Category Archives: Vegetarian

Crispy Split Pea Burgers

So I’ve been trying to do some extra clean living lately.  I think the overindulgence of the holidays pushed me over the edge.  On top of eliminating gluten/wheat, I’ve stopped drinking wine, and have been trying to go without alcohol at all.  Crazy talk, you say?  Probably so.  But something has been crying uncle (crazy uncle, perhaps?) and I’m trying to figure out what the hell it is.

Unfortunately, the thing that has made me feel the best is giving up wine.  So that sucks.

Fortunately, I have very little sticktoitiveness so it probably won’t last long.

The biggest hassle with giving up wheat is the inability to cook a quick pasta dinner — which is generally a favorite with the kids and can be a good and easy meatless dinner option.   I know there are gluten-free pasta varieties, but I haven’t found one that’s decent (any recommendations?) and I can’t tolerate sitting around the dinner table WITHOUT A GLASS OF WINE when everyone starts complaining about how much they hate the fake pasta.  I have limits, you know.

So, I was digging deep into my brain (trust me, you don’t want to go there) and deep into the pantry (it’s not too pretty, either) to figure out a meatless dinner last night and came up with these crispy burgers made from split peas.  They are sort of a cross between a veggie burger and a falafel, but the kids devoured them and came back for more.   The boy even wanted the leftovers for lunch.  We served them bunless with some homemade Russian dressing and beautiful salad greens from the solar powered greenhouse at  Village Acres Farm.   I think they would also be great made into smaller fritters for a delicious appetizer.

They are filled with all the best things — split peas (which are full or protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals), brown rice, butternut squash, garlic, onions, and some shredded cheese right inside the burger.  Give them a try and don’t be scared off by the deep frying.  You don’t need any special equipment.  And for the fat phobics, just make sure your oil is at the right temperature and very little will be absorbed into your food.  (I should add that if you are willing to use a non-stick pan, you could probably just pan fry these in much less oil — but I’d rather deep fry than use non-stick.) The other great thing about these is that the filling can be made up way ahead of time and you can fry them whenever you are ready.  Plus they make great leftovers (cold or warmed up).    Feel free to modify the spices and experiment with different sauces — I am definitely going to try a spicy curry variety with raita.

Crispy Split Pea Burgers

Makes about 10 burgers

1 cup of chopped onion (from about 1/2 of a large onion)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup of butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (from 1/2 of a small squash)
1 T olive oil
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 t smoked paprika
1 t ground cumin
1 cup of dried green split peas (yellow would probably be fine, and lentils might work too)
1/2 cup of brown rice
3 cups of vegetable broth (other broths would work too)
1 cup of cheddar cheese (packed), grated
2 T cornstarch (plus about 1 cup more for breading)
Canola oil (for frying)

1.  Heat olive oil in a large saute pan.  Cook onion and garlic over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes until just softened.  Add in butternut squash cubes, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and cumin.  Cook for 2-3 minutes more.

2.  Add in split peas, brown rice, and broth.  Stir well to loosen any carmelized bits in the pan and cover.  Cook for one hour or until peas and rice are soft and nicely cooked.  Give it a stir every once in a while so it doesn’t stick.   Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

3.  Put pea mixture into the food processor (or use a masher if all else fails) and process for 5-10 seconds.  If your mixture is still warm, make sure you leave the feed tube open so steam can escape.  You don’t want a total puree — it’s best if it’s still a little chunky.  But make sure the peas are blended well.  Taste for seasoning and add more if necessary.   Transfer to a bowl and chill for 30-60 minutes (the more the better).

4.  When ready to cook, stir 2 T of cornstarch and grated cheese into pea mixture.  Stir well to incorporate evenly.  In a deep saute pan, heat about 1/2 inch of canola oil to 375 degrees F.

5.  Place about 1/2 cup of additional cornstarch on a plate.  Shape pea mixture into small patties and dredge in cornstarch.  Pat gently to remove any excess.  Gently place into hot oil and fry about 2-3 minutes until golden.  (I found they held together much better when formed into smaller patties and I cooked about 3 at a time.  While they cook, use a metal spatula to loosen them from the bottom of the pan if they stick.)

6.  Carefully flip them over (away from you so you don’t splatter hot oil on yourself) and cook for 2-3 additional minutes until golden brown on second side.  Drain on paper towels and keep warm in the oven while the remainder cook.

Lima Beans with Garlic, Lemon Zest, and Herbs

I hated lima beans as a kid.  They would come out of my grandparents’ garden in buckets and the difficult task of shelling them was a shared responsibility.  However, given the skewed memories of children (and knowing what I now know about how much mothers get done), I probably had to shell about four of them before I decided it was the most impossible thing ever and I needed to go play. Something tells me that my grandmother, my aunts, and my mom probably did a few more than I.

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But I think I hated the lima bean eating even more than the shelling.  This is meant to be of no disrespect to the hands that cooked them, but HOLY SHIT, did you have to cook them so long?  I’m sure that some people like their lima beans really cooked, but I could never get over the mushy, paste-like texture.

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When I started to get involved in our CSA and local farmer’s markets, I decided to give lima beans another try.  I guess the nostalgia of my childhood got the best of me and I was pretty sure there was a reason the adults loved them so much.  And low and behold, I realized that I do indeed love lima beans.  And my kids do too.  But we tend to season them heavily and err on the side of about five minutes of cooking — unless we have a lot of art projects to do.

Lima Beans with Garlic, Lemon Zest, and Herbs

Serves 4-6

4 cups of lima beans, shelled
1/2 red onion, chopped (can use shallots also)
2 T butter
1-2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Zest of two lemons, finely chopped
1 T lemon juice
Chopped Chives
Chopped Mint
Salt and Pepper

1.  Melt one tablespoon of butter in a saute pan, and cook red onion until very soft and slightly caramelized.  Set aside.

2.  Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil and cook lima beans for 4-5 minutes until just tender.  (Larger beans will obviously take longer than smaller ones.)  Drain the beans and immediately plunge into an ice bath or rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process.  Put beans out on paper towels and dry off a bit.

3.  Reheat red onion over medium high heat and add the additional tablespoon of butter.  Add beans and cook 1-3 minutes, just until hot.  Remove pan from heat.

4.  Stir in chopped garlic, lemon zest, mint and chives (several tablespoons of each), 1 T lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Slow Roasted Plum Tomato Sauce

As much as I love to cook, there are some kitchen tasks that I find absolutely awful.  Emptying the dishwasher is one.  It is one of those tasks that I simply hate.  It probably has something to do with the fact that all of my cabinets and drawers are overflowing with various cooking tools, serving pieces, bakeware, and appliances — and every time I empty the dishwasher I have to unstack all of my leaning towers of cookware to find homes for things.  If everything in my kitchen is clean at one time, I literally have no room for it all.  Thankfully that doesn’t happen often.

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My other hated tasks include anything that is fussy — like peeling pearl onions, pitting cherries, or stuffing little new potatoes or cherry tomatoes for appetizers (Which I have done exactly one time each.  Never again.)  This list most definitely includes peeling tomatoes.  I love buying lots of extra tomatoes in the summer to freeze or make sauce, but I hate the thought of spending an afternoon in the kitchen scoring, parboiling, coring, and peeling tomatoes.

I usually do it because the thought of not having those tomatoes for my soups and sauces all winter long is too terrible.  And let’s face it, for many preparations you just don’t want little tomato skin sticks in your recipes.  So I suck it up and while I’m doing it, I try to channel my grandmother who would process tomatoes for what seemed like weeks on end every summer.  The shelves in her basement were lined with the literal fruits of her labor.

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But whenever I get a chance, I do everything in my power to skip that step.  This year,  I wanted to try a slow roasted sauce that didn’t force me to process all those extra pounds of tomatoes.  I was really pleased with the result — the skins almost melt away after hours in the slow oven and once pureed, you’d never know they were there.  And feel free to flavor the sauce any way you see fit.  Obviously you could use a lot more herbs, add other vegetables (like eggplant, fresh fennel, or zucchini, etc.), cook ground beef, veal, or sausage in the final product for meat sauce, or go the fra diavlo route and spice it up with red pepper flakes or chiles.

All you need is a really big roasting pan (like what you would use for a big turkey), lots of time in the oven with the occasional stir, and a blender or immersion blender.  And I promise, you won’t burn one finger trying to peel a hot tomato.

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Slow Roasted Plum Tomato Sauce with Basil

Makes about 3 or 4 large jars ( or 10-12 cups of sauce)

1-2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2-4 sweet peppers, stemmed and roughly chopped
8-10 pounds of Roma Tomatoes (that was about 36 large ones for me), cored and halved
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
3 t sea salt
1-2 t freshly ground pepper
2 t dried oregano
1 t fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
3-4 T red wine
Additional Salt, Pepper, and Sugar/Honey to taste
2 big handfuls of basil, chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  In a very large roasting pan, combine the onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, fennel, and bay leaves.

2.  Roast tomato mixture in preheated oven for 5-6 hours, stirring every hour or so.  Put your feet up and read a book while your house starts to smell delicious. Or more likely, clean your house and fold some laundry.

3.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  Remove bay leaves.  Puree with immersion blender or in traditional blender (cool mixutre a little more if using a traditional blender and be very careful to keep lid off slightly and covered with a towel so the steam can escape).

4.  Add red wine and taste for seasoning –adding more salt or pepper if needed.  And if your tomatoes are on the acidic side, you might need to add more honey or sugar.

5.  Stir in chopped basil and serve as is or put in containers to freeze.

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Grilled Mexican Corn

In our house, we love the movie Nacho Libre.  Of course it is silly, but it is also heartwarming and touching in many ways (with a great soundtrack too).  Thankfully, most of it is safe for children because it is one of their favorites — but I am a little liberal when it comes to movies. Every time we see it, I seem to enjoy it more.

In one scene, Steven is eating street corn and it always looked absolutely delicious.  And when he offers it to Nacho, he yells “get that corn outta my face” and swats it away. It has become a standard line in our house anytime corn is served.  Actually, movie lines are a big part of almost everything we do (Hello National Lampoon’s Vacation? We can’t start a trip without some reference to it.  OK, so maybe not that part I linked to though.)

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When we saw that a local vendor started serving grilled corn at our farmer’s market, I immediately told the kids we were going to have Nacho’s “Get That Corn Outta My Face” for lunch that day.  After trying it, my three year old decided we needed to call it “Get That Corn In My Face.”  He devoured it.  And then, somehow, ideas for Mexican Corn or Cuban Corn were everywhere.  I saw recipes in Cooks Illustrated and my hometown newspaper all in the same week.  It is apparently the “Tuscan” anything or the dulce de leche of this summer — somehow everyone decides it’s popular and pretty soon Pizza Hut is serving it.

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I decided I was going to figure out my version of it in time for corn season — even though I generally don’t fuss too much with corn beyond boiling, buttering, and salting.  I never want to risk the fleeting season by wasting a dozen ears on a dumb recipe.  This, however, is worth it.  It is divine.  I will warn you that it is rich — much richer than the corn you are probably used to.  Grilling the corn really enhances the sweetness and the kernels lose a little bit of their pop, making it almost meaty.  The toppings make it even richer — so it’s almost a meal in itself. Definitely serve it with something light.  If I could get my act together, I’d love to have a grilled corn party where I serve nothing but corn in this style with lots of different sauces and toppings.  What a great end of summer party that would be …  served up with appetizers and lots of real margaritas.  And, of course, we’d all have to wear our stretchy pants.

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Grilled Mexican Corn

Makes one dozen ears

Mayo mixture:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped finely
1/2 t ground cumin
1 t smoked paprika
Zest of one lime
Pinch of chipotle powder (or more to taste if you like it spicy)
1/2 t salt
Freshly ground pepper

Butter mixture:
2 T butter, melted
1/8 t smoked paprika
1/8 t ground cumin
1/8 t salt
Freshly ground pepper

1 dozen ears of sweet corn
1 1/2 cups Queso Fresco, Cotija, or Feta Cheese (in small crumbles)
1 cup cilantro, chopped
12 wedges of lime

1.  Mix ingredients for mayonnaise mixture in medium bowl.  Mix ingredients for melted butter mixture in a small bowl.

2.  Preheat grill and rub ears of corn with melted butter mixture.

3.  Grill corn for about 8 minutes.  (We used indirect heat and grilled the corn for about 8 minutes indirect, turning frequently, followed by about 1-2 minutes over the coals to char the ears lightly.  I have also done this on a low flame gas grill — just be sure you are turning and moving the corn frequently so it doesn’t char too much.  The goal is to have the corn be just cooked with a slight char on it.)  Remove corn from grill and place onto a platter.

4.  Put cheese, cilantro, and lime wedges in separate serving bowls next to platter of corn.  Brush each ear of grilled corn with the mayonnaise mixture.  Then sprinkle with cheese, cilantro, and the juice of a lime wedge.  (You can do the whole platter or allow guests to prepare their own ear of corn.)

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Pasta with Fresh Peas, Basil, and Mint

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that summer cooking is almost every bit as good as summer lovin’. Actually, I think it might be what replaces the thrill of summer lovin’ when you get old and boring.  Because seriously, heirloom tomatoes covered with olive oil and basil? Or fresh sweet corn dripping with butter and salt?  I really don’t need to say more, do I?

The beautiful, fresh, exploding with flavor summer ingredients speak for themselves so nicely that we just don’t need to do much to them.  It is the time of year when simplicity rules — save the 20 ingredient dinner recipes for winter when you are struggling to drain some flavor from the cardboard produce from Mexico.  No offense to Mexico — because I am quite sure your tomatoes are wonderful when you eat them there, but once they get to us, they suck.

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And I know I say this all the time, but when you cook simply with local ingredients your kids will start to love all different kinds of vegetables.  This recipe is a case in point:  my daughter “hates” peas.  Can’t stand them.  “Pretend gags” when she eats them.  Cried when she heard I was making pasta (her favorite!) with peas in it.  How could I possibly take the thing she enjoys the most on the planet and render it unpalatable by adding peas?  Well, she tried the peas in this recipe.  Guess what?  Loved them.  It is like fresh vegetables are simply not the same things as their evil commercially-frozen twins.

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Shelling the peas takes a bit of time … but the recipe is so easy that it really is the only prep involved.  And the kids love to help with this job.  Just make sure you give them a REALLY big bowl to do it in or your peas will be rolling around the floor like marbles.   And get extra peas because the kids were eating them raw out of the bowl.   Which is something I so distinctly remember doing with my grandmother — sitting on the back porch and shelling peas or lima beans from the garden and sneaking a few here and there.  Those are the vivid memories I want my kids to have of childhood summers … because some day, when they are beyond the days of camp boyfriends and summers spent working at the beach counting their collective hook-ups, they will settle down and taste some fresh summer peas and feel positively orgasmic.

Pasta with Fresh Peas, Basil, and Mint

Serves 4-6

1 lb. of whole wheat pasta
2-3 cups of freshly shelled peas
Small bunch of fresh basil, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
Small bunch of fresh mint, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/2-1 cup of freshly grated parmesan
Salt and Pepper to taste

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions in salted water.  When the pasta has about 30-45 seconds remaining, throw in the peas and cook.  Drain pasta and peas immediately and leave a bit of the water clinging to the pasta.  Return it to the pan and turn the heat off to the burner (the residual heat on the stove is usually enough to finish the dish).

2.  Toss the pasta and peas with olive oil and garlic and  stir to combine.  Add in the grated parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.

3.  When ready to serve, toss with freshly chopped basil and mint.  Serve with additional parmesan.

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Curried Chick Pea and Red Potato Hash

Does anyone remember that show “Ready, Set, Cook?”  Basically it was a game show where you got a box of random ingredients and had to make dinner out of it.  Some of the cooking reality shows use a similar premise now, but I liked this show because the professionals had to work with regular people to get the meal prepared.  Plus it was a great way to spend thirty minutes running on the treadmill.  I still generally watch cooking shows while on the treadmill — not sure if that is incentive or punishment.

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But I do love the challenge of taking very disparate items and somehow bringing them together into a coherent dish.  Certainly some of the dishes turn out a lot better than others, but it is always a fun experiment.  Before we went away on vacation, I was cooking like crazy to use everything in the refrigerator up.  In this case, I had new potatoes, garlic scapes (the green flower shoot from the garlic), green onions, parsley, and lots of eggs.  I settled on a “hash” sort of thing and I was not disappointed.  I love putting a slight twist on a very traditional approach and it was a delicious vegetarian entree.  I served it with sauteed snow peas and a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

You should definitely add a hash like this to your weeknight cooking repertoire — it is super flexible, quick, healthy, and uses up lots of odds and ends.  And the kids really loved it too… Feel free to spice it up if your crew is spice tolerant.

Curried Chick Pea and Red Potato Hash

Serves 4-6

1 qt. of red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 garlic scapes (could substitute with 1 or 2 chopped garlic cloves), chopped
4 green onions, green and white parts chopped
2 t fresh ginger, chopped
3 T olive oil
1 t curry powder
1/2 t garam masala (a spice mixture generally made of cumin, cardamom, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, pepper)
1/4 t turmeric
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup of water
2 T parsley or cilantro, chopped
4-6 eggs

1.  Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Saute the white part of the chopped green onions, garlic scapes, ginger, 1/2 t of curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, 1/2 t of salt, and freshly ground pepper for about five minutes.

2.  Add in chopped potatoes and cook for about 10-15 minutes until potatoes are beginning to brown and soften.  Add more oil if the potatoes stick too much.

3.  Add in chick peas and 1/2 cup of water and scrape up any browned bits sticking to bottom of pan.   Cover with lid and let cook about 10 more minutes until potatoes are fully cooked.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate pan fry or poach eggs.  (Best cooked over easy with a nice runny yolk…)

5.  When ready to serve, add to hash pan the additional 1/2 t of salt (or to taste), freshly ground pepper to taste, 1/2 t of curry powder, the green parts of the green onions, and 2 T of parsley or cilantro.  Mix well to incorporate.

6.  To serve, place a fried or poached egg on top of a portion of the curried chick pea and potato hash and garnish with additional herbs or green onions.

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Roasted Beets with Dill

So, I have decided that this will be the post where you get to know the real me.  And it’s a beet recipe.  Are you scared yet?

I am a raging hypochondriac.  I like to blame it on my crazy mind extreme intelligence.  I am like a real live database of stored symptoms and scary horror stories of that one lady who had a strange pain and collapsed with an aneurysm and cancer all at the same time.  I don’t know why I do it to myself.  But I do.  I read too many health-related articles and then store up these little details only to be retrieved when I have a random condition.

Sore calf?  Blood clot on its way to my lungs.

Strange rash and an ear infection?  Antibiotic resistant Staph.

Lower back pain?  Cancer, of course.  Although, I am not entirely sure because I actually have major lower back pain right now and have yet to fully identify my condition.  It might be my culminating thesis project at WebMD.  I will graduate with a degree in “why the hell didn’t you actually become a doctor?”

And can I add something here?  Why is it that when you search on a symptom the first Google result is always from “wrongdiagnosis.com”?  I mean how shitty is that for someone like me?  Or how about the time I was going shoe shopping online and I typed in “nord” thinking that my browser would autofill with “nordstrom.com” (I go there a lot) and it actually took me to the National Organization of Rare Disorders?  Does the interweb realize what it did to me that day?

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So, as I weave my way back to beets, I should tell you that I have a wonderful husband.  He puts up with my craziness and still loves me.  At times he needs to ban me from my computer, but it’s usually for my own good.  And the other really nice thing he always does for me?  He always reminds me when I have eaten beets.  It’s something only your mother or your mate of 13 years can do.  And I love him so much for it.   Because otherwise who knows what path I would go down the next day … but I’m guessing it would have to do with some major gastrointestinal disease.

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And now that we have become intimate with one another, here’s a great and easy recipe for roasted beets.  They are truly delicious and my kids (surprisingly) really enjoy them.   Just make sure you remind them that they ate beets.  But actually, the little girls might think it is pretty cool to have pink pee.

Roasted Beets with Dill

Serves 4

1 bunch of beets (about 5 or 6 medium beets), greens removed and saved for another use
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 T butter
1 T chopped fresh dill (other herbs are great too)

1.  Preheat oven to 450 F.  Scrub beets and remove greens, leaving about one inch of stem attached to the beets.  (There is no need to trim the root end, just wash them well).

2. Lay out a large piece of foil and place beets in the center.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Wrap up foil around beets into a small packet.  Make sure it is wrapped tightly and sealed well.

3.  Place packet on a small baking tray (just so it doesn’t leak) and put in preheated oven.  Bake for about 45 minutes until a knife inserted in the largest beet meets no resistance.  Obvioulsy, smaller beets take less time, larger more…  If they are not done, simply wrap them back up and cook a few more minutes.

4.  Remove from oven and put one beet on a paper towel.  Trim ends (you can keep stem ends on if you like, but I find that soil and grit get trapped in there easily).  Using another paper towel, rub off beet skins and discard.  They should come off without any trouble.  Repeat with remaining beets.  Put whole beets in a bowl until ready to serve and cover with foil.

5.  When ready to serve, slice or quarter beets into the size you like (or leave whole if they are small).  Toss with butter, additional salt and pepper to taste, and fresh dill.

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Spring Pasta Salad with Aparagus, Spinach, and Mint

One of the best things about belonging to your local Community Supported Agriculture farm (CSA) is how quickly the season gears up — and how big your box of veggies gets.   Our first few distributions of the summer season are teasers.  Just yesterday, we got eight sprigs of basil — yet the smell was enough to make me giddy thinking of the big bags that we will get in July and August.  Our smallish bunches of asparagus have given way to much bigger bunches and I’m already over my head in spinach and rhubarb.  And the radishes, how I love the radishes — they are eaten the minute they get in the house. (Given all this talk of wonderful produce, I should give a shout out to my fantastic CSA, Village Acres Farm.)

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You quickly start to plan meals based on what needs to be used, rather than what you are in the mood for.  But I find that it allows you to become much more creative in the kitchen — matching what you have with what sounds good.  This dish is a perfect example.  We were invited to a friend’s house for a party and I decided that morning to make a pasta salad.  A quick survey of the fridge revealed lots of spinach, a big bunch of asparagus, and some lovely green onions.  And the backyard mint patch was taking hold in a way that only mint knows how to do.  It definitely couldn’t be a vinegar-based dressing though — these ingredients called for lemons.

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And so I flew by the seat of my pants but it came together really nicely — in about 30 minutes flat.  It would make a great picnic side dish, but also a nice vegetarian main course on a summer night.  I think the asparagus could easily be swapped out for green beans once asparagus season ends.  Serve it to me with a nice Sauvignon Blanc and I might just give you a hug.  After I eat my radish and soft butter sandwiches and my rhubarb ice cream, of course.

Spring Pasta Salad with Asparagus, Spinach, and Mint

Serves 8

1 bunch of asparagus, stemmed and cut into one inch pieces
4 or 5 green onions
1 small bunch of mint
1 cup of spinach (packed), stemmed and chopped
2 lemons, zested and juiced
3/4 cup of olive oil
Sea Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan
1 cup of sunflower seeds or pine nuts, toasted
1 lb. of whole wheat pasta (I used rigatoni, but penne or a similar type would be great)

1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Prepare a medium bowl with an ice bath (just lots of ice and water, really).  Cook asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes and remove quickly and place into the ice bath to stop the cooking.  When most of the ice has melted, remove asparagus with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to dry.

2.  In the same pot of boiling water, cook the pasta according to package directions.

3.  Meanwhile, make the dressing.  In the food processor, combine 2 or 3 green onions (in chunks), zest of two lemons, juice of two lemons (about 1/4 cup), olive oil, 1-2 tablespoons of mint (packed), 2 teaspoons of salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Process until smooth and place dressing in a large bowl.

4.  Drain pasta well and pour into bowl with dressing.  It is good to do this while the pasta is still hot because it will soak up the dressing.  Toss well and let cool slightly.

5.  Chop remaining 2 or 3 green onions, spinach, and 2 tablespoons of mint.  Mix into pasta and dressing.  Add cooked asparagus, 1/2 cup of parmesan, and toss well.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

6.  Chill for several hours (if possible) for flavors to mix and dressing to absorb into pasta.

7.  When ready to serve, give it a good stir and make sure there is enough dressing.  If not, add a little more olive oil.  Season more if necessary.  Mix in toasted sunflower seeds or pine nuts, and garnish top with additional chopped mint, green onions, and parmesan cheese if desired.

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Fried Tofu: Chicken Style and Buffalo. Yes, Buffalo.

Like many people right now, we are cutting back on our meat consumption.  And when we do eat it, we now spend our “meat dollars” (wow, that sounds gross) on responsibly raised and locally produced animals.  Clearly, ethical issues and environmental impacts have led us down this path.  I absolutely cannot justify having cheap, feedlot meat on the dinner table so frequently after reading books like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan and seeing graphics like this.

I think I could go vegetarian pretty easily, but the rest of my family (OK, mostly my husband) would have some trouble with it.  Aside from people simply liking meat, there are cultural factors that connect a roasting turkey with family and celebration.  And no, I don’t see us having a Tofurkey on our Thanksgiving table any time soon (although I love the Thanksgiving sides more than the Turkey), but I do know that we are working our way toward much less meat in our diet.  Not a perfect solution, but I do think it is an improved scenario.

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So, when I approach tofu at home (which I haven’t typically done much), I tread lightly.  I can’t just offer up a bowl of steamed veggies and tofu … yet.  I have to prepare it in ways that make everyone willing to try it.  So for kids (and learning-to-like tofu husbands), I lean toward preparations like this one — where it is fried and sauced.  It certainly is not the most healthy way to eat it, but at this point, I am just trying to get everyone to eat it.

The key with treating tofu like meat is to use the extra firm varieties.  I added a step that I have been reading about lately — boiling it for thirty minutes — to make it a little firmer and chewier.  And I thought it turned out very well. (I have also read that freezing tofu changes the texture also, so if you have any feedback let me know.)  Regardless of whether you do any texture prep like that, you do really need to marinade it (the longer, the better) because it will take on any flavor you give it.  And without the marinade, it can taste, well …  like tofu.  Try any marinades you like — in this case, I treated it sort of like fried chicken with a spicy buttermilk marinade.  But Asian marinades (soy, ginger, sesame oil, etc.) work very well.  Actually, I think I am going to try some tofu with my stand by chicken marinade and see what happens.

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I used two different sauces in this case … the first was a creamy herb sauce on the side for dipping and the second was a simple buffalo wing sauce which I tossed the fried pieces into.  However, good old ketchup was very popular with my daughter (who even wanted the leftovers in her lunch the next day!)  Barbecue sauce would be great for kids also.

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My meat loving friends should be cautious, however.  I am definitely going to make up a big batch of the Buffalo Tofu for our next party with a big platter of blue cheese and celery and prove to you how much you love tofu.  And watch out, because next I’m trying Tofu Parmesan, breaded, tomato sauced, and cheesed over pasta.

Fried Tofu, Two Ways

Serves 4

15 oz. package of extra firm tofu
1 t. smoked paprika
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. salt
2 cups of buttermilk
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
2-3 cups of panko breadcrumbs
2-3 eggs, beaten
Canola Oil

1.  Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Slice tofu into squares or strips (smaller pieces are better for tofu haters, because they will be more breaded — just don’t cut them too small or they will fall apart.)  Gently drop tofu pieces into boiling water and boil for 30 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, make marinade (or use your favorite).  Combine paprika, garlic, salt, buttermilk, and pepper in a glass baking pan or dish.  When tofu is finished boiling, remove with a slotted spoon and place directly into marinade.  Refrigerate for several hours, turning the pieces occasionally.

3.  Prepare breading ingredients by beating the eggs in a shallow, wide dish and placing the breadcrumbs in a similar shallow, wide dish.  You should season these both with salt and pepper.

4.  Strain tofu from marinade and set onto paper towels to dry a bit.  Bread tofu pieces by dipping them first in breadcrumbs, then in eggs, then back into breadcrumbs.

5.  Pour canola oil into a large saute pan or frying pan to a depth of about 1/2 inch.  Heat the canola oil over medium heat until it is about 375 F.

6.  Fry breaded tofu pieces a few at a time (my large saute pan handled about 5 or 6 at a time) until golden brown on bottom side (2-3 minutes).  Flip and fry for a few minutes more until golden brown on both sides.

7.  Remove from oil with slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle with sea salt and repeat with remaining tofu pieces.  Serve with sauce of your choice.

Creamy Herb Sauce

1/2 cup of heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
Zest of one lemon
1 T. lemon juice
1/2 cup of sour cream
Salt and Pepper
Freshly chopped herbs, about 2-3 tablespoons

Combine all ingredients and serve on the side as a dipping sauce.

Hot Buffalo Sauce

1/4 cup of butter (1/2 of a stick), melted
1/8 cup of Frank’s Hot Sauce (or your favorite — and more or less to taste)
Salt and Pepper

Combine all ingredients and toss with fried tofu pieces before serving.

Hot and Sweet Garlic Sauce

1/4 cup of butter (1/2 of a stick), melted
1/8 cup of Frank’s Hot Sauce
1 T. soy sauce
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/8 cup of honey
Salt and Pepper

Combine all ingredients and toss with fried tofu pieces before serving.

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Manicotti with Whole Wheat Crepes

I loved to cook as a kid.  I remember one particular cookbook that my mom had that featured recipes made with brand name products.  It was at least two inches thick — and I was pretty convinced that each recipe was magic.  Even if the main ingredient was Stove Top Stuffing.  I guess the corporate sponsorship gave the recipes credibility in my twelve year old mind.  I’m still a marketer’s dream, by the way.

One of my favorite recipes from the book was baked manicotti.  And, of course, it used some sort of prepared and dried manicotti shells.  San Giorgio, perhaps?  It was actually a pain in the ass kind of recipe — boiling the manicotti noodles ahead of time and then attempting to stuff the little tubes with the ricotta cheese mixture.  But for some reason, I always continued to think that prepared manicotti shells were the easy route.  (you remember, I am a marketer’s dream, right?)  I made it many, many times but then I decided it wasn’t worth the effort and I pretty much never made manicotti again.

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At some point (about twenty years later), I realized that manicotti was supposed to be made with tender and thin crepes, not pasta.  And I realized that it is actually a lot easier than you might imagine.  Go figure — I didn’t know it all at 12.  Remind me to tell you some time about the first time I attempted to make a lemon dessert involving lemon zest, which I had no idea how to accomplish.  The word chunky comes to mind.

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So, my new manicotti is made with whole wheat pastry flour crepes and it can be done in about an hour.  And for what it’s worth, I guess it is sponsored by Cuizoo.

Manicotti with Whole Wheat Crepes

Serves 4
(Could easily double for a crowd)

Prepare Crepes:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 cups of water
2 eggs
1/4 t of salt
Canola Oil

1.  Mix whole wheat pastry flour, water, eggs, and salt with a wire whisk until completely blended.  It should look like very thin pancake batter.  Let rest for 10 minutes.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet with a bit of canola oil over low heat.  (I very rarely use non-stick pans anymore, but this is one job that it is almost essential for — unless you have a very well seasoned cast iron pan.  Make sure the non-stick coating is not flaking or scratched and use only over very low heat.)  Use a pastry brush to make sure the oil is spread all over the pan.

3.  Pour about 1/4 cup of batter  into the skillet and tilt the pan so it spreads out completely (about a 4-6 inch circle).  Let cook 1-2 minutes (or a little more depending on how hot your “low” heat is) until the surface of the crepe looks dry.  Loosen with a knife or thin offset spatula and gently flip.  The crepes should not get browned at all.  Cook one minute more and remove to a plate.

4.  Repeat with remaining batter until all crepes are cooked (this makes about 12-14 crepes).  Stack crepes on the plate as they finish and cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.  You can make these ahead of time and wrap tightly and store in the fridge.

Prepare Filling:

15 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup of chopped flat leaf parsley (basil is nice too)
6 oz. of shredded mozzarella (or italian blend of mozzarella, parmesan, etc.)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 t dried Oregano
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine all in a medium bowl.

Assemble Manicotti:

10 crepes
Ricotta mixture
1 jar of prepared tomato sauce, or about 2 cups of homemade sauce
Additional shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese
Chopped Parsley or Basil for garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

2.  In a 9×13 glass pan, spread about 1 cup of tomato sauce, covering the entire bottom of pan.

3.  On a clean plate, take one crepe and spread about 2-3 T of ricotta filling down the middle.  Roll up crepe and put it in pan, seam side down over tomato sauce.

4.  Repeat with remaining crepes and filling (I fit 10 crepes in a 9×13 pretty nicely — eight going down the length of the pan and the remaining two end-to-end on the side.)

5.  Cover filled crepes with about 1 cup of additional sauce.  Sprinkle with additional cheese.  Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes, uncovered.  It will start to bubble along the edges a bit.  If you like (after baking) you can broil it for a few minutes to bubble and brown the cheese on the top.

6.  Let stand about 10 minutes to firm up and sprinkle with chopped parsley or basil before serving.

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