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Sunday
Jun032012

RATATOUILLE BARLEY SALAD

In a recent podcast about time, our pastor referred to the "margins of our lives" and I was immediately struck by the term. I interpreted it to be the time that we are not concerned with being busy. There is the work that we have to do to make a living, there is the busyness that we make by way of cleaning, errands, seeing friends, working out, and so on, and then there is the margin - the unplanned time. I don't know many people who have a lot of it, but it exists, and it is ours to fill. To fill with yet more busyness or leave open for small pleasures. I fall default to the former. I pack it full in attempt to make that margin productive and efficient. I fill it to manipulate the most out of that time, which I realized is completely defeating of the entire idea, and make work of it instead. Enjoyable work, but not really the "no schedule" type of time that I really love when I do surrender to it.

That message sunk in. I've since found myself on multiple jogs with Hugh, dual headsets in the ipod, listening to a zombie apocolypse running motivational app. That wasn't on my to do list, but may be one of the most humorous memories I have with my husband to date. We had a family bbq to celebrate our new niece on Sunday and I stopped a few times to recognize the simple things - how comfortable I am with my inlaws, the charm of quirky personalities, my niece who gives THEE best face squishy snuggles on the planet, that my mom will drop off extra flowers for the table in a moments notice, how helpful Hugh is, and chatting with my sister in law, a now great friend of mine, over a kitchen full of dishes...a sign of a good party. The busy gets done, but the margin is where the good stuff is.

I made this salad to share with all that summer produce that's blazing forth into my kitchen. It is super easy to throw together, and can be made in advance (a perfect bbq dish). The vegetables here are sturdy to hold their shape in the sea of grains, each cooked seperately to retain their flavors. I cooked them in a cast iron pan as our charcoal grill is somewhat of a project for a few veggies, but if you're grill is on, they'd be great cooked there too. Keep it easy, that's the best thing about this salad.

RATATOUILLE BARLEY SALAD // Serves 8

I used pearled barley because I had a loose bag that I wanted to use up. You could use quinoa, farro, bulgar, rice etc., you just need about 2 1/2-3 cups cooked of whichever you choose. If you like some kick, a few pinches of red pepper flakes would work nicely here.

1 cup pearled barley

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tsp. agave nectar

1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2'' slices

about 6 zucchini, 1/2'' coins

olive oil + lemon pepper for cooking

2 cups baby tomatoes, halved

1/3 cup finely chopped basil

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

grated parmesan, as desired

sea salt, as needed

Rinse the barley. Put it in a pot with about 3 cups of water. Bring it to a boil then down to a simmer, add a few pinches of salt and cook for about 25-30 minutes until tender. Drain any excess water and transfer the grains to a big mixing bowl. Add the minced garlic and a pinch of salt while the grains are still hot, and stir. Add the oil, vinegar and agave and stir to coat. Set aside.

Heat a hearty drizzle of olive oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat (you can alternatively grill the eggplant and zucchini). Add the zucchini and a generous sprinkle of lemon pepper and saute until well charred and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to the barley bowl. Rub lemon pepper or similar seasoning on all sides of the eggplant. Sear the eggplants in the pan, this will have to be done in two batches. I like to cook both sides with a bunch of seasonings until the eggplant starts to soften and then add a drizzle of oil. Turns out a bit less greasy this way. Let the eggplant cool slightly. Chop it into 2'' chunks and add it to the barley bowl. Add the halved tomatoes, basil, parsley and toss everything to mix. Taste for salt (remember you're adding parm so go easy) and pepper and maybe a bit more vinegar if you prefer.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Generously sprinkle the grated parmesan on top and another pinch of fresh herbs and fresh pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Keeps well in the fridge for about five days.

Tuesday
May222012

LEMON PANCAKES WITH YOGURT + BERRIES

There was a time when I thought pancakes only came from Bisquick boxes. Pancake creativity maxed out at throwing in some chocolate chips or blueberries into the batter on a weekend morning, but my parents were no-fuss kind of cooks. To be fair, I likely wouldn't have recognized boxed from homemade as a kid, but I've found myself fascinated by the more deliberate kind lately. I mean the variety of recipes is endless, with ratios of dry to liquid varying greatly. You can really get fussy about the art of the pancake. Should they be cakey? Thin? Custardy inside? Sweet enough to stand alone or less so, assuming they'll be covered in maple syrup? I'll chalk it up to personal preference, but the vote around here is thin and tender, and faintly sweet. I've used all sorts of grain flours, liquid sweeteners, some dairy free versions with coconut milk, and others bound with flaxmeal... and to think at one point, they only came from a yellow box.

This naturally gluten free recipe from Bea's cookbook is just lovely. They have some volume to them from the whipped egg white, which I appreciated more than I thought I would. She calls for lemon extract, and this would have made that flavor more obvious, but instead of yet another trip to the market, the fresh juice and zest lent a gentle brightness. They are tender from the yogurt and the care taken to not overcook them. You flip when you just begin to see the bubbles and no longer than a minute on the other side. I am sure maple would have worked, but the lemon was begging for creaminess and berries on a sunny spring morning. 

Happy long weekend ahead. Hope there is a slow morning with pancakes in your future. 

LEMON PANCAKES WITH YOGURT + BERRIES // Serves 4, makes about 12 small pancakes

Loosely adapted from La Tartine Gourmande by Beatrice Peltre

I didn't have all the ingredients from Bea's original recipe, but I worked with what I had, still keeping them gluten free. She uses rice flour, quinoa flour and quinoa flakes, which I image would produce a pancake that is slightly more delicate than mine. She suggests in her headnote that buttermilk, milk or yogurt can be used in the batter. I used a mix but you can use whatever you happen to have on hand. 

You don't need to have packaged oat flour. It's a quick whizz in the blender of some rolled oats and poof, you have oat flour. If you don't need or want them to be gluten free, 1 cup total of your preferred flour should work just fine. 

 

1/3 cup almond meal

1/3 quinoa flour

1/3 cup oat flour (ground rolled oats)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

2 1/2 Tbsp. natural cane sugar

2 eggs, seperated

1 cup buttermilk, yogurt or milk (I used half yogurt and half milk)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

zest of one meyer lemon 

1 Tbsp. melted coconut oil, plus more for cooking

// topping //

1 cup whole or lowfat yogurt

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. honey

blueberries

 

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir to mix. 

In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with the buttermilk/yogurt, vanilla, lemon juice and zest, and the oil. Add this wet mixture to the dry and stir to combine. 

In a stand mixer or with hand mixers, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter. 

In a frying pan, heat a small pat of oil over medium heat. Pour a scant 1/4 cup batter in the pan and repeat with as many pancakes as you can without overcrowding. Cook until bubbles form, flip and cook another minute until golden. Repeat with remaining batter. 

Mix the yogurt with lemon juice and honey. Serve the warm pancakes with a lemon yogurt drizzle and fresh blueberries. 

 

Tuesday
May152012

BRAISED LEEKS + MUSCOVADO LENTILS

We visited a couple restaurants in Los Angeles on Sunday to celebrate my birthday. I rarely have particular plans of what I'd like to do to celebrate, but I know specifically where and what I'd like to eat. May will be a month full of events. There will be a number of birthdays, mothers day, wedding season for Hugh, a new niece coming any day now and all sorts of things in between. Cooking, amidst all the going out to eat and desserts these days bring, seems less intriguing but it's also the place I get recharged. I like being alone in the kitchen, no music, watching ingredients come together and trying something new. Some of that inspiration comes from visiting fun restaurants, so birthday months always leave me full of ideas.

Both Gjelina and Tasting Kitchen are places we've visited before, but I love the ambiance at both. Most restaurant menus these days seem to give you a pretty extensive list of what is in each dish, boasting the name of the farm that it's produce is from or which variety of this, that or the other the food item is. I care about those details when I'm picking out food to cook at home, but while browsing the Tasting Kitchen's menu, so minimal and vague, I realized how that simplicity spoke a confidence in their dishes - that they didn't need to romanticize them to the guests. In typical LA fashion you can't change or substitute anything, so what is the point in knowing every ingredient anyway? So we got two appetizers: braised leeks + burrata and broccolini + lentils... so unassuming. Both great, but my favorite part were the lentils that had a caramelized sweetness to them and bits of crunchy breadcrumbs. Sweet lentils! A new preparation to me, but Hugh would barely share with me so I was determined to recreate a portion I could savor all to myself. Leeks are naturally sweet, and the braising gives them a silkiness that melts along side the lentils. Such a simple preparation for such a glorious texture. Below is a recipe that mimicks a combination of those appetizers. It would make an excellent light lunch, a side dish for a number of proteins, or a tasty bed for poached or fried eggs.

BRAISED LEEKS + MUSCOVADO LENTILS // Serves 2

Inspired by the Tasting Kitchen, Venice Beach with some tips on leek braising from Vegetarian Times

If you're skeptical of the sweetness, start with less muscovado and work up to a point you like it. A light brown sugar will work as well. If cooking these for more people, I would guess you could double or triple the amount of leeks and bake them in a 9x13 pan covered with foil. However, you will likely need less liquid than a direct multiplication. Eyeball it, you want the liquid just more than halfway up the side of the leeks. If you give this a try, let me know how it turns out.

 

3 large leeks, dark green parts removed

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 cup low sodium vegetable broth

2 tsp. agave or honey

pinch of salt + pepper

 

// lentils//

2/3 cup black or green lentils, rinsed

1/2 T. unsalted butter

1 tsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. muscovado sugar (or light brown sugar)

2 tsp. rice vinegar

 

1/4 cup fresh toasted breadcrumbs (great tips here)

3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley

Trim the dark green parts from the top of the leeks, and just enough off the bottom to leave the ends it tact (this holds them together). Halve them lengthwise and remove any dirt.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add the leeks, cut side down and cook about 3 minutes until browned. Drizzle the tsp. of olive oil on top, flip them over and cook another two minutes. Add the broth, agave and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Turn the heat to a gentle simmer, partially cover and cook for about 25 minutes until they are buttery soft.

While the leeks are cooking, start your lentils. Put the lentils, about 1 1/4 cups water and a pinch of salt in a pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook until the lentils are cooked through, adding a bit more water if needed, and cook off any excess water in the end. If the leeks are done by this point, just take them off the heat and leave them covered, they're fine.

Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Add the lentils, sprinkle in the muscovado, rice vinegar, pinch of salt and pepper and saute to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Plate the leeks with the lentils on top and garnish with breadcrumbs and parsley. Enjoy warm.

 

Thursday
May032012

SIMPLE ARTICHOKES + GARLIC AIOLI

Simple things done well. That is what I want in this season of spring produce. The sweetest strawberries, perfectly roasted asparagus, and fresh artichokes with leaves tightly snuggled together. All they needed was a simple steam with herbs and lemon and a delicately flavored aioli to drag the tender heart through after all the leaves have piled up, teeth marks down the center. I get caught up in the effort of being different with cooking and forget that it's the simple things that usually bring the most attention to good quality ingredients. 

I enjoy pouring over food magazines, reading some recipes that I may not ever make just because I am curious about technique and want to learn. I have a binder full of pages I've ripped out of recipes I want to try, very few which I've actually gotten to. I kept a page from the recent Bon Appetit with a header claiming "The Creamiest Aioli by Suzanne Goin" and along with the photo "World's Greatest Mayo." We can agree those are pretty bold claims alongside the name of a well-know and talented chef, so while I don't consider myself a frequent aioli maker, I needed to know if this bold, black type face was really the truth.  

In short, I loved it. It would really be delicious on a number of vegetables. I hesitate to validate the claim that it's the "best," as I've made aioli about three times, but it's pretty darn good. I may have strayed slightly from the recipe, but that's to be expected - it's a keeper.

STEAMED ARTICHOKES + GARLIC AIOLI // Serves 2

Aioli adapted from Suzanne Goin in Bon Appetit

The original recipe suggests 1/4 c grapeseed oil and 1/4 c olive oil. While I am sure that makes for a more mild taste, I didn't have grapeseed, and found my adjustment below to be just fine. My addition of a spicy dijon and heavy hand with the citrus trumped any chance the olive oil had in taking over the flavor. Suzanne suggests to serve this on some poached salmon and that sounds incredible, maybe topped with a bunch of green herbs. 

I've had one bad go at homemade aioli and learned it's important to use a fresh, good quality egg. Anything less just doesn't get quite as creamy. If your mixture is greasy instead of fluffy, it is called "breaking." To fix it, start with a clean bowl, a new yolk and slowly drizzle in the broken aioli to the new bowl. 

1 large egg yolk

1 garlic clove, super finely minced

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

pinch of cayenne

fresh lemon juice (about 2-3 Tbsp. or to taste)

1-2 tsp. dijon mustard

fresh black pepper

--

2 artichokes

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

half a lemon

dried herbs of choice

Settle a large mixing bowl in the nest of a damp dishtowel to steady the bowl. Whisk the egg yolk, garlic, salt and 2 tsp. water in a metal bowl to blend well. It will start to get a bit foamy. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil, about a teaspoon at a time, until the sauce is thickened and emulsified. Whisk in the cayenne, lemon juice, dijon, and few pinches of pepper. Taste and alter as you prefer. Cover and keep the aioli in the fridge. 

Prepare the artichokes. Cut off most of the stem and prune away the bottom leaves. I like to snip the pokey edges off the leaves and chop off the upper quarter of the artichoke, this is optional. I like how it looks but it's by no means crucial. 

In a large pot, bring the broth to a gentle simmer. Squeeze in the lemon and toss it in the broth. Add a few generous pinches of some dried herbs, basil, herbs de provence, thyme etc. If I have white wine open, I'll put a splash in the broth as well. Put the artichokes in, stem up, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until a leaf easily pulls away from the stem. Time will vary by size of the artichoke. Serve warm with the aioli on the side.  

Tuesday
Apr242012

SHITAKE MUSHROOM + LENTIL ASIAN TACOS

I know. The title already has you confused and curious about what on earth I was thinking when I shoved all this stuff into a corn tortilla. I'm going mexican-asian fusion without apology. I fell in to a baking habit recently and realized I hadn't really been experimenting with any savory foods. The only way to shake a tunnel visioned baking habit is to get crazy with produce and legumes. For now, at least. 

In defense of the asian taco, you could very well use any type of tortilla. I find the white corn tortillas to be slightly more mild tasting, so you could try that if you prefer to calm down the corn flavor, but I have seen small whole wheat ones at well stocked health food stores. Yes, there are a number of ingredients going on here, but I think you'll find most to be pantry staples. If anything, just make the sauce. We've made a few batches recently and it's just nice to have a jar in the fridge when you need a bit of extra flavor on a rice bowl or some steamed greens etc.

SHITAKE MUSHROOM + LENTIL ASIAN TACOS // Serves 2 (about 6 tacos)

As I always say, let this recipe serve as more of a base than a set of rules. If you don't like mushrooms, triple the amount of lentils, or try tofu or Hugh also suggested some steak if you're into that sort of thing ;) Shitakes are not a beginner mushroom, I find them very "mushroomy", so use any type you like really. The same things can be put in rice paper for a great spring roll too.

// miso herb sauce //

3 garlic cloves

2 Tbsp. white or yellow miso

1 Tbsp. honey

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

pinch of red pepper flakes

3 Tbsp. orange juice

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 packed cups basil leaves

1 packed cup cilantro

3 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

 

 

1 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin coconut oil, divided

half of a yellow onion, diced

6 oz. shitake mushrooms (halve any large ones)

3/4 cup cooked lentils (I used de puy)

2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

sea salt + pepper

 

small tortillas

1-2 super ripe avocados

3/4 cup fresh grated carrots

micro greens, for garnish

For the sauce, pulse the garlic cloves through the rice vinegar in a food processor to blend. Once mixed, add in the herbs and give a few more pulses to chop. You want it slightly textured. With the motor going, drizzle in the oil. Taste and adjust as you prefer. Cover and set aside.

Heat 1/2 Tbsp. of the coconut oil in a large saute pan. Add the diced onion and saute until just translucent. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and just leave them to heat up and start to release moisture*. Once they have reduced in size, about 4 minutes, add the remaining coconut oil and saute to mix. Add the lentils and another pinch of salt and pepper and saute to warm through. Lastly, add the vinegar and stir to scrape up any brown bits in the pan.

For the assembly line of the tacos, heat the tortillas over a stove flame until a bit charred. Smash about a quarter of an avocado down the center. Top it with a few pinches of grated carrots, a portion of the mushroom mixture, a generous dose of the sauce (don't be shy, it's all the gusto here) and top with the micro greens. Enjoy warm.

* So, I read this hint about mushrooms that you don't immediately cook them in a bunch of fat. If you cook them in just a teeny bit and some salt, they release a lot of their own water and concentrate the flavor and THEN you add some fat (oil, butter or what not) and it finishes off the flavor and texture instead. Maybe this is not news to you nor explained scientifically, but I'm into it.