Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Farro and Away

I like to say that the secret to a great food experience is to serve something simple that makes you look brilliant. I have a few of those go-to dishes that do just that -- fettuccini Alfredo, risotto with smoked Gouda, bananas Foster...

And now I have one more.

I don't know what made me buy farro, but I did. I had read something online about its texture and nutty flavor, so I thought I'd try it. So glad I did! I'm now addicted to farro. Seriously, if you can form an addiction to a grain, I have it. I've considered using it for burgers, risotto (why not instead of arborio?), and maybe even farro cakes.

But this is by far my favorite way to make it. And on what has turned into a rainy, cooler August day, I made it for lunch today. I didn't pay too much attention to the time it took for each ingredient, so play it by ear.

Farro Soup

2 Tbl. olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 tomato, cut into chunks
1 cup farro
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (pinto beans would work, too)
1 handful of fresh basil, torn (about 1/3 cup)
3/4 cup frozen peas
Freshly grated Parmesan

In a larger pot, heat oil and saute shallots about 3 minutes. Add celery, saute for a few more minutes, then throw in the carrots. Brown a little (another 3 minutes), then add everything else except for the cheese.

Cook on medium heat (barely a boil) for about 20 minutes or until the farro is cooked. Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan.

Would taste fantastic with rosemary focaccia bread.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Luke, I am Your Fava

I'll admit it -- I've never tried fava beans before this past weekend. For starters, they're not exactly on the radar of any of the local grocery stores. Plus the produce places, including the farmers markets, don't carry them. So when I saw a neat recipe that included them, I decided to try a little harder.

Luckily, a newer store in my town carries them. They say they have them in three forms, though the canned variety is all I could find. I'm now eager to try them fresh.

I found this recipe in a fantastic cookbook (and a must-have for everyone, including vegetarians) -- Tasting the Wine Country by Sharon O'Connor. O'Connor has gathered recipes from some of the country's top bed and breakfast inns. The result -- culinary heaven.

If you're a meat eater.

Ah, but you're a savvy vegetarian, and you know how to adapt recipes to fit your palate, right? While there doesn't seem to be an adequate substitute for rack of lamb or filet mignon (and when recipes rely heavily on meat as the star, there's little you can do), there are just as many recipes begging to be reworked.

So I started with a recipe from the cookbook for pan-seared halibut steaks. Here's the result. I'll warn you: this one is going to take a while to make because of all the various steps. Read through it first

Seared Tofu with Ragout and Mashed Potatoes

1 block extra-firm tofu
1 piece kombu
1 small piece nori
3 Tbl. soy sauce
salt and pepper

Cut a block of tofu into four triangles (or however you like to eat it). Drain on paper towels. Meantime, put kombu and nori in a cake pan or casserole dish, add about 1/2 cup of hot water and let it set for a few minutes. Depending on how much you like kombu or nori, either remove it within five minutes or let it be in the pan as you add the tofu. Sprinkle soy sauce over top, then season tofu with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Let it sit while you put together the ragout, turning it now and then to let the juices absorb into the tofu.

Meanwhile put 4 medium-to-large white potatoes, skinned and cubed, on to boil.

1 can fava beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly
1 cup peas
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup fresh basil (must be fresh or forget this recipe)
1/4 cup canola oil
2 Tbl. butter
salt and pepper to taste

Blanch the basil in hot water for a few seconds (wilt it) and then put it into a food processor with the oil and process it smooth. Dump it into a small colander and drain out the oil, reserving it.

Boil the fava beans (even the canned ones) for about ten minutes in a small saucepan. Drain. Rinse. Set aside.

Your potatoes should be ready. Keep them in the water (to keep them hot) while you blend these ingredients together:

1/2 cup milk
2 Tbl. butter
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat these ingredients in a small saucepan (same one you used for the fava beans is fine) until the butter melts. Turn off and leave on the burner.

Now, back to the tofu. Heat a skillet, add the drained canola oil from your basil experiment to the skillet, and fry the tofu on both sides until heated through and there's a nice crust forming. It took me about 10 minutes per side, flipping a lot, to get it to where I wanted it.

While you're waiting for browned tofu, start the ragout. In a medium pan, combine the fava beans, peas, broth, and basil puree. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and add the butter. Salt and pepper to your liking. Turn off the heat.

Make your mashed potatoes, adding the blended milk mixture.

Spoon the ragout into shallow bowls. Add a plop of potato, then lay your tofu on top. You're done.

Dinner is ready.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The New-Age Veggie Burger

Summer, especially around the 4th of July, just begs for grilled food. Since meat is the food of choice in all too many back yards, vegetarians can feel a little left out. At least this vegetarian does.

In years past, I would grill corn on the cob, attempt tofu kabobs, grill tofu in foil as one might grill fish, slap a commercially made veggie burger on the grill.... you get the idea.

This year, I decided the grill would take a rest. I was beating myself up over why I couldn't find a suitable, grill-worthy dish that everyone liked (I feed meat eaters, too), and I just didn't want to mess with the charcoal.

So instead, I experimented.

I had some quinoa (keen wah) in the cupboard, and I wanted to play with combining textures and odd ingredients. I'd seen recipes that mingled zucchini with quinoa in the past, so I started there. The result: off-the-charts delicious.

Quinoa Zucchini Burgers

1 cup quinoa
3 cups vegetable broth (or more - depends on how it cooks up for you as you simmer it)
1 cup diced potatoes (I used new potatoes with skins on)
1 cup grated zucchini (I let it sit in a paper towel for a few minutes to remove some of the water)
1/4 cup shredded smoked Gouda
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I cooked mine in water for about 5 minutes)
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning or chili powder (your own preference)
1 handful basil leaves, torn or chopped
1/3 cup sunflower kernels
Fresh thyme (about a tablespoon)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly milled salt to taste
Breadcrumbs as needed (I used about 6 Tbls.)

Toss quinoa and potatoes into a saucepan with the vegetable broth. Add some pepper and salt; bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are cooked.

In a large bowl, mix together zucchini, beans, seeds, spices, cheese, and seasonings. Depending on how moist the mixture is, add breadcrumbs, a tablespoon at a time, until the mix can be shaped into patties and stand together.

Heat some oil in a skillet. Add patties and cook on each side 5 minutes. This gets you to a point where you can store some patties for later. For the patties you'll use now, cook 5 minutes more on each side again. Look for the outside to be crisp and dark brown.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanks for the Veggies

I've been doing some experimenting lately with different flavors and trying to replicate that feeling one gets from those Thanksgiving Day foods. With luck, I stumbled onto some recipes that I was able to tweak to what I think works well.

I found an incredible recipe from River Cottage Veg cookbook. In fact, the entire book is well worth owning as I've made many wonderful things from its contents. But the Chestnut and Sage Soup recipe results in what I've come to call Thanksgiving in a Bowl. It's worth owning the cookbook if only for that recipe.

That leaves a few more things to make a meal, doesn't it? My typical vegetarian Thanksgiving consists of veggie pot pies, two kinds of potatoes, and of course a vegetable side. Then there's dessert.

I love a good pumpkin pie. However, good has been a little tough to come by since one canned pumpkin manufacturer has made it too easy to open a can and dump it into a prepared crust. So this year, I went on a quest to create a better pie.

One entire morning and three pies later (let's just say thanks to the unreadable dials on my current oven, a new stove is due in in three weeks), I was done burning things and had come up with a darn good pie. I'll confess I was too tired and frustrated to really appreciate the full flavor of the pie (maybe because my hair still smelled of burned crusts), but the slice I had the next day was pretty great. Here's what I've come up with:

Lori's Bombshell Pumpkin Pie

2 cups pumpkin (canned is fine)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup milk
4 large eggs

Process the first seven ingredients for about a minute. Move it to a saucepan and heat to a low simmer, stirring constantly, for 3 or 4 minutes. Whisk in milks and bring back to a low simmer. Add eggs to the processor, then with it running, add the pumpkin mixture. Process until all ingredients are blended.

Pour into hot pie crust and back about 20-25 minutes at 350 (keep an eye on it). I started it at 425 for five minutes, then notched it down. May take some experimenting with your oven, but test with a knife -- if it comes out clean, it's finished.

I put a great whipped cream on top. I used about a cup of heavy cream, a tablespoon of brandy, and a tablespoon (or more, depending on your sugar tolerance) of confectioners' sugar.

I found the best Crust Recipe here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


I love the opportunity to get back into cooking. It was pushed aside last year when my work nearly doubled and I couldn't find time to eat, let alone cook.

This year is much calmer after a surgery and recovery. And now children who had moved out are visiting, giving me ample excuse to turn out some more recipes. Today's recipe was inspired by a bottle of chianti. Let me explain.

I've been dabbling in becoming a wine aficionado -- not seriously, but just for fun and enjoyment. I was reading my World Atlas of Wine and I was reading about different chiantis and which were considered the best. Naturally it wasn't the one I had. I like buying them with the little basket attached, but apparently, that's good but not great wine. So I hopped over to the store and got a chianti classico. Then the dilemma -- what to serve with it?

Paella, of course.

Since the kids were home, I decided that dessert was in order, too. However, after making guacamole and paella, the last thing I wanted to do was make some complicated dessert. I opted for ice cream. With peach sauce. The peaches right now are exquisite, too.

Here's the successful result:

Peach Sauce with Brandy
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
6 whole cloves
2 fresh peaches, chopped
2 Tbl. brandy (I used French brandy)
1 Tbl. corn starch

Heat sugar, cloves, and water in a small saucepan until sugar is melted. Take out the cloves. Add the cornstarch (mix it with a little water first) and then add the brandy and the peaches. Heat just slightly, then take off the heat, put it in a bowl, and chill it. Spoon it over ice cream. If you want, you can heat it again before serving (I nuked until it was warm).

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Favorite Wines

Sometimes, a good meal is enhanced even further thanks to the drink you serve with it. At least that's been my experience. Likewise a bad wine -- and I've suffered through a few of those, as well. Those aren't wasted, either. I simply use them for sauces and cooking (unless they're really bad, and then they're poured down the drain).

I've been buying a variety of wines lately, and by accident (and recommendation of the clerk in the store), I've come across some absolute favorites.

DiSeno Torrontes (Argentina, 2011): One of the smoothest, nicest whites I've had (and I don't care for whites in general). There's a floral taste, along with bit of fruit (apricot comes to mind). Just a pleasure to drink. And cheap -- I paid $8.99 a bottle.

Seven Daughters White Blend: This was a fun one. It's blended from --you guessed it -- seven different whites. It's got texture, fruit, and spice. Cost me about $13.

Ghost Pines Chardonnay (Sonoma County, 2010): Thank you to our neighbors for bringing this one to the Halloween party. A satisfying wine with a balanced fruity taste. Won't set you back too much at $16.

Cesari Mara Ripasso (Veneto, 2009): I've read mixed reviews on this $20 bottle, and frankly I'm surprised. I found this when I couldn't find a suitable replacement for the pricey Amarone I wanted. At one-tenth the price, this ripasso is exquisite. I've bought several bottles over the years, and it's my go-to choice when I want a great red.

Barefoot Merlot (Modesto, Calif.): I can't believe it's possible to get an award-winning merlot for $6 a bottle. This stuff is solid. There's a good hint of cherry, and there's a tiny undercurrent of chocolate. Maybe that's why it's one of my favorite reds.

Sterling Vintner's Collection Meritage: Okay, not my absolute favorite, but a nice choice for every day. It's a blend, so you get five different reds in one, and the aftertaste can be a tad astringent at times, though I've had very good bottles.

What are some of your favorites?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gourmet the Meatless Way

On  a recent trip out west, we stayed at this lovely house near the ocean. The owner must be a true foodie, for that kitchen was the best-equipped rental I've ever encountered. Spices galore, a stockpile of pots and pans, great appliances, and cookbooks.

One in particular caught my eye. It contained recipes from inns across the country. I decided to give the baked French toast a try.

WOW. It was easy and with fresh ingredients, it was fantastic. That prompted me to buy the book, and when I got home, the book was waiting.

I was trying to find a way to make this meat-heavy cookbook more vegetarian friendly. So I started with one of the fish dishes -- sesame crusted salmon. I tweaked, and this is the result:

Sesame-crusted Tofu with Apple-Mango Salsa

1 package tofu, drained and sliced into eight pieces
2 Tbl. soy sauce
2 Tbl sesame oil
2 tsp. rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger

Mix together the soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and vinegar in a covered container. Place the tofu slices in this, turning to coat it all. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to a day.

Meanwhile, make the salsa.

1 mango, peeled and diced
1 apple, peeled and grated
1/2 jalepeno, seeded and minced
1/2 poblano, seeded and minced
1 Tbl. fresh cilantro
1/4 cup diced onion (Vidalia works well)
1/2 Tbl. brown sugar
1 tomato, seeded and diced

Mix ingredients in a bowl and cover. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Now for the cooking:
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I use plain whole wheat)
2 Tbl. black sesame seeds
2 Tbl. white sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together in a shallow pan or bowl.

Heat non-stick pan or iron skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge tofu through the bread crumb mixture, then fry in the lightest layer of oil for about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to your plate, top with some salsa, and enjoy!