05 September 2018: Refreshing Quinoa Salad

2018-Sep-05_fournightsaweek_2642Even though we are beyond Labor Day, we are experiencing one of those New England heat waves where the temperatures and humidity almost make one long for winter. Well, maybe not. 

I discovered this quinoa-based salad from Leah Matthews in Vegetarian Times. It really is delicious and, as Chef Matthews intended, reminds me of a tabbouleh. The substitution of quinoa for the more traditional bulgur, makes this one gluten-free for those with sensitivities.

Refreshing Quinoa Salad by Leah Matthews

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and finely diced (2 1/2 cups)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely diced (3/4 cups)
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • Original recipe instructions reference toasted pine nuts – I used about 1/2 cup blanch almonds in place)

Method:

  1. Bring 2 quarts salted water to a boil. Add quinoa, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 12 to 14 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and small “tails” bloom from the grain.
  2. Preheat over to 400 degrees F. Spread pine nuts on baking sheet and toast 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool, then transfer to larger serving bowl (see last ingredient above).
  3. Drain quinoa, and rinse under cold running water. Drain again. Add quinoa to pine nuts and stir in cucumber, tomatoes, onion, and parsley. Fold in oil lemon juice and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper if desired.
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21 August 2018: Sweet Corn Polenta with Bell Pepper & Tomato Salad

2018-Aug-16_Fournightsaweek_2602The July/August 2018 issue of Eating Well has, as you might expect, some terrific recipes taking advantage of summer harvests. This recipe from Julia Clancy, a recipe developer from EatingWell,  is a perfect example. Is there anything better than a hot-off-the-vine tomato? I don’t think so.  

I’ve been intimidated by making my own polenta for a while. This week, finally, I gave this recipe a try, and I have to admit the difference is amazing! I’ll be hard-pressed to buy the ready-made products from now on. 

The only “downside” to this recipe is that it takes quite a while to complete – the polenta cooking and cooling period is about 3 hours total.  I made the polenta ahead of time, marinated the salad together in the refrigerator and, since we were having one of those unpredictable dinner times, assembled everything in about 20 minutes. This is definitely a great meal to prep ahead of time and put together later.

Served with a crisp, dry rose, this was a terrific mid-summer vegetarian meal.

Sweet Corn Polenta with Bell Pepper & Tomato Salad by Julia Clancy

Ingredients

For the Polenta:

  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal or polenta
  • 1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (please, not the canned dust!)
  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the Salad

  • 2 medium red and/or yellow bell peppers, halved & seeded
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes halved
  • 3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 TBSP red-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 TBSP chopped FRESH herbs (basil, mint and/or tarragon)

Method:

  1. To prepare polenta: Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to low and gradually add cornmeal, whisking constantly to prevent clumping. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is creamy and reduce to about 4 cups (50 or 60 minutes). If the mixture is too stiff, loosen with 2 TBSP water.
  2. Add corn, Parmesan, butter, pepper and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cheese is melted and the corn is tender – about 5 minutes. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray. Pour in the polenta and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm – about 2 hours or up to 1 day.
  3. To prepare the salad: Position a rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler to high. Place peppers cut-side down on a baking sheet (I lined with foil). Broil, rotating the pan once, until softened and charred – 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let steam for 10 minutes. Rub off blistered skin and coarsely chop the peppers. Combine with tomatoes, 2 TBSP oil, vinegar and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. Position a rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler to high. Cut the polenta into 12 squares and place on baking sheet. Brush both sides of the polenta with the remaining 1 TBSP oil. Broil, turning once until golden brown – 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. To serve: Arrange the polenta and tomato salad on a large serving platter and top with herbs.

To make ahead: Prepare up to Step 4; refrigerate polenta and salad separately for up to 1 day. Serve salad at room temperature.


14 August 2018: Feta-Herb Edamame Succotash

2018-Aug-11_Fournightsaweek_2593With the recent string of hot and humid days, neither of us has felt inclined to heat up our condo by turning on the oven. We love salads made with fresh greens, but after a bit, that gets a little worn out as a dinner option. Cooking Light published this tasty variation on Succotash by Callie Nash in their May 2017 issue and it is terrific. A quick sauté  of chopped onions with the addition of Edamame and corn is about all the kitchen heat that is generated, making this a great salad for hot and humid days.

Feta-Herb Edamame Succotash by Callie Nash

Ingredients

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cups frozen shelled edamame, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernals, thawed
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 TBSP fresh dill (USE FRESH)
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (USE FRESH)
  • 2 TBSP sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Method

  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until tender (about 4 mins).
  2. Add edamame; cook stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Add corn; cook. stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to a bowl; cool 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in tomatoes, feta, dill, parsley, vinegar, salt and pepper.

07 August 2018: Summer Farro Salad

2018-Aug-07_fournightsaweek_2587We are in the middle of a New England heat wave, so I’m making an attempt not to heat up our living space beyond tolerable. So with that goal in mind, I went on an Internet search for summer vegetarian salads and came up with this gem from Food & Wine’s September 2009 issue. Summer Farro Salad originated with Marco Canora and the link to his original article is here.

Previously when I’ve cooked with the Italian grain, farro, If you are unfamiliar with this ancient grain, this article from Spruce Eats has a great overview. I’ve found the preparation (soaking, cooking, cooling) to be a bit off-putting. In reading F&W’s recipe, the Farro is simmered with aromatics for about 20 minutes total – way more approachable for those of us for whom cooking is more spontaneous.

Summer Farro Salad – Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cups + 2 TBSP extra virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, quartered
  • 1 small carrot, halved
  • 1 celery rib, halved
  • 12 oz. farro (1 3/4 cups)
  • 5 cups water
  • kosher salt
  • 3 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • Fresh pepper
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • 1 small seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise & thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 pint grape comatoes halved
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Method:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of the oil. Add the yellow onion, carrot and celery, cover and cook over moderately low heat until barely softened, about 5 minutes. Add the farro and stir to coat with oil. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the farro is barely tender (about 10 minutes). Season with salt. Cover and simmer until the farro is al dente (about 10 more minutes). Drain the farro and discard the onion, carrot, and celery. Let cool completely.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 1/3 cup of olive oil with the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the cooked farro, red onion, cucumber, tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

27 May 2018: French Baguettes

2018-May-27_FourNightsAWeek_Baguette_2393I’ve been a baguette fan for a long time, and even though I’ve discovered there are just too many variables/barriers preventing me from baking a truly French baguette, I keep trying. Baking a French traditional baguette is my quixotic challenge in baking.

French bread flour is definitely different – it is a harder type of wheat I think – and our ovens here in the US don’t always reach the temperatures required  for crusty French-style breads.  However, I have found a recipe from King Arthur Flour that comes darn close to the real thing, or at least I think so. CNV00000023

When we visit France, one of the things I look forward to is a stop for baguette. No matter how small the town, there is always a boulangerie turning out the most delectable, crusty loaves. Now that I think of it, we just may be overdue for an in-person taste test.

French Baguette from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients for the Starter

  • 1/2 cup cool water
  • 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached AP Flour (don’t substitute)
  • 1/8 tsp instant yeast

Ingredients for the Dough

  • All of the starter
  • 3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached AP Flour (I substituted 1 cup KA Bread flour because I had it in the pantry)
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast

Method:

  1. Mix the starter ingredients until smooth, cover, and let rest at room temperature overnight. Don’t skip this step!
  2. The next day, mix the starter with the remaining ingredients, kneading until the dough is nice and springy but not totally smooth (or if you are like me, use your bread hook and heavy-duty mixer). Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour and again after 2 hours.
  3. Divide the dough in half (in our two-person household, I divide the dough into quarters). Shape each half into a rough oval. Wait 15 minutes and then fold each oval lengthwise, sealing the edge, and use cupped fingers to gently roll each piece into a long log.  Place the loaves onto a lightly greased or parchment lined (my choice) pan, cover, and let them rise* until they are puffy, but not doubled – this takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rise, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Very gently use a sharp knife or razor to slash 3 diagonal 1/3-inch deep slashes in each loaf. Mist the loaves heavily with warm water (do not skip this).
  4. Bake baguettes for 22 to 28 minutes, til they’re golden brown. Take the baguettes of the pan and place them right back on the oven rack. Turn off the oven, crack the door open about 2 inches and let the baguettes cool completely in the oven.
  • *For extra-crisp baguettes, King Arthur bakers suggest covering the shaped loves and let them rise for 30 minutes. Then refrigerate them overnight. The next day (Day 3!) take them out of the refrigerator and let them rest at room temperature, covered for about 3 hours or until they are nice and puffy. Then bake as in Step 4.

 


22 May 2018: Kripalu Green Soup

2018-May-18_food_2343I was lucky enough to spend a weekend at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts a few years ago and, to say it was life-changing is mildly descriptive to say to least.  Since then, although I don’t always cook or eat as healthy as I should, I do like browsing through Kripalu’s kitchen recipes for ways to counteract some more unhealthy habits.

This green soup seemed a winner from the first read. Packet with veggie power, it is filling and cleansing – a great way to get back on the path toward making healthier eating choices.  And should you find yourself near Western Massachusetts, be sure to treat yourself to some time a Kripalu Center.

Clean Green Soup

From Ellen Casperson (School of Ayurveda) 

Ingredients

(Take Ellen Casperson’s advice: feel free to use whatever proportion and variety of green vegetables you prefer)

  • 2 cups water or homemade vegetable stock
  • 4 cups broccoli crowns and stalks, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 stalks fresh celery, chopped in 1 inch pieces
  • 4 cups fresh spinach or other greens
  • 2 cups water or homemade vegetable stock (added to get a consistency you like)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh lemon

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine water, vegetables, black pepper, and tumeric. Bring to a boil.
  2. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft (but not mushy). Take pan off heat and blend mixture until smooth using an immersion blender.
  3. You can add more water here to achieve a thick but not gloppy consistency. Add salt to taste.
  4. Top with a squeeze of fresh lemon

 


20 May 2018: Sweet Pea Dip

2018-May-18_food_2333When the weekend rolls around, we like to slow things down and start our evening meal off with Cinq à Sept, our version of the French cocktail hour. And that means a little something to eat before dinner.  I discovered this refreshing Spring dip from Michael Symon on Food Network’s website recently and it has quickly become a favorite before dinner treat. 

Sweet Pea Dip

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen peas (frozen peas, way easier and usually in my freezer anyway)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup fresh sheep’s milk ricotta (okay, cheated – bought low-fat store-brand ricotta)
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (don’t even think about that canned stuff!)
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh (yes, use the fresh) mint
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
  • Grilled bread for serving (whatever you substitute, make it crusty)

Method:

  1. Add the peas to a large pot of well-salted boiling water and boil the pease for about 30 seconds (here’s where I use my microwave). Remove peas to an ice bath.
  2. In a food processor, combine the ricotta, lemon zest, parmesan and mint. Drain the peas and add them to the food processor. Pulse just until the mixture comes together; you want to keep a little texture and not make it totally smooth. Season with salt.
  3. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl, crack some pepper over the top and drizzle with olive oil. Serve the pea dip with grilled bread.

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