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Posts from the ‘Wegetable Vednesdays’ Category

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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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

the art of surrender

It’s not as I expected…but just as I expected.

I expected hordes of people passing through our house. I knew the messes were inevitable. I knew that clouds of dust would find their way into small hidden spaces and loud noises would ring throughout the day. I knew that keeping our dogs smiling would require extra love. I knew too that without a kitchen, life would be interesting. I was ready for all that, and even my husband would attest that I’ve been quite the good sport through all most of it. But I imagined  that I could cook and I could then post what we ate for dinner. How hard could that be?

Hmmm.

As you’ve noticed, I’ve gone silent.

It’s not from lack of intention or interest. Life – moving throughout the day – just takes far more of me during this remodel than I ever imagined. It’s been good, but it’s been complicated. It’s been fun, but it’s been challenging. It’s been exhilarating and occasionally it’s been exhausting.

I used to read in the mornings, but reading has stopped. I exercised often. That was then. I corresponded with friends and family. Now it’s howdy waves in passing or texts with lots of code talk. Leaving all rhythms behind can be frustrating, and all the more so the tighter we hold.

I knew that no matter what I expected, I would be surprised. Expecting to be surprised makes surrendering to the inevitable far easier though, don’t you think?

We’re about half way through…or so we imagine. But of course we don’t know. We humans think we know a great deal and frequently we’re mistaken about that. There will be more surprises for us. (And for you.) May we find our way to be graceful through them.

Our kitchen is nearly done. Dribs and drabs remain. But we have water now, and heat to cook with. Our food is now within reach, and pots are bubbling on the stove. Spree is stirring. And though it’s Wednesday, and you might have expected vegetables (because I did lead you to that belief didn’t I?) ~ here is the smallest of offerings.

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Halibut Fillets & Ribbons of Vegetables

in little paper packages

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(And already another surprise…I just this very moment, we’re talking real time here, went to locate the images I’d shot of this sweet little dinner. It appears that I’ve erased them from my card …before uploading them to my computer. So – I’ll be back to fill in the images as it looks like our house may be enjoying this dish again on Saturday. 🙂 What are you gonna do? So in the meantime, would you be so kind as to imagine a light and very tender piece of halibut nestled in a parchment package, overlaid with colorful ribbons of zucchini & carrot & fennel & red pepper & peas, all brightened by wheels of lemon, bits of ginger & sprigs of cilantro? You’re a dear!)

Days later – OK friends – even though you’ve gone to all the trouble to conjure  this dish, we’ve enjoyed the dinner again and I’ve now got the photos for you. 

You might like this with a loaf of crusty bread, wrapped in aluminum foil and put in the same oven for about 10 minutes. Or maybe boiled or roasted new potatoes, or maybe basmati rice (or that delicious Forbidden Rice, as we did.) 

 Halibut & Ribbons of Vegetables in Papillote

for 4 servings

  • 1 zucchini, sliced into ribbons or shoestrings
  • 1 carrot, again, as with your zucchini
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 handful fresh snow peas or sugar peas in their pods, thinly sliced
  • 1 small fennel bulb (tough outer layer removed) sliced thinly
  • fresh ginger root – the thickness of your thumb x 1-inch, cut into very thin matchsticks
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt & freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • 2 Meyer lemons, 1 grated & juiced, the other cut into thin wheels
  • 4 halibut fillets, about 6 to 8 ounces each (170 – 225 g) (or another mild fish of your choice)
  • Olive oil for drizzling

Preheat the oven (or toaster oven if you’re camping out indoors or feeding only 2) to 420°F (215°C).  Cut parchment paper into 14 to 16-inch square pieces.

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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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