Friday, August 2, 2013

Bacon Chimichurri Salad with Grilled Corn, Zucchini and Potatoes

This summer salad is brought to you by:  Bacon!  Because really, is there any dish it can't improve?  I always keep a little glass jar of bacon fat in my fridge, but I love coming up with recipes that use it right when you acquire it after frying up some sweet, sweet strips.  

Last Summer I fell in love with chimichurri.  We were getting insane amounts of parsley through our CSA and it was all I could do to come up with enough uses for it.  Meat is the traditional vehicle for this tangy, herbacious, spicy, garlicky condiment, but why stop there?  It seems to beg for an earthy grilled counterpart like the veggies in this salad.  Substituting bacon fat for olive oil really takes chimichurri to new heights of awesomeness.  The dressing has a bright tartness from the red wine vinegar but the bacon adds a rich, smoky, sexy flavor that really makes it shine.

Bacon Chimichurri Salad 
with Grilled Corn, Zucchini and Potatoes
serves 2

1 russet potato
1 zucchini
1 cob fresh corn
olive oil
1/2 a head of Romaine lettuce, chopped & washed

Bacon Chimichurri:
4 slices of bacon
3 T reserved bacon fat
1 T olive oil
1 cup chopped parsley
3 T red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste

First, prep your salad vegetables.  Slice the potato and zucchini into 1/4 inch-thick diagonal rounds.  Toss them in a little olive oil to coat.  Brush the corn cob with a little more olive oil.  Place veggies on the grill and cook until a nice char forms on each side.  Remove from grill and allow to cool, slightly.  Cut veggies into smaller, bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Next, make your bacon chimichurri.  In a large pan over medium-high heat, fry bacon until crispy.  Remove bacon and allow to drain on a paper towel.  Chop or crumble bacon into bite-sized pieces.  Pour hot bacon fat into a small bowl through a fine-mesh sieve to filter out any burned bits (if desired).  Allow to cool until fat is just warm to the touch.

Meanwhile, place all your remaining chimichurri ingredients into a blender.  Pour 3 T of the cooled bacon fat into the mixture and blend really well, until the dressing becomes smooth.  Combine Romaine with grilled veggies and bacon and drizzle with desired amount of chimichurri (I used about half and stored the rest for later use).  Toss well and serve immediately.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Rhubarb Curd

It's a rhubarb party and everybody's invited!  We got our first fruit share from Grant Farms CSA this season and it's, you guessed it, a whole buncha rhubarb.  As soon as I brought my armful of pink and green stalks home, I started perusing the interwebs for recipes.  Not rhubarb and strawberry recipes, but rhubarb recipes.  Now, I'm definitely not hating on the combo, but I just really wanted to find something that allowed the flavor of rhubarb to shine, not just to be a tangy counterpart to a sweet strawberry.

Enter, rhubarb curd.  The recipe is from Food52 and after making it once I'm already in love with it!  This sweet and sour concoction is both delicious and beautiful with it's pale pink hue and silky, spreadable texture.  I paired mine with this Plum & Strawberry Sour Cream Cake for a supremely summery dessert.  The next morning I spread some of the curd on a toasted baguette for breakfast.  I'm pretty sure it would be ridiculous on a good buttermilk scone.  The possibilities are many!

In order to get the pudding-like texture of curd, the recipe calls for pushing your cooked mixture through a fine mesh sieve.  This process admittedly takes a lot of work but will yield a more elegant final result.  Give it a try!

Rhubarb Curd
fills a 16 oz jar to the brim

3/4 pounds rhubarb (6-8 stalks)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup plus a scant 1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 T lemon juice
6 T butter, diced

Wash rhubarb well and trim the ends.  Cut into 1-inch chunks.  In a small saucepan, heat rhubarb, 1/4 cup sugar and water on medium.  Cook, stirring often, until rhubarb falls apart and all the pieces have dissolved, lowering heat to low when the mixture becomes thicker.  Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture well until it's pulpy but smooth.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Add a couple inches of water to the pot of a double boiler and set over medium heat.  Add the egg yolks, butter, remaining sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice and cook over the double boiler, whisking constantly until butter is melted and sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes.  Add the rhubarb puree by the spoonful, whisking constantly, and cook mixture until it thickens and is warm to the touch, about 5 minutes more.  Remove from heat.  Using a flat-ended wooden spoon, push the curd through a fine-mesh strainer to refine the texture.  Pour curd into a 16 oz jar and refrigerate until ready to use.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Grilled Wedge Salad with Honey Jalapeño Dressing


Grill all of the things!  Summer is a time for grilling, that much is obvious, but there is still a lot of room for creativity when it comes to what you choose to grill.  In this case, we're grilling a whole mess of vegetables to create one glorious, grilled wedge salad.  Radicchio and cabbage make a bittersweet pair and look ever so pretty on the plate.  I topped that off with fresh, grilled corn, jalapeños, red onions and shaved rainbow carrots to make this flavorful, crunchy and quintessentially summery salad.

When grilling your veggies, make sure to pay attention to the cooking times for each item since they come in lots of different shapes and sizes.  The radicchio will grill the fastest, being somewhat light and delicate, followed by the jalapeño.  The cabbage and corn are much thicker and sturdier, so they take more time, and red onions are somewhere in-between.  I may or may not have grilled an extra cob of corn just so I could do this to it:

What the heck is that weird looking sauce, you ask?  If you haven't tried this Chicago-made but Alabama-inspired barbeque sauce, Lillie's Q Ivory, you need to immediately drive to Marczyk Fine Foods and go get yourself some.  It is a mayonnaise based sauce with lots of tang from the addition of cider vinegar and lime juice.  It's seasoned with lots of fresh black pepper and some other magical, wonderful and undisclosed secret spices that came from Grandma Lillie's genius brain.  I salute you, Grandma.  Your BBQ sauce is ridiculous.

Grilled Wedge Salad 
with Honey Jalapeño Dressing
serves 2

1/2 a small head of cabbage
1 small head of radicchio
1 cob of corn
1 red onion, sliced into rounds
1/2 jalapeño, halved and seeded
peanut oil
2 small rainbow carrots, shaved
1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
1 handful cilantro leaves

Juice of 2 limes
2 tsp honey
1/2 jalapeño, grilled and minced
2 T peanut oil
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat your grill to medium-high.  Slice the cabbage and radicchio into quarters and brush lettuces, corn, onion and the whole jalapeño with a little peanut oil.  Place your veggies onto grill and cook until each side gets a good char.  Remove from grill when done and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Set vegetables aside and allow to cool slightly, then mince the jalapeño and set half of it aside for your dressing.

For the dressing, whisk lime juice and honey together in a small bowl until well combined.  Slowly drizzle the oils in as you whisk continuously, then season with salt and pepper to taste and whisk in the minced jalapeño.  

Assemble grilled wedges on your plates or serving dish.  Slice corn kernels off the cob, chop the grilled onions, and mix the corn, onion, shaved carrot and jalapeño together with a little bit of dressing.  Drizzle desired amount of remaining dressing over lettuce wedges, then top with remaining salad ingredients, garnishing with the queso fresco and cilantro leaves.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Seitan Stir-fry with Pickled Plum Sweet & Sour Sauce

Once upon a time, on a crazy whim, I decided to go vegan. There, I admitted it! Really it's no secret... especially to our friends and family, almost all of whom complained about our veganism (my husband, though somewhat hesitantly, also went vegan with me). For many, the challenge with making the transition to plant based is the food, itself. For me, that part was the most fun! I really loved exploring an entirely different way of eating and cooking with things that were totally new to me like nutritional yeast, tapioca starch, and seitan.

During my adventures in veganism, I found that a lot of vegan meat substitutes were available, but there weren't many that I felt wholly good about eating. Sure, they were made without any animal products, but what about all the other crap on that paragraph-long ingredient list? Many vegans will tell you that one of the reasons they changed their diet is to have a smaller footprint, to eat more sustainably. But what’s so sustainable about an over-processed veggie burger that has thirty different ingredients and comes plastic-wrapped and in a box and is shipped from far away? 

All rants aside, I think veganism can be great for some people but I discovered that it just wasn’t for me.  Maybe I just love food too much to restrict my consumption to a diverse but limiting category. But the point is, I still really love vegan food when it’s done well and find myself revisiting old recipes from my all-time, absolute favorite vegan cookbook, Veganomicon (vegans everywhere… if you have not purchased this marvelous, incredibly useful cookbook you are doing your diet a disservice!). 

Veganomicon taught me the merits of seitan. Not only is it a protein packed and entirely plant derived meat substitute, but I would venture to say that it’s the best tasting one at that. Making it from scratch will save you a ton of money, so if you eat it a lot it makes sense.  For those occasional seitan eaters, I say go for the pre-made stuff. It makes for an incredibly fast and easy meal and usually has far fewer ingredients than frozen “chicken” nuggets and the like. The packaged stuff is more dense and chewy so it is actually much better suited for frying or sautéing and is easier to work with overall. 

This recipe also calls for another somewhat unusual ingredient, which is pickled plums. Here in Colorado we are lucky enough to be able to find them almost everywhere, because MM Local sells them all over the place. They are a beautiful purple hue, sweet and tart in flavor, and incredibly versatile. So far my favorite use for these little pickled gems is sauce. You might also come across pickled plums in specialty or Asian markets, but be sure that you use soft fruit in liquid and not the dense, vacuum-packed umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums). Pickled cherries could also work well in this recipe, or even just fresh plums if you can’t find any of the above (just use more vinegar and less sugar to get the right sweet and sour balance). 

If you’ve never made your own sweet and sour sauce before, this is the recipe to try.  It’s incredibly quick and simple and uses much more wholesome ingredients than are typically found in the red dye and corn syrup laden versions found in typical Chinese take-out joints.  This sauce gets its sweetness from the fruit and organic sugar, and the plums also act as a thickener so you don’t need any cornstarch.  So, this recipe is a bit of an homage to my days as a vegan and to all the folks out there that think meat is the only delicious protein.  I promise that if you serve this sweet and sour seitan to the most vociferous naysayer, they will be hard pressed to find any fault with this hearty, meaty and incredibly flavorful dish. 

Seitan Stir-Fry
with Pickled Plum Sweet & Sour Sauce
serves 4

Plum Sauce:
1/2 jar MM Local pickled plums and juice (about 8 oz)
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup organic sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 T soy sauce

1 lb seitan
1 head broccoli
1 bunch rainbow carrots (about 8 small carrots), gently scrubbed but not peeled
1 jalapeno, sliced
vegetable oil
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup sliced green onions
sea salt

First, make your sweet and sour plum sauce.  Add ingredients to a small saucepan, whisk together and bring mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce to low heat.  Cook, whisking until relatively smooth, until the sauce thickens, about 5-7 minutes.  You may find little bits of plum skin, which you can remove with a slotted spoon if you desire a smoother consistency.  Remove from heat and set aside.
Break the seitan apart into bite-sized pieces and douse with a little extra plum juice, if desired (it makes the seitan a little pinkish which makes it look more like meat, if that’s your thing).  Set aside while you prep your vegetables.  Slice broccoli into 3-inch long (or so) spears.  Quarter the carrots lengthwise and also cut into 3-inch lengths.  In a wok or a large pan, heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil over high to medium-high heat.  Add carrots and sliced jalapenos first and stir-fry until tender-crisp, about 6 minutes.  Season with a little salt and set aside once cooked, then add broccoli (with a little extra oil, if needed).  Stir fry until florets begin to brown slightly, then add a splash of water to allow broccoli to steam, slightly.  Continue this method, adding a little water if the broccoli browns too fast, until broccoli is tender-crisp, about 8 minutes.  Season with salt and set aside with carrots and jalapenos.
Drain your bits of seitan and dredge in rice flour until coated.  Fry in the wok with additional vegetable oil until browned and crispy, about 8 minutes.  Remove from heat and add sweet and sour sauce.  Mix well to coat seitan.  Plate vegetables with sweet and sour seitan on top and serve with cooked rice.  Garnish with sliced green onions.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shredded Mexican Salad

Summer is here!  It's salad season!!  OK, maybe that doesn't sound super exciting, but is there any other time of year that's better suited to enjoying a big plate of fresh, crunchy, cooling vegetables?  I think not.

Every Summer, without fail, I make some version of this salad.  It happens to be a favorite amongst our friends, and definitely a favorite of mine, too, although I think I make it a little differently every time!  The foundation always remains the same - a whole bunch of sliced cabbage with lots of other vegetables (other really great additions/substitutions for this salad are grilled corn, jicama, sliced green onions, grilled peppers, or queso fresco) and a creamy, cilantro flavored dressing.  This dressing is extra luscious thanks to the avocado and sour cream, but it has a lot of tang from the fresh lime juice.  For a lighter version, I've played around with different fats like peanut oil (use judiciously!), yogurt or coconut milk instead of sour cream, or eliminating the avocado altogether.

This crunchy slaw gains a lot of heft, substance, and meaty flavor from the addition of ground bison, although a vegetarian version is equally tasty (black beans make a great protein substitute!).  If you aren't familiar with bison, this is a really easy, user-friendly recipe for first-timers.  I'm a real bison lover, myself!  It has a rich, beefy taste but with more sweetness than beef and a subtle grassy flavor.  Not to mention, bison is lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, chicken, and even some fishes.

So, here's to enjoying the hot weather with a cool, crunchy salad!  

Shredded Mexican Salad
serves 6

1 lb ground bison
1 T vegetable oil
2 tsp Southwest seasoning (I used Savory Spice Shop's El Diente Peak Southwest seasoning, which is a blend of chile powder, paprika, coriander, cumin, pepper, crushed red pepper, and mexican oregano)
salt and pepper
6 cups shredded cabbage
1 large red onion
2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 carrot, shredded or cut into matchsticks
1/2 an avocado, diced
3 large radishes, sliced
about 1 cup cilantro leaves
a handful of cilantro micro greens (optional)

juice of 2 large limes
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 an avocado
a handful of cilantro (stems and all), roughly chopped
1/2 tsp Southwest seasoning
salt and pepper, to taste

First, cook your bison.  Add 1 T vegetable oil to a large, shallow pan and heat to medium high.  Add ground bison, Southwest seasoning, and a generous amount of salt and pepper, to taste.  Cook until meat is just browned, about 8 minutes.  Set aside, allowing to cool.

Rinse and dry your cabbage and set aside.  Slice red onion into rounds and brush with 2 tsp vegetable oil.  Using an outdoor grill or a grill pan, heat your grill to medium-high.  Grill onions until each side gets a good char, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Allow onions to cool, slightly, then chop well and set aside.  Meanwhile, slice the cherry tomatoes in half (start at the tip where the stem was once attached if your knife isn't so sharp) and set aside with remaining vegetables.

Assemble your dressing in a blender or food processor.  Add dressing ingredients and blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Mix salad ingredients in a large bowl and add as much dressing as you like (I used about half for a lightly-dressed salad).  Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rainbow Shrimp and Grits

Is there anything quite so wonderful as the combination of shrimp and grits?  Perhaps it is the blend of sweetnesses from the shrimp and corn flavors, or the briny taste of seafood paired so nicely with the earthy aroma of good-quality, coarse grits that makes the dish so wonderful...  the point is:  it's one of those perfect culinary combinations that begs to be explored.

I am usually disappointed in the versions I find in restaurants, often times because of the quality of grits I encounter.  Even the cheap, instant stuff has a satisfying "comfort food" quality to it (and don't get me wrong, I'll still eat it!  Kinda like pizza... good, even when it's bad.), but it totally lacks in complexity and depth of flavor, which the cook will often counteract by adding copious amounts of butter and cream.  If instant grits are your thing, I'm not hating on that.  I get it - they're easy.  But before you eschew forking over a little extra money for the good stuff, consider the benefits:
Traditionally milled grits still have the germ (otherwise known as:  whole grain!) so they are rich in fiber and nutrients; heirloom grains are independent from Monsanto and the commercial food system;  and perhaps most importantly, they taste infinitely better.

So, if any of that peaks your interest, visit the Anson Mills website and peruse their many varieties of "artisan mill goods from organic heirloom grains."  Your mind might just get blown.  If you are lucky enough to live in Denver you can find Anson Mills products at Marczyk Fine Foods (in the freezer section, which seems weird, I know, but remember that nutrient-dense germ I was talking about?  It contains oils that will go rancid over time if not kept cold).  The variety I chose for this recipe is the Native Coarse Blue Corn grits.  I'm quite sure you could get wonderful results using just about any good-quality grits in this recipe, but if you are motivated to get your hands on this particular variety I can guarantee you won't regret it.  The blue corn, which is sourced by Anson Mills from the Cherokee Nation and is grown in the mountains of the Carolinas, tasted unlike any other kind of grits I've tried.  They had a very earthy and almost chestnut-like flavor with a mildly sweet finish.  The grits look a lot like any ol' coarse grain before you add water and then, all at once, they become this beautiful lavendar-blue hue that only intensifies as you cook them.  Such a color is so uncommonly found in food that you can't help but be surprised when you see it! 

Not being from the South, I have no loyalties to any specific method of preparation for shrimp and grits.  When I encountered this innovative and somewhat atraditional recipe from the Food52 blog, originally appearing in the glorious cookbook The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, my curiosity was piqued.  I used their genius idea for making homemade, salty, buttery, boozy shrimp paste as the springboard for this incredibly flavorful and delicious dish.  Since it is springtime, I just had to incorporate some seasonal staples:  Ramps and spinach.  The ramps get blended into the shrimp paste to add a bright, pungent, garlicky flavor to the dish.  The spinach is gently wilted with sliced andouille sausage and served atop the grits.  I made some extra shrimp to place on top, but we had leftovers without the extra shrimp the next evening and I thought it was just as good and makes for a lighter meal.  Since microgreens have become newly available in the market, I've been buying a container each week and garnishing practically everything with them!  They're so beautiful and add a bright, herbaceous flavor to just about any dish.  Everything comes together in one incredibly colorful, comforting, warm bowl.  I can't think of anything that tastes more perfect on a blustery Spring evening! 

Rainbow Shrimp and Grits
serves 4

Shrimp and Ramp Paste:
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
about 5 ramp stalks (one small bunch)
12 T salted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
1/3 cup good whiskey
juice of 1 small lemon (I used a Meyer)
good pinch of cayenne
plenty of salt and pepper

1/2 pound Coarse Ground Grits
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups or so of shrimp stock (or more water)
about 3/4 cup shrimp paste
8-12 cooked shrimp (optional)
microgreens, for garnish (optional_

Wilted Spinach with Andouille:
1 pound baby spinach, washed and tough stems removed
2 T salted butter
2 T olive oil
2 cooked andouille sausages, sliced
2-3 T shrimp and ramp paste

First, prep your grits.  Place them in a bowl and cover with 2 1/2 cups of water.  After the grains settle to the bottom, skim off the chaff and hulls that float to the surface and discard.  If you have the time, allow the grits to soak overnight (this will dramatically reduce your cooking time but is not absolutely necessary if you don't mind tending to the grits for upwards of an hour and a half.)

Next, make the shrimp paste.  In a large pan, add half the butter and heat over medium-high.  Add shrimp (cook the optional extra 8-12 shrimp for the topping, at this point, and set aside) and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the shrimp is just-done, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add whiskey, lemon juice, and cayenne to the pan and cook over medium-high, scraping the leftover bits of shrimp from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until the sauce is reduced to the consistency of syrup.  Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the shrimp tails, if they are still in tact, and add the shrimps with the reduced sauce to a food processor.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Add ramps and remaining salted butter and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse paste.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Set aside the shrimp paste, keeping it at room temperature until ready to use.

Place shrimp stock (or water) in a small saucepan and keep simmering over low heat.  Add the grits, with the water in which they were soaking, to a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir constantly and simmer the grits until the liquid looks starchy and slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.  Cover the pan and reduce heat to low.  Stir every 10 minutes or so, making sure to loosen any grains that stick to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  Each time the grits become thick, add shrimp stock about 1/2 a cup or so at a time and continue cooking, adding at least 1 1/2 cups more liquid, until the grits are done.  Cooking time will be about 50-60 minutes if your grits were soaked overnight, and about 1 1/2 to 2 hours if they weren't.  You'll know when they're done when the grits are no longer starchy in the center.  The grains should be a little toothsome but fairly soft and not chalky in texture.

Once grits are cooked, remove from heat.  Stir in about 3/4 cup of the shrimp paste (or about half the batch) into the grits until combined and allow the flavors to sit together for about 10 minutes. 

While the grits are resting, cook the spinach.  In a large pan, add butter and oil and heat over medium-high.  When butter is bubbling, add your sliced andouille and cook until browned, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add spinach (and extra 8-12 shrimp and a few tablespoons of shrimp paste and reduce heat to slightly above medium.  Stir spinach continuously until it is just-wilted and soft, about 4 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Ladle the grits into a bowl, making a little well in the center for the spinach.  Spoon the spinach and andouille into the grit wells and serve with extra shrimp on top (if using), garnished with microgreens. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Sandwich

I love breakfast.  Have I mentioned that before?  Not only is it increasingly evident that it truly is a "most important" meal, but it highlights two of my favorite foods - eggs and bacon!  Funny thing... this sandwich has both.

The composition is really simple, so the key is choosing the very best ingredients.  My sandwich started out with Marczyk's ciabatta, which is hand-made using local, organic flour and is incredibly delicious.  I also used Niman Ranch bacon, farm-fresh Penny's Eggs from Nunn, Colorado, and a peppery, flavorful, savory mix of microgreens.  What in the heck are these microgreens I am speaking of, you ask?  For those that don't know - they're the baby-est of the baby lettuces.  They start as the seeds of various herbs and vegetables (such as cilantro or beet) and are harvested when the leaf is about two inches tall.  They are often intense in flavor and are also highly nutritious, not to mention cute-as-a-button and a fun way to make just about any dish prettier.  If microgreens are difficult to find, arugula is a good substitute and is pretty widely available.

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Sandwich
makes one

1 small (8" or so) loaf Ciabatta, or other good-quality fresh bread
1/4 of a ripe avocado
3 strips bacon, fried crisp and fat reserved
1 egg
1/4 cup microgreens (or baby lettuce greens)
salt and pepper, to taste

Slice bread in half, lengthwise.  Mash the avocado with a fork and spread on one side of the bread.

In a small pan, add about 2 tsp of the reserved bacon fat and heat over medium-high.  When fat is hot, add egg and fry until the white's edges are crispy and golden, about 5 minutes.  Layer bacon, fried egg, and microgreens on your bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Slice in half and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Millet and Caramelized Onion Cakes with Mizuna Salad

Whole grains.  We know we're supposed to eat them but we're not exactly sure how.  You see a lot of cereals, breads, and other packaged, grain-based products that have fancy looking labels telling you how wonderful whole grains are, so that looks like a good option.  But the full story is that they are often produced with a raw material that, while it was once a whole grain, ends up getting pulverized and processed until much of it's nutrition is lost.

I like to think about it this way:  If you want to eat healthier, cook at home as much as you can.  If you want to cook healthier, stick to buying ingredients - not food - at the grocery store.  You're probably like, "I do buy ingredients!" and I'll be like "so, did anything you buy come in a package with an ingredients list?" and then you might understand what I mean.  I'm not saying all food from the grocery store is bad.  I still routinely buy pasta, jam, hot sauce and bread, among other things.  I just try to find the best ones I can, preferably made locally, and I know I've made a well-rounded trip to the grocery store when I look down in my basket and see mostly ingredients:  produce, whole grains, oils and vinegars, cheese... you get the idea.

So, with the intent of demonstrating that starting with ingredients and ending with wholesome food doesn't have to be a daunting task, I give you a simple, wholesome, from-scratch dish.  The flavors are simple but compelling - herbaceous, toasty, corn-like millet is toasted, cooked into mush, and mixed with sweet and pungent caramelized onions.  No flours, no fillers, just a little egg and seasoning and they come together just beautifully.  The homemade buttermilk ricotta makes this dish feel really special.  You don't need any fussy equipment, just a fine sieve, some cheesecloth (or cheesecloth-like material, if you happen to be a weirdo like me and have a few spare gauze bags laying around) and a nice, big pot.  The result is creamy, mild, slightly tangy and has almost infinite uses.  If you can't squeeze the extra time in to make ricotta, I would recommend using a good-quality fromage blanc or even ricotta salata, but for heaven's sake don't buy that Miceli's ricotta in a tub.  Every time you do, an elderly Italian man sheds a single tear...

Millet and Caramelized Onion Cakes
makes about 10 cakes

1 cup millet
2 cups water
2 T butter
2 T vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper
bacon fat (optional)

Place a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add millet.  Toast in the dry pan, stirring constantly, until it becomes fragrant, about 4 minutes.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes to release the starches and soften the millet to a mush.  Allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, caramelize your onions.  Add butter and 1 T vegetable oil to a large pan and heat over medium-high.  Reduce heat slightly and add sliced onions and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and deep golden, about 12 minutes.  Add onions and the egg to the millet and mix well until the mixture holds together.  Season with salt and pepper and mix well.  Form mixture into 3-inch balls and flatten into cakes.

In a large frying pan, add remaining vegetable oil and a couple tablespoons of bacon fat and heat over medium-high until the bacon fat melts.  Reduce heat slightly and fry cakes until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side, adding more fat if necessary.  Finish with a little salt and serve atop Mizuna and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette, then top with ricotta.

Mizuna with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
serves 4

about 1/4 lb mizuna
1 meyer lemon, juiced
2 T champagne vinegar
1 tsp honey
1/4 cup olive oil
salt, to taste
1/2 cup homemade buttermilk ricotta (recipe below)
2 T sliced green onions

Wash mizuna well and spin dry.  Add lemon juice, vinegar and honey to a blender and pulse until the honey is blended.  While the blender is running, pour in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream.  Add salt to taste.

Add a splash of the dressing to the buttermilk ricotta then mix in the green onions.  Serve salad with millet cakes topped with the ricotta.

Ian Knauer's Buttermilk Ricotta
makes about 2 cups

1 gallon whole milk
3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp kosher salt

Place all ingredients in a large pot over medium-high heat and slowly bring to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pot.  Just before the liquid starts to bubble (the mixture will thicken and curdle) remove from heat.  Pour liquid through a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow to drain for at least 15 minutes.  Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Quinoa, Apple and Almond Bars

Eating wholesome food might mean different things to different people, but I think everybody can agree that we could all do with less processed food in our diet.  The difficulty is that we so often find ourselves in situations where we need to eat on the run.  I almost always have a bag of dried apples and raw almonds in my purse so I can stave off hunger between meals, but sometimes you need a snack with a little more protein and substance... Enter, Quinoa Bars!

Now, you should all know that I haven't always ridden on board the quinoa train.  Maybe I had one too many sad, tasteless black bean and quinoa salads before I decided I didn't like it.  But since the humble grain, which isn't actually a grain at all, is not only wholesome but also happens to be something that grows really well in the Southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, I decided to give it another go.

The important thing to know about cooking quinoa is:  rinse it!  The tiny seeds are coated with saponin, which not only gives it a bitter, soapy taste but makes the quinoa less digestible.  Even if you purchase the packaged, pre-rinsed stuff, I would recommend rinsing (because, well, it couldn't hurt!).  These bars are just-sweet, with a nice combination of crunch and chew, and they pretty much just taste like what's in 'em.  Go figure!  No over-processed flours or sugars necessary.  Each bar has about 180 calories, so enjoy them as a light snack between meals.

Quinoa, Apple and Almond Bars
makes 18

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 cup butter (or coconut oil)
1/3 cup honey
1 cup plus 1/2 cup almonds
4 oz dried apples (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 T salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Demerara sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small saucepan, cover quinoa with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until the liquid has absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Set quinoa aside.

Meanwhile, brown your butter (skip this step if using coconut oil) - Melt in a small saucepan over medium heat until the foamy bubbles start to subside and the fat solids begin to brown and smell toasty, about 7 minutes.  Set butter aside.

In a food processor, add apples and 1 cup of the almonds and pulse until well chopped.  Add honey, cinnamon, both extracts and salt and mix until combined.  Add 1 cup of the cooked quinoa and pulse again until mixture comes together (this helps to absorb all the honey so the mixture will come clean out of the food processor).  In a large bowl, combine the remaining quinoa with the quinoa mixture and the remaining almonds, roughly chopped or slivered.  Add butter and eggs and mix well.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and grease with a little cooking spray or butter.  Press quinoa mixture into the baking sheet and smooth the top with a spatula until even.  Sprinkle liberally with demerara sugar.  Bake until set, about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack.  Allow to cool completely before slicing into bars.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Buttermilk Scones, trial 1 (aka the Quest for the Perfect Buttermilk Scone)

I'm guessing most people resolve to bake less when the year is new, but not this gal!  I've decided that 2013 is the year I perfect my buttermilk scones.  Why, you ask?  Because scones are really delicious and I drink a lot of coffee and tea!  And because why not?

So this is trial 1.  This recipe was adapted from Beth Dunn's Proper British Scones.  While it is apparently more English to make your scones by rolling out the dough and cutting them like biscuits, I still prefer molding my dough into disks and cutting the scones into wedges.  Good scones can only come from dough that is handled properly and I find myself far less likely to over-handle the dough if I form it rather than roll it out.  I also have the compulsive need to sprinkle raw demerara sugar on my scones and that's probably not properly English, either.  But no matter!  The goal is not to make authentic English scones, but to make my best version of a buttermilk scone.  I will insist, however, that  you serve these with clotted cream, which can be found at Marczyk's for all you Denver-Dwellers, or even crème fraîche if you can't find the clotted stuff (I know that might sound weird to all you Americans out there that are used to buttering your scones... but trust me on this!).  Lemon curd is always a delicious choice when talking about scone accoutrements.  Also, serve these scones with the best-quality jam that you can get your hands on!  Preferably some made by a local artisan, like Dagstani & Sons, or perhaps just the adorable little old lady down the street.  

Buttermilk Scones, trial 1
makes 12 small scones

2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 lb. butter, diced and chilled
2/3 cup 2% buttermilk (cream top, if available)
1 egg
demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Add butter and work with your fingers until mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Add buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough just comes together (just a few swift motions should do it - be sure not to over-work your dough).

Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured work surface.  Divide into two and gently knead the first batch until the dough becomes just-smooth.  Form into a disk.  Repeat with second batch and place disks on a silpat (or parchment paper) lined baking sheet.  Using a knife or dough scraper, cut disks into 6 wedges.

In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg with a splash of buttermilk.  Brush disks with your egg wash and sprinkle generously with the demerara sugar.  Place in the 425 degree oven and bake until just golden, about 15 minutes.