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?

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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.

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?

Spicy Black Bean Brownies

30 Mon, 2011 § 4 Comments

Dave & I are particular about our brownies.  We like them dense & moist.  You know the kind that leaves its mark on your napkin?

These flourless, black bean brownies just looked like they would suit our taste.  It seemed more than a little strange to use black beans as a base, but we were willing to give them a try.  Amazingly, they create perfectly dense, rich, bite-sized, fudge-textured brownies with a subtle kick from the cayenne I added.  Not even a hint of bean flavor lingered.  They were a hit at a recent potluck.

Because the original recipe calls for 4 eggs, I knew substituting them would change the consistency.  I have yet to find a really great vegan brownie recipe & wanted these to be fudgy & moist.  I feel good about the eggs we buy from a woman I know who loves her chickens & takes really great care of them.  In general, I do prefer to bake without eggs because I can usually make it work; so please offer suggestions that will keep these dense & moist.  I was afraid 4 flax “eggs” would make them too “flaxy” but let me know if you try it…

…because you need to try these.

They are especially delicious with coconut ice cream.

Adapted from Baking with Agave Nectar by Ania Catalano

Fudge Brownies with Black Beans, Cayenne & Agave

Makes 45 (2-inch) brownies.

  • 4 ounces extra-bitter chocolate
  • 1 cup Earth Balance
  • 2 cups soft-cooked black beans, drained & rinsed well
  • 1 cup almond meal, divided
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1½ cups raw blue agave nectar

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line an 11- by 18-inch rimmed baking pan with parchment paper & oil lightly.

Melt the chocolate & butter in a double boiler (or microwave).  Stir with a spoon to melt the chocolate completely.

Mix the cayenne with 1/2 cup of the almond meal.  Combine this with the beans, vanilla extract & a couple of spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture in a large bowl.  Using an immersion blender, blend several minutes or until smooth.  The batter should be thick & the beans smooth (otherwise they might be gritty). Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup almond meal, the remaining melted chocolate mixture & salt.  Mix well & set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until light & creamy, about 1 minute with an electric whisk.  Add the agave nectar & beat well.  Set aside.

Combine the bean/chocolate mixture with the almond meal/chocolate mixture.  Stir until blended well.

Add the egg mixture, reserving about 1/4 cup.  Mix well.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Using an electric mixer or whisk, beat the remaining 1/2 cup egg mixture until light & fluffy.  Drizzle over the brownie batter.  Use a wooden toothpick to pull the egg mixture through the batter, creating a marbled effect.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the brownies are set.  Let cool in the pan completely before moving to the fridge.  They will remain soft until refrigerated.  Cut into squares.

~

Millet Muffins

2 Mon, 2011 § 8 Comments

Make these.

Heidi’s Millet Muffins.

They are slightly crunchy, still fluffy & smooth on the inside, not overly sweet & have the perfect kiss of lemon.  They are reminiscent of poppy seed muffins, which are my absolute favorite.  Next time, I just might toss in a few poppy seeds for fun.

I adapted her recipe slightly to create a vegan version but left the major components untouched; & though they might not be as pretty as hers, I would wager they are just as delicious.  We also made the Tinto de Verano from her recipe sampler over the weekend…& plan to enjoy her Avocado with Mustard Seeds later this week.  Yes, I really want her new cookbook.  I will be swinging by B&N very soon to take a closer peek.

Millet Muffins

Adapted from Super Natural Every Day

makes 12 muffins

Preheat oven to 400*F.  Prep a muffin pan with oil or butter or line with paper liners.  I like my silicone baking cups, which I place on a regular baking sheet.

  • 2 & 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup raw millet (Heidi’s recipe calls for 1/3 cup, but I like the extra crunch from the millet)
  • 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 cup yogurt (I used dairy-free coconut Amande yogurt made with cultured almond milk)
  • 2 flax “eggs” (whisk together 2 T freshly ground flaxseeds with 6 T warm water & let thicken ~10 minutes)
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance, softened
  • 1/2 cup agave or honey
  • grated zest from 1 lemon & 2 T juice from half the lemon

Combine flour, millet, baking powder, baking soda & salt in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, flax”eggs”, butter, agave, zest & lemon juice until smooth.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients & mix until flour is just incorporated.  Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling just to the rim.

Bake for 15 minutes until muffin tops are golden brown & just beginning to crack.  Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

~

Have you ever baked with millet?  What do you think of Amande yogurt?

Indian Creek & [Flourless] Almond Butter Cookies

28 Thu, 2011 § Leave a comment

We always wish we had something sweet when sitting around the fire.

[photo by David Finch]

The smore suggestion is often thrown around, but vegan marshmallows are expensive & usually use syrup — & Allie-approved graham crackers & chocolate aren’t exactly cheap either…& I’m out of homemade chocolate…already.

We went with cookies, because cookies are easy & easy to tailor.  I did not want a flour-based one that might leave us feeling heavy for climbing, so these use almond butter as the base with ground flaxseed to bind everything together.  They are a little crumbly — not so much so they disintegrate on you, but they might not survive milk dunking —  subtly sweet & [almond] buttery.  Cookies that were exactly what I was wanting for our camping trip:

Almond Butter & Cacao Nib Cookies

makes ~16 small cookies

Preheat oven to 350*F.

  • 4 dates, pureed into paste
  • 1 C almond butter, unsalted & stirred well
  • 1 flax “egg” (whisk 1 T freshly ground flaxseeds with 3 T warm water, allow to thicken ~10 minutes)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • ~1/4 C cacao nibs (or mini-chocolate chips)

Combine all ingredients except cacao nibs & mix well [you don’t want to bite into a salt or baking soda cloud].   Stir in cacao or chocolate pieces.  Spoon into tablespoon-size balls & flatten onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for ~12 minutes until lightly browned.  Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack & cool 15 minutes longer.

~

What sweets or treats do you take camping?

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