Plum Vinaigrette over Wild Rice, Fresh Basil & Walnuts

11 Mon, 2011 § 2 Comments

I am craving cherries.  Every week I go to farmers’ market, hoping someone has a cherry orchard.  I have had no such luck, & it leaves me missing Utah a little.  I can’t get this idea of a cherry vinaigrette out of my head.  Oh well.

What farmers do have here, though, are plums — small, sweet & just the right amount of juicy.  It reminds me of our own little blossoming tree from my childhood.

From these a simple & vibrant plum vinaigrette was born.  Golden or white balsamic was the perfect match, & I would recommend opting for it over dark balsamic.  It’s lighter & sweeter than its darker counterpart, with a fruity, zesty flavor & subtle color that won’t overwhelm food.  Golden balsamic is one of my favorite vinegars & worth keeping on hand.

Plum Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup fresh plums, pitted & chopped
  • 1/4 cup golden/white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil
  • sea salt to taste

Combine plums & vinegar in a blender & blend smooth.  I like to slowly whisk the olive oil in by hand, so I can easily taste & adjust the amount.  Taste & whisk in sea salt to taste as well.

This can be used as a dressing over mixed greens, but I thought it paired especially well with wild rice or other dark grain salad.  Just as cherries are perfect with wild rice, plums offer a similar sweet contrast.  I cooked half wild rice & half brown rice together for Dave’s benefit, but I forgot he can’t eat wild rice at all.  Next time I will do mostly — if not all — wild rice (& brown rice separately for him) or see if wild rice pairs well with red quinoa (cooked separately of course).  I love wild rice, & it goes so well with plum & walnuts; but use whatever dark grain you like best.

I tossed the vinaigrette with 3 – 4 cups cooked rice, 2/3 cup toasted walnuts & 1 – 3 chopped plums (dried cherries would also work here), then gently stirred in a couple handfuls of thinly snipped fresh basil.  I also added slices of ripe-yet-firm avocado on top of each serving right before eating.  Do not add it before; it will brown & make the salad mushy.  The avocado adds richness to the fruitiness & zest of the rest of the dish.

It might not be fresh cherries, but now I anxiously await next market for more plums…& keep my naive hope that cherries will somehow magically appear.

~

What vinegars do you like best for making dressings?

June Musings

30 Thu, 2011 § 6 Comments

“Wisteria woke me this morning,
& there was all June in the garden…”

~Ann McGough, Summons

I was almost tempted to accuse June of flitting by, but it didn’t actually sweep through barely noticed.  Summer finally made herself known; in the June afternoons, we soaked her in.  When I think about how I spent these days & what they were made of, I smile.  I just love summer.  I thought I would share some of my current favorite things.

~

~ Lately I have been loving red leaf butter lettuce.  We wrap the flavorful leaves, filled with a salad of crushed chickpeas, dill relish & lemon or yellow split peas tossed with a pesto of kale, pepitas & cherry bomb peppers.

~ Speaking of kale, my newest fixation is roasting it shortly with coconut oil, just a tiny dash of toasted sesame oil & a generous sprinkle of flaked coconut.  A perfect snack that travels well enough.

~ When I’m home for lunch (or in need of a quick dinner), a favorite fix is an unda-style quesadilla with a little tarragon in a yummy, flaky rice tortilla.  I don’t miss the cheese & sometimes even throw a spoonful of toasted capers on top.

~ Summer reminds me I do enjoy oats in the morning if done right, which is simply & cold: Italian-style muesli (also known as overnight/soaked oats) softened in vanilla hemp milk.  No frills: I like simple combinations.  Currently my jar is filled with thick-rolled oats, roasted pistachios, golden raisins & maybe occasional flakes of coconut.

~ The glass carafe in the fridge is filled with thick slices of cucumbers floating in cool water.  This is so refreshing & sweet.

~ When we want a little something more than water, we fill casual scotch glasses with Tinto de Verano.  Half sparkling lemonade, half inexpensive, Spanish red wine.  I like tempranillo or a tempranillo-merlot blend.  Don’t forget a squeeze of fresh lemon — this makes it.

~ I am craving chocolate shakes & seeing too many interesting homemade ice cream pairings.  I recently borrowed my SIL’s ice cream maker, & July might be all about homemade creameries.

~ Some might find it a shame to puree beautiful, fresh produce into chilled soups, but it’s heavenly.

~ We are usually climbing to some degree throughout the year, but I feel I am finally getting my training in focus & just enjoying it.

~ Though I still have some mixed feelings, I’m really enjoying a new venture: Bikram.  I also started a glute challenge/experiment based on this simple routine.

~ I can’t stop watching this beautiful & inspiring video of Natasha Wang.

~ How did I just learn about this?  The creative (yet-everything-in-its-place) girl is having a hay day.

~ I am soaking in summer with a lot of play.  In my downtime, my head is usually in a book.  I recently finished two great novels by Margaret Atwood & thoroughly enjoyed The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.  Now I’m onto Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent.  Also on my summer reading list: The Comedians, Graham Greene & Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger.

~ I am feeling crafty.  Again, how did I not know about Pinterest?

~ I am obsessed with the vintage fade of photos.  Like this or Faith, here.

~ Also smitten with minibooks.  We are doing one for our San Francisco trip. definitely.

~

Tell me about your current obsessions & favorites.  Did June fly by or did you soak it in?

Chilled Lemon Cucumber & Fresh Pea Soup for summer

29 Wed, 2011 § 1 Comment

“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon…the two most beautiful words in the English language.” ~Henry James

The essence of summer reveals herself in many forms:

the intoxicating sweetness of small, deeply red strawberries

pungent, smokey notes wafting from a grill

giggles & splashing rise from the pool…

the tart-yet-sweet burst of cherry tomatoes popping in my mouth…

buttery, flaky fried zucchini melting over my tongue…

floating cucumbers freshen & sweeten a cool pitcher of water…

Summer afternoons are delicious.  It is not just that I am a hot-weathered girl.  The colors, the sounds — the full sensory experience of summer it bright & alive — bringing with it pieces of nostalgia & chance to create our own stories.

Often the intense afternoon heat diminishes my appetite; but rather than forgo eating, light & cooling soups have been on my mind & just the treat my body has craved.  It is no secret I am a simple cook.  When ingredients are fresh & at their peak, there is no need for frills.  I prefer to let the food speak for itself.

I have always wanted to try a chilled cucumber soup & remembered seeing a recipe where Helene used lemon cucumbers.  Perfect, because I just happened to have a couple lovely lemon cucumbers from farmer’s market waiting in the crisper & fresh peas to shuck.

Chilled Lemon Cucumber & Fresh Pea Soup with Pistachios

lightly adapted from Tartelette

In a large pot of boiling water, blanch 1 cup fresh peas until just tender, about 6 – 8 minutes.  Drain & immediately immerse the peas in a bowl of cold water, preferably with ice, to cool & stop the cooking process.  Drain completely once they are cold.

While the peas cook, peel & chop 2 – 4 lemon cucumbers.  I did not seed mine but definitely would if I were using regular cucumbers.

Place the peas & cucumbers in a food processor & puree until smooth.  After pureeing, you might need to add water, or “milk” like I did, depending on the amount of water in your cucumbers, to reach the consistency you desire.  I added just a splash of (vanilla) hemp milk, which added a slight creaminess & sweetness to the soup.  I was afraid water would water it down & make it bland.  Add sea salt & fresh pepper to taste.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Garnish individual bowls with a couple crushed, toasted pistachios.

makes 3 – 4 appetizer servings or 1 – 2 full servings

~

What is your favorite chilled soup?  What are your current summer cravings?

Summer Solstice & Creamy Basil Manicotti

22 Wed, 2011 § 4 Comments

Dave & I have grown fond of observing seasonal transitions, marked by particular days.  Following earth’s transitions — while it may seem “hippie” & quirky to some — is centering & meaningful to me.  We don’t chant or pray or sing; we simply embrace the moment for what it is, celebrate it in our own way & take the lessons nature willingly offers.

Yesterday was the summer solstice, the first day of summer & the longest day of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere.  Traditionally, this solstice celebrated a time of fertility, marked by outdoor festivities & gatherings.

Amidst the growing harvest season, it is easy to recognize the fertility & abundance of summer through experiencing the new foods the season brings.  We wanted to pause yesterday & take in all the sensory experiences accompanying summer — the sights, the smells — & appreciate the extra hours of sunlight.

Summer screams freshness & bounty which has the power to transcend us to our deepest childhood memories or cause a yearning to create new ones.

One of my favorite summer notes is the awakening aroma of fresh basil.

Stuffed with a sauteed clove of garlic, a small white onion, half a medium diced zucchini (remove seeds unless using young/baby zucchini) & pressed & crumbled tofu (about 10 ounces firm), I wanted our manicotti to sing basil.

Using Angela’s Creamy Avocado Sauce, I increased the fresh basil to about 1 cup, juiced a whole lemon & thinned the sauce with hemp milk to keep the creaminess of it but make it more sauce-like.  I stirred half the sauce into the sauteed vegetables, stuffed it into 6 prepared manicotti, lined them in a lightly oiled baking dish (which I had also smeared with a spoonful of extra sauce on the bottom) & poured the remaining sauce over the top.

Cover with foil & bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 350*F-oven.  Rotate pan midway if needed to ensure even baking.  Remove foil & bake another 10 – 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top.  Watch closely & don’t let it dry out.

Garnish with fresh lemon zest & oven-roasted tomatoes.  A dollop of plain Greek yogurt was also a nice, cooling accompaniment.

*There was extra stuffing mixture, which we saved to combine with leftover quinoa-millet pilaf for lunches.

To further enjoy this extra light, we picked up a few items over the weekend.

A small table, a chair, a rug, a cushion & candles created a cozy, little nook outside our french doors.

Last night, we enjoyed dinner on our little patio, which will become a more common theme around here.

An after-dinner walk in the woods behind our home would have been a perfect way to connect with nature & celebrate the extended sunlight; but as the light faded to golden shimmers & we sipped our tinto de verano, the neighborhood kids kept us entertained harassing Eisley.  Once they learned she preferred chasing sticks to being mauled, everyone seemed giddy, Eisley most of all.

Sometimes, it’s best to just take what the moment offers.

~

Did you celebrate the summer solstice? 

Where do you enjoy your meals?

Baking Quick Breads (by ratio) & Orange-Saffron Muffins [Gluten-Free]

17 Fri, 2011 § 10 Comments

Early mornings are meant for the kitchen.  Flours dust the counter tops as the sun slowly reaches its way across bowls & bamboo mixing spoons.  Sometimes, 4am (or even 5am) feels too early to be awake & baking breads; but often, I relish this unique perspective of our home as the house fills with light & sweet aromas.

While I enjoy this intimate time with myself, it’s not purely selfish.  Dave doesn’t seem to mind waking to smells of freshly baked millet muffins or Summer-infused quick breads.  I look forward to sending him to work with a scone, a fresh slice of sweet bread or a muffin.

I have taken to creating more baked goods rather than buying bread from the store, especially as I am delving into gluten-free varieties.  Baking my own is less expensive, but more than that, it’s rewarding & sparks creativity.  Experimenting with gluten-free flours is becoming more interesting than sticking to whole wheat, though I still rotate in batches made with kamut.  There is much more variance & diversity of flavors & textures when you explore what lies beyond all-purpose & wheat flour.  Corn. Oat. Rice. Buckwheat. Amaranth. Almond.  Each is distinct in its nuances & offers something different to your baking.

I am becoming very partial to the combination of almond & oat.

Orange & saffron as well.

I have just started baking with a scale & following weight ratios rather than measuring by volume (ie measuring cups), which immediately amped up my confidence in creating rather than simply following recipes.  Baked goods each have a ratio of flours to liquids to eggs to fats.  What makes bread different from pancakes — & these different from pizza dough or a croissant — is not just the ingredients, but how those ingredients work in proportion to each other.  Of course, there are still many recipes out there I have fallen in love with which need little to no adapting; but baking by ratio gives me the freedom to make these recipes my own by more easily swapping flours or the type of liquid or fat I use.

Try it.  My kitchen scale set us back only $20 & is more than worth it.

To ease you into this, I did translate my recipe back into approximate volume measurements.  These will only be useful if you use the exact ingredients I did though, because each flour, oil, etc has its own specific weight.  I’m a newby just playing around, having fun & certainly no expert.  This is a great post if you are interested in learning more about cooking with ratios.

The ratio for baking quick bread is 2 parts flour: 2 parts liquid: 1 part egg: 1 part fat.  To fill a 9 x 5 loaf pan, you would need 227 grams of flours, 227 grams of liquid of any kind, 113 grams egg (2 of them) or egg substitute & 113 grams of fats.   This ratio also works for making muffins.

Almond Meal Muffins with Orange Zest & Saffron

makes 12 muffins

or slightly fewer if you want a higher muffin top

  • 110 g almond flour (~heaping 3/4 cup)
  • 117 g oat flour (~heaping 1 cup)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 131 g orange blossom honey (~1/2 cup)
  • 63 g coconut milk (~1/4 cup)
  • 34 g fresh orange juice (4T) & zest from one orange
  • 2 eggs (113 g)
  • 113 g coconut oil, melted (~1/2 cup)
  • tiny pinch of saffron, seriously only a few strands

Preheat oven to 350*F.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  Combine wet ingredients separately.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients & mix.  Fold in zest & saffron.  Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling to the rim. Bake for 13 – 15 minutes until muffin tops are lightly golden & a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

These are crumby & moist, best eaten with a fork, fresh & warm from the oven.

~

Do you bake using ratios?

p.s. The first bread is my vegan variation of Marla’s Strawberry Snack Cakes.

My Moments & Homemade Curry Spice

10 Fri, 2011 § 4 Comments

I may not be expressing myself here daily, but it does not mean I am without expression or depth lately.

I have been spending a lot of time in my head, twirling thoughts, opinions, ideas, emotions…around the finger of my mind.  It’s not even that I don’t know how to articulate them, though often that’s part of it.  Sometimes, we’d rather just experience the moment rather than focus on expressing — or re-expressing — it.  I guess I am just into feeling these experiences right now & sharing what might arise from them when it feels natural, rather than trying to force it.

How I have been spending my time isn’t a result of “being in my head”; it’s when I do these things that thoughts, emotions & new dimensions arise within.

Much of my days have been spent moving (meaning climbing, swimming, biking, etc), baking, grinding spices, making gifts & reading.

I am content to simply live in these moments & see what arises from them.

I hope you are also truly living just as much as you are sharing & expressing part of your life & yourself here with us.

~

Homemade Curry Powder

makes ~1/4 cup

  • 2 tsp peppercorns (I used a mix of green, pink & black)
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • seeds from 4 cardamom pods, gently crack & remove seeds from pods (save pods for flavoring tea, ice cream, pudding or yogurt)
  • 2 whole cloves

In a clean, dry pan over medium-low to medium heat, toast each spice individually until fragrant & a few wisps of smoke rise.  Gently shake the pan often (or the whole time) so the spices toast evenly & do not burn.  Each spice should only take 1 – 2 minutes to toast.  Set each spice aside to cool slightly.  Combine the toasted spices in a spice or coffee grinder (I use the chop attachment on my Magic Bullet, which works perfectly) & pulse until a fine powder forms.

Play around with the spice combination to find what you love best.  If you are not in love with fennel like I am, reduce the amount.  If you would like a hotter curry, add more cayenne.  Make it yours, & I promise,  you will love it so much more than any powdered curry you have bought from the store.

~

p.s. What is on your Summer reading list?  Suggestions please?  I am recently enamored with Margaret Atwood & just finished Oryx & Crake as well as The Year of the Flood.  I appreciate authors who use their work to make bold social statements.  I need to stop by the library again soon.

Quinoa Pasta with Black Beldis & a Lemon Vinaigrette

2 Thu, 2011 § 2 Comments

One of the beautiful aspects of cooking with fresh ingredients is the variety you get, even within one type of food.  Each lemon I squeeze or zest has slightly different nuances from the last.

Because food differs subtly, cooking by taste is about more than personal preference.  It is also about capturing the moment of (& with) the food & making minute adjustments to bring everything together on the plate.

Tuesday evening, we made a simple pasta dish & arguably one of the best we have tasted.  You can’t go wrong with Black Beldi olives (my recent obsession), artichoke hearts & pine nuts, but this wasn’t just good; it was wow.  Though each ingredient was simple, I mindfully tasted each, striving to create balance between the acid, fat, salt & sweetness of the dish.  I looked for subtle changes that would round out the flavors.

What I kept in mind:

Pasta should be al dente, not mush, so it holds up to other textures.  I had never cooked quinoa pasta before, so I had to watch it carefully.  Pasta continues to cook for a short time after removing it from the stove, so remove & drain it just before you think it is done.

Beldi olives are worth seeking out.  They would be a major fat/heavy component of the dish – especially since I was chopping them — so I didn’t want a heavy sauce.  A vinaigrette with a full-flavored extra virgin olive oil-base would keep it light.  Beldis are briny, full of flavor & can be salty; after tasting one, I realized I could still add more sea salt to the dish at the end without over salting.

Baby spinach would not only add more nutrients, but color & an earthy tone as well — more so since I was going to toss it with warm pasta, which would cause it to wilt slightly — so I did only a couple small handfuls.

Since artichoke hearts have a taste that borders bitterness, I used basil in the vinaigrette to cut through this & round out the flavors.  Basil makes me think fresh.  A tiny pinch of mint would also add freshness.

Toasted, almost smokey, pine nuts add layers in both texture & flavor.

Acid adds brightness to a dish, which is nice for pasta which can easily become heavy.  My lemon wasn’t especially tart & didn’t quite stand up to the olive oil with the typical 1:1 vinaigrette ratio.  I opted to use more lemon juice & garnish each plate with the zest for more punch.

Our artisan feta is a local, distinct goat cheese with a little heat from dried peppers as well as garlic, which would compliment the basil, artichokes, etc.  It is a dry cheese, which would be preferred over an oily one for this dish.

Below are my approximations.  I didn’t really measure anything, & I encourage you to do the same.  After all, each time you make a dish, it should come together a little differently than the time before, as seasons, harvests, weather, etc vary.  No mindless tasting (ie snacking) while you cook; instead, really taste each component & consider how it will all come together.

Quinoa Pasta with Black Beldis, Artichoke & Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette

serves 4 – 6

  • 16 oz small-shaped pasta, cooked al dente, drained & cooled slightly
  • 1 – 2 handfuls baby spinach, torn
  • ~1/3 cup Black Beldi olives, chopped
  • 1 can artichoke heart quarters, drained
  • ~3 T pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet (watch closely: they go from raw to burnt like that :snap:)
  • fine sea salt to taste
  • ~1/4 cup dry goat feta, crumbled
  • zest from one lemon (garnish)

Toss spinach with warm pasta.  Add chopped olives, artichoke & pine nuts & toss gently with a sprinkling of sea salt.  Pour the vinaigrette over the pasta & gently combine.  Sprinkle with feta & toss again.  Garnish individual servings with lemon zest.

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • substantial pinch dried basil
  • pinch dried mint

Whisk ingredients together.

~

Do you taste & adjust as you cook or follow recipes strictly?

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