenging in ways I can’t yet know. But I’m thrilled! And I think I’m ready.

What will it mean here, on these bloggy pages? We’ll discover together. Smoothies? Salads? One pot wonders? Grilled seafood? We won’t go hungry, I promise!

One thing that will make this process less disruptive to food-lovers like us is that Spring is upon us and Summer is coming, and about now Farmer’s Markets are springing up all over the city and in the ‘burbs! Wooden stalls lined with fresh and gorgeous produce, bulging in bright ripeness! The choices we have are exquisitely exhaustive! So, one thing I can predict for the coming months is this: I’ll be carrying my basket to farmers markets, visiting with the growers, photographing fresh-from-the-farm fruits and vegetables and bringing a few choice picks home. Once a week I’ll share my trips with you. We’ll explore old favorites, never-liked and never-tried’s. Most of what will result will be simple, beautiful,  and delicious. And since life around our house will be turned on its head for the next little while, it seemed only fitting to name this weekly feature something like

Wegetable Vednesdays!

and so I have.

(but don’t be surprised to see a few vruits too)

It will be a veritable celebration of things with stems & seeds & roots!

Why not begin with a couple old standby’s and treat them freshly? It doesn’t get more basic than peas and carrots, right?

Well, it could…

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R a i n b o w    c a r r o t ,  p e a   &   p e a   s h o o t   s a l a d

(about 6 servings)

1½ pounds rainbow carrots (various lengths makes it even prettier)

4 ounces pea shoots (see NOTE)

2 cups sugar snap peas

1 cup snow peas (optional)

¼ cup Meyer lemon juice

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 cup crumbled sheep or goat milk feta cheese

¾ cup mint leaves, cut into slivers

For protein, add either

3 cups cooked chicken, shredded

2 cups grilled or poached firm fish, in pieces

1 cup cooked & shelled edamame (fresh soy beans)

NOTE on pea shoots – One market I go to stocks them regularly. You may find them at Farmers Markets or Asian markets too. 

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 Scrub the carrots gently in order to retain most of their bright outer color. With a mandolin or vegetable peeler, cut thin lengthwise ribbons to make about 4 cups. Discard ends or any tough cores. (What worked best for me was to lay the carrot on the cutting board, holding the thin end of the carrot in one hand and with the other, using a vegetable peeler and a bit more pressure than normal, peel from the small end to the large. I discarded both the first and last strip of each carrot since that was mostly peel.) 

Put dark and light carrot ribbons in separate bowls of ice water and soak about 15 minutes to crisp them up. Drain in a colander and roll in kitchen towels. (or line a salad spinner with towel and spin.) 

Go through the pea shoots, discarding thick or tough stems and tearing sprigs into 4- or 5-inch pieces.

Pull the strings from the straight sides of snap peas (& snow peas if using) and then thinly slice lengthwise.

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a dinner for lovers

Yesterday’s post explained why this is what’s for our Valentines dinner…it’s quick and easy to prepare, colorful, pretty, sensuous, light in the stomach, delicious in the mouth. Tomorrow morning I’ll lay out a schedule for how to get it from kitchen to table in under an hour. That will be easy as pie if you just spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes of light prep work the night before. (Tomorrow or Sunday will also bring another option for dessert.)

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A reminder of the menu:

To whet (& wet) the Appetite:

Passion Fruit Cocktails for Two

Stacked Crab Bistro Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

Dinner:

Seared Sesame-Encrusted Ahi Tuna

Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger

oh-so Forbidden Rice

Dessert:

a sweet multitude of options

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A very little time spent prepping the vegetables the night before will make this dish a breeze.

Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger

  • ½ pound sugar snap peas
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil (I love toasted sesame oil for this, but not necessary)
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
  • ¼ pound shiitake mushrooms, (stems removed & discarded) – sliced
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons ginger, thinly sliced & sliced again into matchsticks
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce or Tamari
  • 1 Tablespoon cooking sherry
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter

Wash the snap peas and remove their strings, if any. Put a pot on to boil, add salt. Have a colander in the sink and a bowl of ice-water close by. When the water comes to a boil, add peas. Cook for only 1½ to 2 minutes. (You want peas to be bright green and crispy, nearly tender.) Empty into colander. Transfer peas to bowl of ice water for one or two minutes to cool. Remove from water. Place in a clean kitchen towel, and roll and pat to dry. (At this point you can put them in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator if you’re preparing ahead.) Otherwise set aside as you prepare the other ingredients.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and slice fairly thinly. Cut the ginger into tiny “matchsticks”.  (Whether you opt for 1 or 2 tablespoons is entirely dependent on your love and tolerance of spicy warm ginger.) Thinly slice the shallots.

Heat the canola and sesame oils in a good-size skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add the shallots and, stirring constantly, cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the ginger. Stirring constantly, cook about 30 seconds, then add mushrooms, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. They’ll have begun to release some of their liquid and have started to sizzle. Raise heat to medium-high and add the peas. Stir occasionally, allowing peas to be touched by bits of brown. Add the soy sauce and cooking sherry, deglazing the pan of brown bits. (Taste for salt, adding a bit more soy if needed.) Add a pat of butter, stir to melt and glisten the peas and mushrooms. Serve.

Printer-friendly version of the sugar snap peas, click here.

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Ever hear of forbidden rice? It’s the deepest darkest shade of purple – like aubergine. Royal purple. With all its brilliant color (phytochemicals) it’s rich in antioxidants. (The stuff that protects our cells from free-radical damage.) It’s a whole-grain, even more nutritious than its brown cousin, but cooks in only slightly more time than its white relative. (About 30 minutes.) I suppose it was chosen for this menu for obvious reasons. How can one not be a little tempted – at least intrigued – by what’s labeled forbidden? It got its name in ancient China when it was grown and harvested and fed to only the Emperor. Anyone caught with purple grains between his teeth was summarily executed. Well, perhaps I’m playing loose with the facts there, but it makes a rather dramatic story. And a great introduction for a side dish for lovers. (It’s not on every market’s shelf, but some of the better-stocked markets will carry it. It costs more of course, but it’s not prohibitive…a small bag will make enough rice to feed 8 to 10 and cost about $5.00.)

oh-so Forbidden Rice

(will serve 4)

  • 1 cup forbidden rice
  • 1¾ cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • optional: 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon (I like Better than Bouillon – concentrated, natural good flavor)
  • chives, finely chopped

Bring water to boil, add salt, butter and bouillon (if using.) Add rice, stir, return to boil, then lower temperature to simmer. Cook on simmer for 30-35 minutes. (My simmer took 35.) Turn the heat off and allow pan to sit for 5 minutes or so before removing the lid. Fluff rice with a fork. Return the lid if not serving immediately. Before serving sprinkle with chopped chives.

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