Monday, May 26, 2008

Red Oak Leaf, Nectarine, and Goats Cheese Salad

I could devour a big plate of salad every single night. Salads filled with greens, vegetables, fruits, and nuts are the perfect vehicles for all foods seasonal and fresh. Every season offers fantastic choices for composing a great salad. Farmers markets overflow with all kinds of beautiful and interesting salad greens, from red leafed lettuces, butter cos, romaines, loose leaf, and arugula.

At my central coast farmers market, red and green oak leaf lettuce is in full swing. Oak leaf lettuces look exactly like their name, like large, long oak leaves. The red variety is actually almost purple in color, with the leaves becoming green the closer you get to the heart of the head. I believe salads should be simple so that the true flavors of each vegetable stand out. This also means using a simple olive oil based dressing as well. The salad below was truly inspired completely by what was available at the farmers market. The first nectarines showed up at our market about a week ago and I just had to use them. I always try to include something crunchy in my salads such as a lightly toasted nut or seed. I lightly toast nuts and seeds to preserve their precious oils and flavors. The Sherry Vinaigrette makes a great all purpose dressing.

Red Oak Leaf, Nectarine, and Goats Cheese Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette
Copyright by Correne Quigley, 2007
-1 head Red or Green Oak Leaf lettuce, roughly chopped or torn, washed, and spun dry
-2 nectarines pitted and sliced thin
-2-4 oz chevre style goats cheese, crumbled
-1/2 cup lightly toasted pistachios

Sherry Vinaigrette
-1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
-1 tablespoon raw honey
-5 tablespoons sherry vinegar
-9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-Salt and pepper

In a large bowl or on a decorative platter, place the chopped and cleaned greens in a mound. Decoratively arrange the nectarine slices, and crumbled goat's cheese on or around the greens. Top with a scattering of the lightly toasted pistachios. Alternatively, toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Be careful not to smash all the goat cheese crumbles. Make the dressing.

Combined the mustard, honey, and vinegar in a glass jar fitted with a lid. Shake well to combined. Pour in the oil and season with salt and pepper. Replace the lid and shake again to combined. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the dressing over the salad, and serve the rest on the side.

Monday, May 19, 2008

First of the Year Summer Squash and Romano Beans

Black Beauty, Gold Rush, Zephyr, Rond de Nice, Peter Pan, Eight Ball, Crook Neck, Middle Eastern; yellow, gold, black, deep green, white; long, skinny, thin, scalloped, round, trumpet shaped; only a prolific vegetable could come in such a bounty of enticing names, colors, and shapes. Summer squash, in its most general term, is a highly underestimated vegetable (or fruit I should say). I say underestimated because, like tomatoes which also have the same prolific nature, summer squash is available year round in every grocery store, yet in only 2-3 varieties. It is easy to take them for granted, as if they should be available year round. But like a tomato out of season, summer squash out of season can be watery, soggy, flimsy, and pithy, with no real flavor except that of which it is cooked in. I think my appreciation and love for all foods seasonal began with this fruit, and like so many other gardeners, it was one of the first foods I ever grew. Of course, again like everyone else, I planted about 8-9 plants thinking I could keep up with them. A truly rewarding experience as I shoved summer squash into every willing and not so willing refrigerator. My husband drew the line one night as we sat down to a dinner of sauteed zucchini, summer squash salad, and squash fritters. I am only allowed to plant 4-5 plants at the most now!

Come mid May to early June, farmers market stands everywhere are over piled with summer squash of all kinds. Look for, and even ask for, more interesting and unknown varieties such as trumpet squash (a sort of bulbed squash with a long, slender neck and golden green color. The flesh is a golden yellow with a butter flavor.); or Eight Ball (a perfectly round, very dark green ball of squash that does look quite similar to an eight ball). Don't be afraid to buy outside of the conventional zucchini and crook neck, you will be pleasantly surprised. When cooking such a tender food, the most devastating thing we can do is to overcook. Please do not overcook your squash, I am begging you! A few minutes in a saute pan is all it needs. Avoid adding extra water or too much moisture to summer squash, unless it is the form of a beautiful homemade dressing. Summer squash made into a raw salad is also a terrific way to utilize this abundant fruit. Just slice thin, or peel into ribbons, dress with a little lemon juice and a good glug of outstanding cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, a summer herb such as basil, salt, and fresh ground black pepper. A terrific side dish for a BBQ. Add a few quartered grape tomatoes and some toasted whole grain bread spread with goat's cheese for a satisfying lunch. Your options are limitless.

The recipe below contains another prolific, truly summer vegetable with a general name; fresh summer beans. In this recipe I used the very first Romano beans available. Romano beans, also known as Italian flat beans, are a delicious, meaty, tender alternative to the classic round Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake green bean. Romano beans are flat and wide, with a round bean inside, and like other summer beans and wax beans, they come in a range of greens to yellows to purples, and need minimal cooking. Look for them at your market, or even grow your own. They grow exactly like other fresh bush beans and the seeds can be found just about anywhere. Make a small spot for them in your summer garden and you will have plenty! They are wonderful with lots of olive oil and garlic, or lightly steamed and mixed with cucumbers and tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Their flavor is delicate, so keep it simple. Romano beans are also a classic addition to any summer minestrone (see the Spring Minestrone entry from Monday, April 28th).

Sauteed Summer Squash and Romano Beans with Tarragon

-1 generous tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-4 summer squash of any kind, washed, cut in half, and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
-1/2 pound Romano beans, cut into thirds
-1 large garlic clove, minced
-salt and fresh ground pepper
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. When hot, add in the sliced summer squash and Romano beans. Season with a little salt and pepper. Saute about 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until the squash and beans begin to soften on the edges. Add in the garlic and saute 2 more minutes, or until the squash and beans are tender but still slightly crisp to the bite. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped tarragon and serve. This is also fantastic with toasted pine nuts added at the end of the saute.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Golden Sunshine Slaw

Vibrant and colorful, golden beets and carrots are loaded with powerful antioxidants, especially beta-carotene, the vegetable form of vitamin A. Antioxidants, as well as phytochemicals, are what give colorful fruits and vegetables their distinctive colors and smells. Thousands of these chemicals are already known to researchers, with thousands more probably unknown . Plants produce these chemicals to help them fight off pests, disease, and pollution, and in turn, when we eat these foods, the same chemicals offer up the same protection for our bodies. Antioxidants and phytochemicals from whole foods are finally being recognized for their cancer fighting abilities. I say whole foods because antioxidants act differently when they become isolated in a supplement. An isolated antioxidant will not offer the same protection in supplement form as it will in whole foods form. One carrot, or one beet, has thousands of different protective properties within it, and all of them need each other to work efficiently. When one property is removed and isolated, it no longer has the help of the thousand other chemicals, and will not offer the same effective protection. Whole foods are always better than supplements.

I won't go into all the different antioxidants and phytochemicals within a beet or carrot, you will probably get overwhelmed. The most important thing to note is that all colorful fruits and vegetables are packed with these naturally occurring chemicals, and should be the backbone to any whole foods way of life. Reds, oranges, greens, purples, whites, and yellows; each color offers thousands of different protective properties. My best nutritional advice to anyone is to pay attention to the colors you eat throughout the day or week. Ask yourself, "did I eat something purple today?", or "did I have an orange fruit of vegetable?". Eating a range of colors guarantees a balance and variety of nutrients. In my perfect world, organic, in season, colorful fruits and vegetables would be the base of my food pyramid (but then again, my perfect world would not have a food pyramid! That is a different argument though).

On to the recipe! This slaw is the radiant colors of sunshine, hence the name. The colors are dramatic, the flavors bright, and the texture refreshing and crisp. Serving beta carotene rich foods along with a little fat helps the body to absorb the beta carotene more efficiently. Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body, and fat from the olive oil helps to transport the vitamin A into our cells. Other fat soluble vitamins include D, E, and K. The olive oil also helps to slightly soften the fibers of the beets and carrots, as well as heighten their wonderful flavors. Fat is also a flavor transporter. If you can get hold of rainbow carrots (carrots in all different colors such as red, white, orange, and yellow) use them! Don't peel them, just give them a good scrubbing and then slice. The colors of this salad will be even more magnificent. We eat with our eyes first, so I believe food should be beautiful, and if you are using gorgeous farmer's market, in season produce, you won't have to do much to accomplish this. This slaw is great when served along side the Rosemary-Garlic Smothered Potatoes. I would say this recipe serves 2-4.

Golden Sunshine Slaw

-2 medium sized golden beets

-2 medium sized carrots

-Juice of 1 Myer lemon

-Juice of 1 orange

-1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar

-1 teaspoon agave nectar

-1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard

-1/4 cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

-1/4 cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds

-Salt and fresh ground white pepper

Remove tops and woody bottoms from the beets. Save the tops for another use if desired. Peel the beets and the carrots. Using a sharp mandolin, such as a Bennriner mandolin, slice the beets into very thin circles. Make three different stacks of circles, and with a sharp knife, finely slice the stacks into very thin strips (like angel hair pasta but thinner). Place into a large bowl. Slice the carrots length wise on the mandolin the same thickness as the beets. Again, make three stacks, and slice thin to create very fine ribbons of carrot. Place into the bowl with the beets. Lightly season the beets and carrots with a little salt and freshly ground white pepper. Toss to coat.

In a separate bowl whisk together the citrus juices, apple cider vinegar, agave, and mustard until well combined. Add the olive oil to this mixture in a slow, steady stream while constantly whisking to create a semi-emulsified dressing. Pour about half of this dressing over the beets and carrots. Toss to coat. Taste to adjust seasoning of salt and pepper. Let the salad rest about 10 minutes and taste again. Add more dressing if needed, but about half is usually sufficient. The leftover dressing is great for green salads. Toss in the sunflower seeds and serve. This slaw will stay fresh about 2 days.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Rosemary-Garlic Smothered Potatoes

Potatoes are an all time American favorite, as they should be, they are native to the Americas. Even so, the potato was not introduced into North America until the 18th century. According to Elizabeth Schneider, author of Vegetables, from Amaranth to Zucchini (2001, William Morrow, pg 500), the potato took the long route to North America via Irish immigrants instead of coming straight from their native South America. There are over 2,000 varieties of potatoes grown throughout the world, yet in America, only about four are regularly grown and consumed. Fortunately, because of farmers concerned about diversity and chefs looking for more interesting vegetables to put on their menus, our potato portfolio is expanding.

Small, petite potatoes are all the rage, as well as potatoes varying in colors from red, to gold, to white, to purple. It is good to experiment with all kinds to find the ones you enjoy the most. Just because the color is pretty does not mean the flavor is all that interesting. A potatoes texture can vary just as much as its color and shape. Some potatoes, such as reds, are waxy in texture and hold their shape well once cooked. Waxy potatoes are excellent for steaming, boiling, and roasting. Starchier potatoes, such as russets, have a fluffy, dry texture and fall apart more easily once cooked. Use these as mashed potatoes, or in potato gratins where their starch content is necessary to hold the gratin together. Blue or purple potatoes are quite popular because of their unusual, interesting color. Their flavor can be quite good, and they are a little more on the starchy side. They fall apart a bit easily when boiled and turn an odd gray color, which is unattractive for a mashed or pureed potato. Use these in a mix of roasted potatoes or roasted vegetables to bring out their unique color. The distinctive Fingerling potato is also a new favorite. They are quite pricey, are always small, and have an elongated, slightly twisted shape. They come in all colors and flavors and are firm when cooked. They are great for potato salads, roasted, braised, or sauteed.

Don't be fooled by the label "New potato", which most people have come to understand as meaning any small potato. A new potato is actually the very first harvest of a potato plant while the foliage is still green. New potatoes can be be both small and mature and are easiest to find in late spring through summer at a farmers market. New potatoes will have very thin, delicate skin and juicier flesh. A potatoes natural season is late spring and all during summer, but once harvested and properly cured, they can be stored throughout the autumn and winter until the next crop arrives. This ability to store well makes the potato a great autumn and winter food when other foods are scarce.

Prepare the more unique potatoes and small potatoes simply. Their delicate flavors can be overpowered easily. Potatoes have a natural affinity for flavorful fats such as good olive oil and walnut oil, as well as almost all herbs. Just a little extra virgin olive oil, flaky salt, and parsley will make an amazing side dish out of almost any small potato.

Rosemary and Garlic Smothered Baby Red Potatoes
For this dish I like to use potatoes no bigger than the size of a golf ball, but any potato can be used, just cut them into the appropriate sized chunks. Fingerlings would be perfect for this dish as well. If you happen to come across a variety of potato called German Butterball, buy some, they are wonderful and would be great here. They have a papery skin and beautiful yellow, buttery flesh. This recipe would serve between 2-4 people as a side dish.

-15 small red potatoes about the size of a golf ball.
-4 large cloves garlic, minced
-1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup water of vegetable stock
-salt and freshly ground pepper (I like to use white pepper)

Scrub the potatoes clean if any dirt is still clinging to their skins. Cut the potatoes in half length wise to create the most surface area possible.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add in the potatoes, cut side down, and immediately shake the pan to keep the potatoes from sticking. Let the potatoes become golden on the cut side, shaking the potatoes often to keep them loose, about 7-8 minutes. When golden, turn off the heat and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Return the pan to medium heat and add in the garlic along with a little salt and pepper. Add in the garlic and saute for about 2 minutes to soften. Add in the rosemary and about 1/2 cup water or stock. Bring to a simmer and partially cover the pan. Let the potatoes cook until they are easily pierced with the tip of a knife yet still slightly firm. If the liquid in the pan dries up before the potatoes reach this point, add in the last 1/4 of liquid to finish. Remove the lid and turn up the heat to finish reducing any liquid that remains in the pan. Swirl the pan to coat the potatoes in the garlic, rosemary, and reduced liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot or warm.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Whole Wheat and Rosemary Crackers

Making homemade crackers is much easier than most people believe. I love to have crunchy snacks hanging around for quick eating, especially since I seem to be snacking more than usual (I think this may be due to being almost 6 months pregnant). By being homemade, I can control what goes into my crackers, which means minimal processed ingredients and no trans fats.

Below is my favorite cracker recipe. I had a craving for wheat crackers one day, threw a couple ingredients into a food processor, and these Whole Wheat and Rosemary crackers were the end product. These crackers are packed with good for you ingredients such as walnuts and flax seeds for omega-3 fatty acids, and protein; whole wheat flour for B-vitamins and fiber; and olive oil for heart healthy fat and vitamin E. You can use either golden or dark brown flax seeds in this recipe, but don't use the already ground flax seed meal that can be found in some stores, there is a good chance it could be rancid. I buy whole flax seeds and store them in my freezer so they stay as fresh as possible. Flax seeds make a great binder in most baked products, but they will lend a little flavor. Flax seeds are a great source of fiber, and an even better source of omega-3 fatty acids, especially when uncooked. Omega-3 fatty acids are very sensitive to heat. Once baked, these crackers will last for quite a few days in a zip lock bag. My good friend Cherie says they are great for back packing trips. I like to eat them with garbanzo bean or white bean hummus and sliced tomatoes when they are in season. Cut them into any shape you like before baking, and make sure to chill the dough before rolling out, otherwise it will be too sticky.

Whole Wheat and Rosemary Crackers copyright 2007 by Correne Quigley

-1 cup walnuts
-1 cup whole wheat flour
-1 tablespoon golden flax seeds
-½ tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
-Sea salt and pepper
-3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-¼ cup of fresh water, or more if necessary

In a food processor fitted with an S-blade, grind the walnuts into a fine meal. Add in the whole wheat flour, flax seed, rosemary, a good pinch of fresh sea salt, and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Grind again to mix and slightly chop the rosemary and flax seed. With the machine running, slowly add in the olive oil, followed by the water. Add enough water so that the dough just forms a ball in the food processor, about ¼ of a cup. The dough should be moist but not sticky. Form into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm.

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Lightly flour a clean surface. Roll out the disc of dough to desired thickness. Thicker dough will yield softer crackers. 1/8th of an inch is about good. Cut into desired shapes, rectangles are always nice, and place on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Bake until the crackers are lightly brown on the edges, about 15 to 20 minutes. Keeps fresh for a few days when stored in a plastic bag. Great for camping trips!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ginger and Garlic Stir Fried Snap Peas

Stir frying is one of my favorite cooking methods. It is usually quick, tasty, and interesting, especially if you are a fan of assertive flavors such as ginger, garlic, and chilies. Snap peas, and also snow peas, are both great for stir frying because they hold their shape well during cooking, are easy to cook in whole form, and are the best when served crisp-tender (tender to the bite but with a little bit of crunch still left).

Here is a quick spring pea identification lesson: Shelling peas, or English peas, are thick, full pea pods with distinctive tender whole green peas inside. Usually these peas are shelled from the pod and then used, and the pod can be used for soup. Snap peas are pods that are a little less full, and a bit smaller than shelling peas, but still contain a whole green pea inside. Both the pod and pea are eaten together as one whole unit rather than separate, and usually the pods need to be de-stringed. Snow peas are wide, very flat pea pods with just the start of green peas forming inside. These too are eaten as one whole unit, and also need to b de-stringed. Snow peas are what we typically see in Asian stir frys. Any of these peas could be used for this recipe.

The issue with stir frying is that it needs to be quick and done over high heat. This can take some practice. My advice is to have everything that will be used in the stir fry cut and ready to go before the pan even goes on the burner. Have everything close at hand so that you can go straight from one step to the next without hesitation. This makes stir frying a whole lot easier. I also feel that a gas stove is the best for stir frying. The heat can be controlled easily, and gas stoves usually have enough power to keep the wok hot. When stir frying, add the ingredients to the pan according to how long they will take to cook. For dense ingredients, such as carrots, broccoli, and onions, slice thin or cut into small florets and add in the beginning. For aromatic ingredients such as garlic, ginger, and chilies, mince and add more towards the end to keep them fragrant and fresh. Eggplant, sliced peppers, cut green beans and peas, and summer squash can all be added in the middle of the stir frying process, again, depending on what ingredients are being used. Add delicate greens and herbs right at the end, along with any sauce ingredients. Most any vegetable can be stir fried, so try this recipe with any of your favorite seasonal vegetables. some of my favorites are summer squash with the addition of Thai basil, broccoli florets, sweet potato slices, green beans, and asparagus.

Ginger and Garlic Stir Fried Snap Peas

-2 teaspoons coconut oil or olive oil (I prefer an unrefined coconut butter or oil for stir frying)

-3/4 pound de-stringed snap peas

-2 whole scallions, sliced thin

-1 generous tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger

-1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic, about 4 cloves

-3 tablespoons vegetable stock or water

-1 teaspoon chili paste (optional if you like a little heat in your stir fry)

-2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

-2 teaspoons sesame seeds

-Salt to taste

Heat a large, flat bottom wok over medium high heat. Add in the coconut oil/butter and as it melts scoop the oil up the sides of the pan to coat. Add in the snap peas and stir fry continuously until the peas begin to turn a bright green and ever so slightly soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add in the scallions and again stir continuously until they begin to wilt, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add in the minced ginger and garlic. Stir fry continuously until the ginger and garlic become very fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add in the vegetable stock, stir to coat the peas, and cook for about2 minutes more, or until the peas are a crisp tender. The stock or water will help to soften the peas just a little and to moisten the whole mixture. Add in the chili paste if using. Turn off the heat and mix in the sesame oil, seeds, and salt to taste.