Category Archives: Side Dishes

Three Beet Salad With Feta and Honey-Balsamic Glaze

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“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion…the beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kit string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies…..” Tom Robbins

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It’s Sunday at seven. The shadows are getting long and we have food on our minds with no options left in the cooler beyond some crackers and dried apricots. We are heading south toward Grand Rapids enjoying the two lane portion of 131 south and all it’s eccentricities…the concrete statuary, the tree filled with shoes…and feeling that feeling that comes when a weekend is drawing to a close and the next week lies ahead.

August in Michigan is heavenly. It is deep summer, the fields are dusted with flowers, vegetable stands overflowing with corn crop up in front of farm homes, the hay is being baled in the fields. The days are hot, the nights are cool, and you begin to see the random tree already starting to turn colors, an unwelcome reminder that this won’t last forever.

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This summer has been full of music, friends, and food. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to travel around with Drew on some weekends for his festival concerts and house concerts. It’s been an exciting journey and I’m so lucky to be able to hear some of Michigan’s finest musicians on a regular basis. We are heading home from FarmFest, where Drew played two tight concerts with his band. We didn’t spend much time there but the setting was beautiful and the stage was one of the coolest I have seen. The festival is held on the grounds of an organic farm east of Gaylord, MI. It is a quaint festival with two stages and tents and various vendors dotting the woods that surround the main fields. After walking past a booth full of tie dye for sale, chioga beets popped into my head. Chioga beets (a.k.a. candycane beets) are the tie dye of the vegetable world. Visually, it is one of my favorite vegetables and the taste is hard to beat too. A milder beet, they fall in between yellow beets and red beets in flavor and look gorgeous mixed with their other-colored siblings, some dill, and goat cheese.

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A couple of weeks ago I had a photo shoot with the Grand Rapids Magazine. They plan to have an article about Dinner With Aura in their October issue. I was asked to have a dish photo-ready so created this vibrant and flavorful salad (thanks for the suggestion, honey!), experimenting with the beets to find the best way to showcase their color and flavor. Some of the beets in this recipe are whole-roasted and some are shaved raw. To capture the brilliant color of the chioga beets as shown in the photos, you must shave them raw with a mandoline slicer (never, ever use a banjo, says my ever-wisecracking banjo-picking boyfriend….haha) or with a sharp vegetable peeler so you can see the beautiful patterns and can eat the beets with no trouble despite them being uncooked. Beets are also marvelous grated raw into a green salad and tossed with a vinaigrette. Experiment as you wish with the basic elements of this salad: beets, mild feta, fresh dill, honey-balsamic glaze, and raw pumpkin seeds. You can’t go wrong.

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Three Beet Salad with Cow’s Milk Feta, Fresh Dill, and a Honey Balsamic Glaze

  • 3-4 large beets; 1 yellow, 1 red, and 2 chioga if you can find them
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt
  • 1 small clump fresh dill, roughly chopped and some left whole for garnish
  • 3 oz cow’s milk feta, crumbled (or sub sheep’s milk feta or goat cheese)
  • 1 tablespoon pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  1. Heat oven to 400. Remove beet greens and scrub beets but do not peel. Put one of each color beet in a small to medium covered baking dish (or use tin foil to cover if you do not have a covered dish). Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Roast until you can pierce the beets with a fork, about 1 hour. Let beets rest in the baking dish until cool enough to handle.
  2. In the meantime, heat honey and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and quickly reduce heat to low. Let simmer until the mixture reduces into a glaze, about 15-20 minutes. After what is called for in this recipe, you will have plenty left over for other dishes–this will keep for weeks in the fridge.
  3. At this point, if your beets are cool you can remove the skins. The beets will slip right out of their skins if you pinch them! Once all of the beets have been skinned, stand each beet on its head and cut into wedges, about 1/2 inch thick on the outside. Keep the yellow and pink beets separate from the red beets to avoid staining.
  4. Toss the yellow and pink beets with the dill and feta. Arrange red beets amongst the others. Shave several slices of chioga beets and arrange around the plate. Sprinkle with pepitas and drizzle lightly with honey-balsamic glaze. This can be served at room temperature or cold. Will keep for a few days in the fridge.

Baked Squash Blossoms with Goat Cheese and Feta

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What a weekend. What a life! One year ago, my weekends primarily consisted of work, work, working on my house. Every weekend I’d have a list full of tasks to tackle: sweep, mop, dust, weed the garden, post a blog post, grocery shopping…..etc. etc. etc. My life has changed so much to one where productivity is not the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong…I value productivity and feel good about myself when I’m getting things done. I’m proud to be a hard worker. But it never seems to be enough. I never make it through my list and I always feel like I’ve failed because of it. I’m starting to learn that when the goals you set are unreasonable, you will always feel like you have failed. I recently started something new–now rather than focusing on how many things I have left on a list, I start a new list of what I have accomplished and that list never fails to make me feel better than the list of tasks yet to be done.

My life has changed so much in the last year. I still have the same old anxieties about productivity and accomplishment. But I now have someone who balances me out (most of the time). Last winter when we threw our first potluck together, we were so busy making food that I didn’t get around to mopping. I kept fretting about it and was getting pretty cranked up about it until Drew said something that stopped all of the nerves. He said, “you know…all of these friends are going to come tonight and when they leave, they will all talk about what a fun time they had. And I guarantee none of them will say that they had a fun time but it would have been more fun if only Aura mopped the floor.” Sigh. So simple. But left to my own devices, I’d never have gone down that train of thought. Thank goodness for my voice of reason. Lucky girl.

This weekend was such a far cry from weekends of old! Drew and I crammed in about every fun thing we could think of. It all started with a long walk downtown with the pup after dinner on Friday. Our walks are always wonderful meanders through downtown with no agenda and no idea of when we’ll get home. We are so proud to live in the city of Grand Rapids and proud to see all of the progress made here in the last several years. Grand Rapids has so much to offer…an incredible sculpture park, a small but beautiful zoo, the largest art competition in the world, award winning restaurants and breweries, a great baseball field for the Tiger’s farm team, live outdoor music for free almost any night in the summer, two brilliant farmer’s markets…I could go on.

imageThis weekend Grand Rapids got even cooler with the introduction of Movies in the Park at Ah-Nab-Awen park. We stumbled upon this new treasure on our walk Friday night. We were so surprised and thrilled to see a 20-some foot inflatable screen set up in the park with the city lights as a backdrop and about 700 residents watching Princess Bride on chairs and blankets. It was so wonderful to see and made our hearts swell with happiness. We are looking forward to the 16th when we can watch Back to the Future (and come armed this time with popcorn, root beer, the pup, and lots of friends!). Way to go, Grand Rapids! image

On Sunday we headed out to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, one of the U.S.’s top 10 places to visit. It was incredible. Although I’ve been indoors to see the plants and art inside, this was my first time in the outdoor sculpture park and I was blown away. Here are a few of my favorites.

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Ahhhh….the weekend is over but the memories remain.  One way to preserve those memories is by sharing a dish we made after shopping at the Fulton Farmer’s Market.  One of the rarest and most exciting finds this time of year are squash blossoms.  These pretty flowers make their appearance at the same time we start seeing an abundance of zucchini fruit lined up at stall after stall.  Only one farmer at the Fulton Market carries these pretty flowers (The Barry Patch) and I have a hard time passing them up.  They are very fragile and will not keep long so I recommend buying only when you plan to use them that day.

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When I was a kid my mom would batter and fry these blossoms but being health conscious I prefer to bake them.  I set out on a search for baked squash blossom ideas.  After a quick search, I found some stuffed squash blossom bruschetta from Cooking Light’s June 2005 issue. I didn’t have everything the recipe called for so I came up with a version using cows milk feta, goat cheese, and fresh herbs. This recipe results in a crisy exterior and warm, rich interior…and a taste that is not masked by the heaviness of oil. And so beautiful!  A perfect way to cap off a perfect weekend.  Hands down, this has become a new favorite summertime dish.

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Baked Squash Blossoms with Feta and Goat Cheese

  • 1/2 cup goat cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup cow’s milk feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • ⅓ cup chopped basil and/or parsley
  • Salt
  • 12 squash blossoms, if attached to baby squash, leave squash attached.
  • ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Mix together cheeses, 1 lightly beaten egg, and herbs. Season with salt.
  3. Put the remaining 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk. Put the panko breadcrumbs in another bowl.
  4. Carefully spoon filling into each squash blossom and twist loosely at the end to close.
  5. Dip each stuffed squash blossom in egg, then breadcrumbs, and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
  7. Remove from the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Quinoa Salad with Corn, Black Bean, Avocado, and a Chipotle-Lime Dressing

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Wow wow wow….this summer is flying by!  July is drawing to a close and I have barely caught my breath.  But it’s been such a good summer…I dare say the it may be best I’ve had.  I’ve gone for many summer walks, the temperatures have been wonderful other than one intense week of 90’s, my pears are growing like crazy on the tree in my yard, we’ve gone trout fishing (catch and release) in some gorgeous Michigan rivers, and we have had some wonderful dinners with friends.  It’s pretty magical to sit outside on the patio until the sky is dark and the fireflies come out.

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It has been a summer of music!  We’ve taken the ferry to Manitowac, WI for Acoustic Fest (photos above!) and enjoyed Buttermilk Jamboree, NorEaster Festival, and Roots on the River.  I have met so many incredible people at these festivals and feel so invigorated by these new friendships.

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My work has begun to feel more routine and I really enjoy getting to know my coworkers.  I’ve flown around on the corporate plane doing research in stores in Indianapolis, Michigan, and Ohio and feel like I’m making a difference for a company I believe in.  Yes, things are turning up.

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I’m really excited to share the good news that Grand Rapids Magazine plans to publish an article about me in their October issue this year.  I’ve been interviewed for content and in two days a great local photographer is going to do a photo shoot with me!  I can’t tell you how excited I am!  I’ve never had a photo shoot before!  Wish me luck!

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A couple of weeks ago, I whipped up this quinoa salad after having one at our friend’s camp, the Tosebo Camp For Boys, over the fourth of July weekend.  The salad is very healthy and has the perfect combination of textures and flavors; crunchy, soft, sweet, and spicy.  It was the perfect meal for hot days when I stayed far, far away from the stove.  This is a great dish for potlucks, one dish dinners, and lunch and is easily adaptable to your taste preferences.  Enjoy!

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Quinoa Salad with Corn, Black Beans, Avocado, and a Chipotle-Lime Dressing; Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup multi-colored quinoa (red, black, white)–or any color
  • 2 cups water
  • 1.5 cups black beans (I cook my own but you can use canned)
  • 1.5 cups corn kernels, frozen or fresh
  • 1/2 roasted red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green onion, chopped (or you may use red onion, finely diced)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1/2 avocado, cubed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Put quinoa and water into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Immediately turn down to a low simmer and cover.  Simmer the quinoa in the water until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  I’d check it as it cooks–sometimes I feel that the water absorbs better than other times and I’ve burnt it from time to time!
  2. Mix the quinoa, black beans, corn, red pepper, onion, and cilantro in a large bowl.
  3. Mix the oil, lime juice, chipotle, adobo sauce, cumin, agave nectar, and salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  4. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss.  Serve topped with more cilantro and cubed avocado.

 

Radishes In Browned Butter and Lemon: A Lesson in Change

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Wow…I had the craziest dream.  I went on a two week vacation through several states, came back to hold my sweeties hand through a major surgery and recovery, started a new corporate job, threw a large birthday/recovery party, and went to two music festivals, all in just over a month.

Wait a minute….I’m pinching my arm…and I can feel it.  It must not be a dream after all.  So why do I feel so out of it?  I’m the kind of girl who likes routines.  I mow the lawn on Saturday.  I eat oatmeal every morning and have one cup of coffee.  I go to yoga 4 days a week (well…errrr…until my neat little life flipped upside down and all around a month ago).  I eat my veggies.  I know exactly how long it takes me to eat breakfast, drink coffee, take a shower, put on makeup, and blow dry my hair (one hour and 10 minutes).

In one short month I have gone from working from home for five years to working in an office five days a week, eight to five.  I have gone from jeans and tees to high heels, slacks, and non-iron fitted shirts, equipped with a badge that gets me in and out of the building.  I have gone from cooking lunches when I wanted to eat (and taking photos of them) to brown bagging it from noon to one each day.  Home office to cubicle.

I’ll admit, at first I was VERY skeptical.  I believe I even yelled over my shoulder one angry morning early-transition (not enjoying the new 6:15 wake-up time), “I am not convinced!!!”  Yeah, I can be a real drama queen when I want to be.

But you know what?  I had a change…a big ‘tude change.  I decided on my seventh day of work that I could make this as hard as I wanted or as easy as I wanted.  And from henceforth and ever more I have been quite pleasantly surprised at how well adapted I have become.  I bought a daylight lamp for my cubicle.  I had some fun ordering a new wardrobe online and feel pretty darned smart in my fancy new clothes.  I love my new coworkers and have discovered after taking a dISC analysis that I am a “i”, which means that I am the social butterfly, like interacting with coworkers, and bring energy to a team.  I’m beginning to think that working with people (in-person) is really good for me.

And the most wonderful thing of late is that I have watched my sweetie go from sick and not able to eat a month ago to healthy, energetic, and happy.  We have gone for two bike rides, many walks, and have started to enjoy cooking together again now that food is not a battle.  It really brings tears to my eyes that he can finally enjoy my cooking again and that we can enjoy our time in the kitchen together.  When we started dating he said that there was no place he would rather be in the whole world than with me in the kitchen.  Sold!  I knew we’d be just fine from there on out.  And fine we are.

Radishes

We recently went to the farmer’s market and found some beautiful radishes.  Reds, purples, and whites, all bundled together.  Radishes are so beautiful to me.  I’m not sure what the history of radishes is but to me, they symbolize life and renewal.  Their peppery bite makes me feel alive and their emergence at the farmer’s market makes me think of spring and fresh starts.

Radishes in Blue Bowl

In celebration of fresh starts, I wanted to share this recipe with you.  I found this in the April issue of Cooking Light Magazine and knew I would like it.  My favorite way to eat radishes is with some fresh butter and flaked sea salt so this browned butter version appealed to me.  This recipe is also only 42 calories for 3/4 cup!  Not half bad.

I didn’t use my radishes immediately so I had to cut off the greens when they were no longer fresh.  In their place, I shredded baby collard greens from the farmer’s market and they were a fantastic substitute.

Radishes In Skillet

Cooking Light has a bunch of great radish recipes.  If you are looking for inspiration, check them out here.  In this dish, the radishes are blanched then sauteed in butter with lemon and radish greens.  Most people haven’t had cooked radishes so I like to surprise and ‘bend the rules’ with dishes like this (I like to roast them too).  I hope you can embrace change in your life, whether it’s from Tom’s to heels or trying cooked radishes for the first time.

Radishes in Browned Butter and Lemon

Radishes in Browned Butter and Lemon; Cooking Light, April 2013

  • 3 cups radishes, halved lengthwise, with root and 1-inch stem left on
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup torn radish leaves (or another green such as collards, turnip greens, or kale if the radishes don’t have their tops)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add radishes to pan; cook 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain.
  2. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add radishes to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until butter is browned and fragrant. Add rind, juice, and salt; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat; stir in radish leaves and pepper.

Road Trippin’ and Newfangled Carrots and Peas

Happy Memorial Day!  I’m thrilled for the extra day of this weekend.  It’s been a busy few weeks.  Today I want to share a great recipe I found in Cooking Light’s May issue for another use of pea shoots, which I featured last week in my pea shoot and beet salad.  The recipe I am sharing today is a carrot and pea shoot salad with spring onions and is the epitome of spring.

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But first, I want to tell you about a few of the BIG changes going on and some of the things we saw on the trip we just returned from.

One of the first BIG changes is that I will be going from working remotely in my home office to working at (gulp) an office five days a week.  I will be leaving my job as a research manager at a market research company and joining forces with Meijer’s Consumer Insights team.  I’ll be working on internal research to help improve the retailer and it’s brands.  Very exciting stuff.  My life will be much more structured but at the end of the day I’ll have more time each week because I’ll be going from a 50-60 hour workweek to a 40 hour workweek.

Another BIG thing is that Cooking Light added my profile to their Bloggers’ Connection site and I’m thrilled!  Check it out here.  You’ll notice that I’ve added the Cooking Light Bloggers’ Connection badge to my page and I’ll just be sharing with you all a couple of the things I read about in Cooking Light each month.  I have subscribed to Cooking Light for years and have shared their recipes with friends and family during those years.  Now I’ll be sharing some of them with you!

Now onto this trip.  We went on a tour of America’s Heartlands and into Colorado for two weeks.  It was an amazing trip.  Though I have flown into several of the towns we visited, I have never driven to them.  It was a wonderful experience to drive and see a sliver of Indiana, then lots of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Denver.  Iowa was surprisingly beautiful, with rolling green hills spotted with black cows and windmills.  Did you know that Iowa gets 20% of all the energy in the state from wind?  They have committed to generating 40% of their energy from wind, a goal that may be achieved as early as 2015.  How cool is that?

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The first night, we stayed in a beautiful apartment full of antiques that is set up for traveling musicians.  It was right behind the stage at the Legion Arts Center in Cedar Rapids.  The Legion Arts Center is a wonderful building that showcases both artwork as well as some phenomenal musicians.  It is right across from the Newbo Market, a mini-Pike’s Place of sorts that was opened just 6 months ago.  In the morning, we had a great cup of coffee from the coffee shop on the first floor of the building and looked at art in our pajamas.  The folks in Cedar Rapids were so wonderful–one couple even called ahead and bought our lunch at a funky diner called the Bluebird Diner in Iowa City on our drive to Topeka.  It was an act of incredible hospitality and we are so grateful for it.  Drew had Huevos Epsteinos and I think it went down as one of his top ten meals…at least that’s what I gathered when he ate them with his eyes closed most of the time.  One of the few souvenirs we brought home was a bag of the Bluebird Coffee, which I think is worth special-ordering.

In Topeka, we hit up the Topeka Zoo, where I fed a baby giraffe!  We also saw gorillas, tigers, lions, black bears, eagles, and this photogenic flamingo.

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We also saw the Westboro Baptist Church compound (from the outside, of course).  There was a bright side to it–across the street from the compound, the organization Planting Peace purchased a house and painted every piece of siding a different color of the rainbow.  A member of the Westboro church was on a ladder looking over the fence and praying against the house but that didn’t take away from the delightful presence of this house that promotes peace, fights bullying, and helps with orphanages, de-worming, and rain forest conservation.  It’s wonderful to see this organization stand up for peace and this bold act gave me hope.

And then…the Rockies.  Oh my goodness…the Rockies.

Mountains

I had never driven in the mountains and I must have said “wow” every minute or two for the four hour drive from Denver to Carbondale.  This is the view when you get into Carbondale:

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Even though it was cold and sometimes snowy, the breathtaking views made me forget about having to bundle up!

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That night, we ate at a wonderful new restaurant called Town. (with a period) and had a great experience sitting at the community table and getting to know a few folks.  Their clams were excellent as well as the roasted carrots and cauliflower.

East of Carbondale, I had my first fly-fishing experience in the world-famous Frying Pan River.  Standing in the water with the current pressing against my waders and looking at the incredible red rock cliffs that surrounded us, I started tearing up with the joy of being in such a beautiful place.  My weepy moment passed quickly, though, because a rainbow trout came up to my leg and used my boot as a break from the current for about a half hour, joined by three of his pals for several minutes at a time.  I learned how to cast, watch the strike indicator, and mend my line that day, all while staring down at my feet off and on to look at the pretty rainbows swimming by me.

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The drive from Carbondale to Westcliffe on Highway 24 was incredible.  The terrain seemed to change every five minutes.  Rocky and desert-like at one turn, snow-covered pines the next.  My favorite view on that drive was the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a mountain range that is almost 250 miles long.

Mountain Range

Over the next weekend, we went fishing in the Colorado River where I got a great casting lesson from Shaggy, the awesome shaggy-bearded best friend of my sweetie.

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And then in the Blue River, Drew’s other buddy, Romano, taught me more about casting, mending the line, and setting the hook.  And all of that coaching paid off!  I caught my first trout by myself!  The boys were so proud of me when they saw me mending  my line, watching the strike indicator (bobber), setting the hook, and reeling the fish in.  It’s catch and release out there, and that’s what we would do anyway, so no trout for dinner.

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It was incredibly hard to leave the mountains behind to drive back to Michigan but we had much to do upon our return.

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After just a couple of days of being home my poor sweetie had a major surgery on Friday to correct a nerve-related motility disorder called Achalasia.  The muscle between his stomach and esophagus was clenched so tight that most food could not make it through the tiny tube.  It’s been such an irony that the boyfriend of a foodie/food blogger like me could not eat most foods for several months.  But the surgery was so successful and slowly we are introducing foods back in.  In a couple of weeks he will be able to eat everything I am eating, which will just be so wonderful.

On Saturday, I ran home to let the pup out and decided to stop at the Farmer’s Market on the way home.  I was in the mood for more pea shoots, one of my favorite spring vegetables.  I made a pea shoot and yellow beet salad a couple of weeks ago and loved it.  On the trip, I thumbed through the May issue of Cooking Light Magazine and found another pea shoot recipe to add to the repertoire.

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This recipe was quick, just what I needed for my quick break, and delicious to boot.  I had to use big carrots because there were no carrots ready at the farmer’s market so I just cut them on an angle for a nice presentation.  The spring onions soaked up the sugar/vinegar glaze and were marvelous.  I may just cook up more spring onions with a little sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper to mix into quinoa or spoon over crusty bread.  Mmmmm!

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Stay tuned for more recipes from Cooking Light Magazine–I’m going to make a healthier version of biscuits soon once my honey can eat them.  I’m picturing them with some fresh local butter and creamed honey……!  But I am getting ahead of myself.  I hope you enjoy this great springy peas and carrots recipe as much as I did!

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Newfangled Peas and Carrots from Cooking Light Magazine; May 2013 Issue

4 servings of ¾ cup each; about 30 minutes total, 15 minutes hands-on

  • 6 cups water
  • 12 ounces baby carrots
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups vertically sliced spring onion, white parts only (about 9 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 cups pea tendrils or watercress
  1. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add carrots; reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain; rinse under cold water. Rub carrot peels off with a clean, dry kitchen towel.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes or until slightly tender. Add carrots, sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper; cook 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves and carrots are thoroughly heated. Stir in tarragon. Top with pea tendrils.

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Roasted Vegetables with Cheese Sauce and Toasts

Roasted vegetables with cheese sauce and toasts

Welcome to another Meatless Monday with the Food Matters project!  I say that half-joking because everything on my blog is meatless, Monday or not.  This week Lexi from Lexi’s Kitchen chose “Reverse Fondue” for the Food Matters pick of the week.  If you have a minute, check out Lexi’s blog.  She grows her own vegetables and has tons of tasty recipes.  I have been meaning to try her baby spinach salad with dates and almonds for a couple of weeks.  It looks amazing and I can’t wait to try it.

I had such a busy, busy day today and had about 30 minutes to whip together lunch (and exactly 7 minutes to eat it!).  This no-fuss recipe was easily done in that span of time.  All I had to do was rough-chop some veggies, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast for a short time.  While that was happening, I mixed together the cheese sauce, which was a five-minute-max project and pretty impossible to screw up.  Slice up a few pieces of bread from a baguette and toast a moment, and voila!  Roasted Vegetables with Cheese Sauce and Toasts.

Veggies Read to Roast

Feel free to experiment.  This recipe is hard to go wrong with.  Use any veggies good for roasting, use any cheese you want, any kind of bread you want (or skip the bread if you want).  Piece of cake.  I couldn’t help thinking when I made this that this trick is how parents get their kids to eat veggies (broccoli with cheese sauce, anyone?).  I felt a little childlike digging into this dish myself.  Not a bad thing in the middle of a hectic workday.

Roasted Vegetables with Cheese Sauce and Toasts

Roasted Veggies With Cheese Sauce and Toasts, adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Project Cookbook

  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • Stem of broccoli, shaved then sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 carrots, sliced diagonally in about ½ inch pieces
  • 1 turnip, cut into wedges
  • ½ medium onion, cut into wedges
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz vegetable broth or chicken broth if you aren’t vegetarian
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 4 oz cheese (I used a combination of Swiss and goat cheese)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oven to 450°.  Cut all of the veggies roughly—they don’t need to be perfect.  Spread on a large, rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until crisp-tender and beginning to brown. 
  2. Meanwhile, cut a few ½ inch thick slices of baguette and place in the oven on another sheet or move the veggies over to make room for the bread if you only have a few slices.  Toast until browned but still soft in the middle.  This should take less time than the veggies, about 10 minutes. 
  3. While the veggies and bread are in the oven, mix cornstarch with broth in a small saucepan.  Bring to a soft boil and add cheeses.  Stir continuously until all of the cheese has melted.  Pour into a small bowl and put a pinch of pepper on the top if you like. 
  4. Serve the cheese sauce with the roasted veggies and the bread on the side. 
  5. Dip away to your heart’s content!

Paella with Lots of Vegetables

Vegetarian Paella

Welcome to Food Matters Monday…your weekly reminder that you are what you eat!  This week the awesomely adventurous foodie (and fellow oatmeal lover), Meg, from Fledgling Foodie, chose the recipe, a “pared down” paella with peas, clams, and chorizo.  Meg actually lived in Spain for four months in college so has a leg up on the art of paella making (and eating!) because she knows what a good paella should be.  I’ve only had paella once, at a wonderful Cuban restaurant named Cabana Nuevo Latino in my old neighborhood in Queens, NY (there are five locations and I have been to two–one in Forest Hills, Queens, and the other in Delray Beach, FL–I’ve been to both!).  I just had a couple of bites from my friend’s plate and that is what I picture now when I think of paella, a generously sized dish of crisp-bottomed rice, soaking up a saffron-tomato broth with seafood intermingled in it all.  Six years later, I finally got around to trying my hand at paella for the first time, thanks to the Food Matters Project.

Paella with Vegetables

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite things about the Food Matters Project is that it forces me to try new things.  I don’t get too excited about rice dishes (I’ve had risotto rice sitting untouched in my pantry for two years–Gordon Ramsey would be so disappointed!).  Paella never really popped out at me as a must-make dish.  But the FMP pushed me to try it and I’m glad I did.  I bought saffron for this dish and (gasp!) it was my first time using saffron.  I think saffron is an acquired taste (do you all agree?) and it was probably what I liked the least about the dish.  Otherwise, I found the paella to make for a hearty main dish, a good side dish, and overall, a healthy way to eat a ton of vegetables.  Oh, and though the saffron wasn’t my favorite flavor, the color it imparted was marvelous!!!

My version is a vegan version and also gluten-free.  It was very easy to pull together and I listened to Lynn on the Splendid Table while making it and wished I could pick her brain about what she thinks makes a good paella!

I made mine in a dutch oven and was able to achieve the crispy rice bottom that is characteristic of paella.

Making Paella

If you haven’t tried paella yet, I say go for it!  I think it would taste great with some shrimp, mussels, and chorizo.  To see what everyone else came up with, head over to the Food Matters Project website.  To get the original recipe with clams, chorizo, and peas, head on over to Meg’s blog!

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Paella with Lots of Vegetables; adapted from the NY Times

  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • Generous pinch saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 red, yellow, or orange pepper, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups short or medium-grain rice
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 heaping teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 1 small summer squash, diced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or 1 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen lima beans
  • 1 cup shelled fresh or thawed frozen peas
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Crush the saffron threads between your fingertips, and place in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon warm water, and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or a paella pan. Add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic, peppers and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the peppers begin to soften, about three minutes. Add the tomato paste, paprika and rice. Cook, stirring, for one minute until the grains begin to crackle.  Be very careful to keep an eye on the pan during this phase so you don’t burn the rice!  I burned my first batch :(.  Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they cook down slightly and smell fragrant, about five minutes. Stir in the saffron with its soaking water. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the stock, zucchini, summer squash, and chickpeas. Bring to a boil. Stir once, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer without stirring until the liquid has just about evaporated, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the peas. Continue to simmer until the rice is dry, another 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve.

Sweet and Sticky Green Bean Stir Fry With Everidae Sauce

Sweet and Sticky Green Bean Stir Fry

I work from home.  For those of you who work from home you might understand that this means I work from home A LOT.  At all hours.  And it can be taxing.  (If you work from home and don’t work A LOT I want to know your secret!)  But…there are also some perks.  For instance, I get to eat a homecooked lunch every single day.  And what could be better than that?  Most of the time my lunches are super-quick veggie and grain concoctions, eaten in front of the computer while I sift through emails.  But sometimes, I like to treat myself and step outside of my zucchini-onion-soy-fish sauce routine.  This dish is super-quick.  It’s just a simple veggie dish.  But it feels special, like I’m at a nice asian restaurant for lunch.  This dish deserves my attention.  It deserves for the computer to be silenced, deserves a linen napkin, and deserves to be enjoyed slowly with chopsticks.  I prefer this served with a cup of miso soup but it certainly doesn’t need anything on the side.  I also like to serve my green bean stir fry on top of my special grain blend.

My rice blen

To make my grain blend, put 1 cup brown rice in a dutch oven and cover with water by 1 inch.  Cover and bring to a boil then turn heat to low and let simmer for 25 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup farro, 1/2 cup millet, 1/2 cup black and/or white quinoa, and 1/4 cup radish seeds (you can use any of these, some of these, or just make the brown rice plain–whatever works for you!).  Add more water if needed so the water level is about 1/2 inch above the grains after adding all grains.  Cook another 15-20 minutes covered on low heat.  Turn off and let sit for 10 minutes before fluffing.  The radish seeds are my favorite part.  they pop in your mouth and are so fun to eat!  This makes quite a bit of grain blend so once it is completely cooled I spoon the leftovers into quart-sized freezer bags, flatten, and freeze for future lunches or dinners.  Makes things so much easier when I’m wondering what to make for a meal and don’t want to spend 45 minutes cooking rice!

I decided to add carrots to my stir fry today.  Other days I do mushrooms.  Other days just green beans and onions (always onions–love onions!).  My little dog loves eating carrots for a snack so she loves it when I make this dish because she nibbles on the raw carrot ends.  Today I shaved the carrots.  Other times I julienne or simply slice thinly into rounds or on the bias.  I think you are getting my drift.  Whatever floats your boat with these stir fries!

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One thing I always do is shock the green beans.  You want them to stay pretty and bright green in the stir fry.  The best way to do this is to plunge them in cold water after blanching them.  These are my green beans after shocking:

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One more thing.  I’ve been using a sauce lately called Everidae Sauce.  You don’t need it for this recipe–this recipe is great with just some soy sauce, honey, and crushed red pepper.  But if you want to try something really tasty, you can get it on Amazon if you aren’t local to Grand Rapids.  It’s produced by Grand Rapids own Dominic Sorenson at an incubator kitchen called Uptown Kitchen.  This sauce makes so many things tastier!  Just a tablespoon or two added to my plain ol’ veggie and rice routine really takes the dish somewhere.  I love habanero and love spicy but even if you don’t, there is a mild version of the sauce to flavor a dish without adding too much heat.  From the Scoville Farms Everidae Sauce Website:  “Dominic created the sauce to fill the need for a more versatile Habanero sauce, less spicy than traditional sauces with a flavor that wouldn’t overwhelm the subtle flavors of his favorite dishes. Dominic puts his extensive food industry experience to work when personally making each batch. Working in small batches, he prepares each ingredient by hand, cooks, cans and labels each jar of sauce before hand delivering to local specialty stores and markets.  Each of the three versions of Everidae Sauce (Mild, Medium, Hot) are made with fresh Carrots, Sweet Onions, All Natural Garlic, Whole Orange Habaneros, Cider Vinegar, White Sugar, Salt and Natural Fruit Pectin.”  Yum!

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Okay, without further ado, the recipe!

Sweet and Sticky Soy-Garlic-Honey Stir Fry With Everidae Sauce

  • Salt
  • 1 pound green beans
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 carrots, shaved into ribbons
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Scoville Farms Everidae Sauce (optional)
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Add the green beans and cook about 2 minutes.  Don’t overcook or they will become soft and won’t maintain their vibrant color.  Submerge the green beans in a bowl of ice water to stop them from continuing to cook.
  2. Put olive oil in a large, heavy skillet or wok.  Cook the onions over medium heat for about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. Toss the green beans and carrot ribbons into the pan and turn it up to high.  Let brown, stirring often, for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the soy sauce, honey, and Scoville Everidae sauce and toss to combine with the vegetables.  Cook for another minute until the sauce thickens and gets a little sticky.
  5. Serve on brown rice or a blend of grains.

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“Hippie Rice” With Beet Greens, Currants, and Seeds

Hippie Rice:  With Beet Greens, Currants, Sunflower Seeds, and Orange Zest

Welcome to my first post of 2013!  It’s been a busy, busy (yet wonderful) few weeks but as much as I hate to admit it I’m kind of happy to be getting back into my old routines.  I am even somewhat relieved that the holidays have passed and I can look forward to catching up on my “honey do list” including actually organizing my office closet, sewing the linen pillow covers that have been cut and ready for the machine for months, organizing the photo folders on my computer, and other riveting grown-up extra-curriculars (when I feel as good now when my house is clean as I did when I was a kid and I got an elephant ear at the fair, I wonder if I grew up and somehow found myself in some twisted opposite-world).

This post is also the first Food Matters Project post for 2013.  This week, Gracie chose the recipe, “Hippie Rice,” and how fitting it is considering all of the “diets” I’m sure we are thinking about or actually following through on.  It is a good reminder from Bittman that “we are what we eat” and that feeling better (emotionally and physically) and looking better starts with eating better.

My goal this year is to eat mindfully.  I do a good job of eating well:  eating whole foods and following a mostly plant based diet.  But I have my hangups with some junk foods and tend to overeat, especially when I am not being mindful about my eating.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened a bag of pistachios or popcorn in the car and when I got home realized that half the bag was gone and my car was a mess (followed soon thereafter by a declaration that “there will be no more popcorn/pistachios/other messy snacky foods eaten in this car from this point to as long as we both shall live and into eternity!”).  I can get carried away when I’m distracted.  So my goal is to eat mindfully, to take my time, to try (I said try, okay?) not to eat in front of my computer, to savor each bite and taste the flavors, to eat more deliberately.

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Let’s start with this dish.  I used Bittman’s recipe as the starting off point (see Gracie’s blog for the full recipe) but diverged quite a bit based on what I had on hand and what I was in the mood for.  My version has interesting flavors, textures, and colors…a perfect dish to enjoy mindfully.  Beet greens add color and powerful health benefits.  Currants add a hint of sweetness flavor without overpowering.  Sunflower and pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) add crunch and depth.  A little bit of heat comes in from the crushed red pepper.  And orange zest adds a bright pop to finish it off.

This recipe can be modified in any-which-way-you-choose.  So don’t get hung up on the exacts.  I used my standard grain blend, a mix of brown rice, quinoa, farro, and radish seed, which I had cooked ahead of time and frozen, making this recipe very quick and easy!

To make my grain blend, put 1 cup brown rice in a dutch oven and cover with water by 1 inch. Cover and bring to a boil then turn heat to low and let simmer for 25 minutes. Add 1/2 cup farro, 1/2 cup millet, 1/2 cup black and/or white quinoa, and 1/4 cup radish seeds (you can use any of these, some of these, or just make the brown rice plain–whatever works for you!). Add more water if needed so the water level is about 1/2 inch above the grains after adding all grains. Cook another 15-20 minutes covered on low heat. Turn off and let sit for 10 minutes before fluffing. The radish seeds are my favorite part. they pop in your mouth and are so fun to eat! This makes quite a bit of grain blend so once it is completely cooled I spoon the leftovers into quart-sized freezer bags, flatten, and freeze for future lunches or dinners. Makes things so much easier when I’m wondering what to make for a meal and don’t want to spend 45 minutes cooking rice!

My rice blen

Next, I lightly steamed shredded beet greens.  The next time you buy a bunch of beets with the greens still attached, don’t throw them away!  They cook up much like swiss chard but I like the flavor even better.  Beet greens are also an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin A, making this a vision-boosting, cancer-fighting superfood.

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Next I sauteed some onion in a little olive oil, adding the seeds to toast for the last five minutes.  I squeezed the juice of an orange into the pan and added about 1 tsp of zest.

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Then I tossed all of the other ingredients into the pan (grain blend, beet greens, currants, red pepper flakes, salt), sprinkled it with a little patchoulie (just kidding), and voila, a bowl of righteous grains and veggies was born.

“Hippie Rice” with Beet Greens, Currants, Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds, and Orange Zest; makes 4 servings; takes 45 minutes (with pre-cooked grains will take 20 minutes)

  • 1 bunch beet greens, shredded
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup sunflower and/or raw pumpkin seeds (or a blend)
  • 2 cups grain blend (anything you want but I make brown rice, farro, quinoa, and radish seeds in a pot ahead of time and freeze in quart-sized plastic bags)
  • Salt
  • 1/3 cup currants
  • 1/2 tsp red chile flakes
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • juice of 1 small orange
  1. Put beet greens in a saucepan with 1/2 inch of water on the bottom.  Bring to a boil then simmer, steaming lightly for about 5 minutes.
  2. Put the onion in a heavy skillet and saute until lightly browned.  Add sunflower and pumpkin seeds and saute until they are lightly toasted.
  3. Add beet greens, grain blend, currants, red chile flakes, orange zest and orange juice to the pan and stir to heat through.  Enjoy!

Shredded Sauteed Cabbage With Tomato and Ginger

Shredded Sauteed Cabbage with Ginger and Tomato

At the risk of being totally unoriginal, I am going to share a Martha Stewart recipe because it is my absolutely favorite way to eat cabbage.  I think I ate this for three days straight a couple of weeks ago and I could have kept on going but alas, the head of cabbage had to meet it’s end.

This was one of my go-to detox dishes and a surefire way to convince anyone to enjoy cabbage.  I served mine over my grain blend (with short-grained brown rice, farro, quinoa, and radish seeds).  Note that Martha’s recipe lists ginger as optional.  It is a must, in my opinion!

Keep this recipe in your back pocket for when you ‘get back on track’ in January.  Light and healthy, yet warming.  Great as a main dish or side–I’m planning on serving these with some perogies on the day after Christmas.  Mmmmm.

Shredded Sauteed Cabbage; from Martha Stewart

  • 4 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  •  1 medium onion, sliced
  •  1 tomato, chopped
  •  1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and minced (optional)
  •  1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
  •  1 small head of green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (about 10 cups)
  •  1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for serving
  1.  Heat a 14-inch skillet over medium-high heat, and then add the oil and onion. Saute to soften the onion slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato, ginger if using, and red-pepper flakes. Cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  2. Add the cabbage and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir to combine. Cover, and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring occasionally as the cabbage begins to collapse. Add a little water, 2 tablespoons at a time, as needed if the cabbage becomes too dry. (This depends on the moisture level of the cabbage. You don’t want it too wet.) Cook for approximately 13 minutes, or until the cabbage is just tender. Salt to taste and serve.