Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Santa Cruz Quinoa and Greens

A few months back Chloe and I spent a weekend in Santa Cruz with my sister.  Walking around Down Town, I stopped in New Leaf, a grocery store stocked full of whole natural foods and organic packaged goods, for some lunch.  I decided to take a gander at their ready made delights in the deli case and ended up choosing a quinoa concoction made with Kale and sun dried tomatoes.  It was so good that when I returned home, I did my best to recreate the dish.  As the months have gone by I’ve put my own twist on it and have come up with an inspired version.  Here it is!

Santa Cruz Quinoa and Greens

2 cups quinoa, rinsed

3 1/2 + 1/4 cups veg stock, separate

1 whole head of red swiss chard

1T olive oil

1 large shallot, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped

1t dried thyme

1t dried basil

salt and pepper

1-2T red wine vinegar

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Rinse the quinoa.  Put in a pot with veg stock and bring to a boil on medium high heat.  Cover and reduce heat to very low.  Simmer for 20 minutes, just like you would white rice.

While the quinoa is cooking, remove the red ribs of the swiss chard and put aside.  Chop the leafy part into bite-sized pieces and rinse several times to clean.  Spin to dry well in a salad spinner.  

The swiss chard ribs are edible and can be rinsed and chopped up into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces.  (If I’m pressed for time, I skip this part and only use the leafy part of the chard.  It’s still just as tasty.)  Heat olive oil in a pan and add shallot.  Saute for a few minutes until tender and add ribs, if using.  Cook a few more minutes and add garlic.  Toss in the sun dried tomatoes, thyme, basil, and salt and pepper.  Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.  Add leafy parts of the swiss chard and the 1/4 cup veg stock, cover with lid, and steam for a few minutes to wilt the greens.  

In a small saute pan toast the pine nuts on medium heat.  You have to watch them closely because once the start to darken, they can burn very quickly.  Turn off the heat, once they start to change color, and continue to toss to evenly toast.  This only takes about 4-5 minutes.

By now the quinoa should be cooked.  Toss it in with the red swiss chard mixture and pine nuts.  Sprinkle with the red wine vinegar.  And you're done!

So, there you have it!   Eat it warm or cold, for dinner, or leftovers the next day.  Better yet, pack it in a picnic and head for the beach!  

If you don't like sun dried tomatoes, substitute chopped kalamata olives.  Any sturdy green will work well, but red swiss chard makes a beautiful, colorful dish that's nutritious and tasty.  Enjoy!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kick-Ass Orange Chipotle Sauce

I really enjoy seeing what other people cook, especially when it’s healthy. One good place to get great inspiration and lots of nutritional facts is Nutrition Action Health Letter.

Browsing around their sight, I stumbled upon a video the other day and tried out the sauce from their Shrimp Tostada Salad recipe. OMG! It was awesome! Always wanting to give it my own little twist, I wanted to switch it up a bit. But how could I improve this delicious, savory, yet sweet sauce? Well, I replaced the oil with veg stock and added a little plain soy yogurt for richness, and voila, perfection!

Kick-Ass Orange Chipotle Sauce

4 garlic cloves

1/2t salt

3t honey or agave syrup, to keep it vegan

juice of 3 oranges

1-2 chipotle peppers

3T veg stock

3-4 T plain soy yogurt (more if you want a thicker, richer sauce)

Put all ingredients, except for the yogurt in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour in a small pot and heat on medium until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture reduces by 1/3, about 10 minutes. You need to cook it or the pungent garlic flavor will over power the sauce. Skim off any froth that accumulates on the top with a large spoon. Cool slightly and add yogurt, whisking it in to combine.

So, there you have it! A savory sauce with a kick, fantastic over brown rice, sautéed zucchini and garbanzo beans. The whole grain mops up all the yumminess. Oh, could you imagine it drizzled over a baked potato with avocado chunks, cilantro and toasted walnuts? Mmmmmmm. Also, a great dressing for salad. Oh, the options are endless! Keep it covered in the fridge up to a week... if it lasts that long.


A little note on chipotle peppers:

These are smoked jalapeno peppers in adobo sauce. They are deep red in color and rich in flavor, adding quite a kick to your dish. There’s nothing else quite like them. Look for them with the other canned items in the Mexican food isle of your favorite grocery store.

I have never used a whole can at once, so freeze whatever’s leftover in a zip sandwich bag. Squish the contents flat in the bag so when you need one or two peppers, they’ll be easy to break apart.

Orange Wheat Berries with Pecans and Cranberries

I love bread!  I love pasta!  I love crackers!  But I don’t like the way they make me feel.  Besides the feeling of guilt, I feel bloated.  Lately, I’ve been experimenting with whole grains so I can still satisfy the carbohydrate craving with none of the guilt.

First, it was brown rice and wild rice.  Then millet and quinoa.  Now, it’s wheat berries.  They’re cheap and easy to cook, and they’re really good for you.  Their firm nutty texture goes well with all kinds of veggies and make an interesting meal that will keep you satisfied for hours, and, to top it off, they make great leftovers.   Whenever I cook with wheat berries I make extra to make different variations of this salad, swapping out the pecans and cranberries for almonds and dried apricots, or butternut squash and chopped zucchini for the bells and carrots.  The choices are endless. 

Orange Wheat Berries with Pecans and Cranberries

wheat berries:

1 cup wheat berries


veggie mixture:

1T olive oil

1 red onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

a large handful of raw pecans, coarsely chopped

a large handful of dried cranberries

about 1t dried basil

1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

salt and pepper, to taste


2 oranges, peeled and segmented (save all the juice for dressing)

2T balsamic vinegar

2-4T veg stock

1T of Dijon mustard

salt and pepper, to taste

Preparing and cooking the wheat berries:

So, the wheat berries are slightly more labor intensive than, let’s say, white rice, but well worth the effort.  Put the 1 cup of wheat berries in a bowl and cover about 1-2 inches with boiling water.  Cover let sit for 1 hour.  After soaking, bring 3 1/2 cups of water to a boil and add drained wheat berries.  Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 55-60 minutes.  There may still be some water left over in the pot.  That’s OK.  Just drain them and set aside on the counter to cool a bit. 

About the veggies:  

You’ll want to make sure they are all cut up to be the same size, about 1/4" to 1/2".  In a large skillet, sauté the onion and carrots in the olive oil.  After a few minutes, add the bell peppers, pecans, cranberries, dried basil, and rosemary.  If veggies become too dry, add a little water or veg stock to loosen up and prevent burning.  Salt and pepper, to taste.  

For the vinaigrette:

You need orange segments.  I’m assuming you know how to do this.  Do it over a bowl to catch the juice and then squeeze all the excess juice from the leftovers.  Cut the orange segments in half and add to the veggie mixture.  Add the balsamic vinegar, veg stock, and Dijon mustard to the OJ and whisk.  The mustard will thicken the dressing and give it a nice tangy flavor that goes well with the sweet orange juice.  Salt and pepper to taste.  If it’s too vinegary or sweet, just adjust the ingredients to suit your taste.

Now toss the veggies with the wheat berries and vinaigrette.  Taste to check.  If it’s a bit dry, add more veg stock.

So, there you have it.  This is a delicious meal and can be eaten at room temperature or cold right out of the fridge.  Awesome for brown-bag lunches, but take extra because your coworkers will want some! 


A little note on tasting your food:  

Always taste your food during the cooking process.  Check to see if veggies are tender enough, sauces are flavorful enough, spices are hot enough.  I love to see someone lap up one of my meals without having to douse it with salt.  If it’s flavored well with herbs, you don’t need that much salt.  To me, that’s a successful meal.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

White Beans and Tomato on Toast

Trying to keep Chloe busy and entertained during the summer can make for a busy day. Recently, on the days I don’t feel like cooking a big meal, I’ve been making white beans and tomato on toast. It’s super easy, taking about 10 minutes, but full of flavor and very comforting. And, not a fast food meal in sight. Here goes!

White Beans and Tomato on Toast

1 garlic clove, chopped

olive oil

1 can of whole stewed tomatoes

1 can of white or cannelloni beans drained and rinsed (S&W make a great product)

a sprig of fresh rosemary

a few pinches of dried basil

salt and pepper

whole grain toast

Over medium heat, in a small to medium pot, gently sauté garlic in olive oil. Don’t burn it or it will get bitter and you’ll have to start over. About 30 seconds later, drop in the tomatoes and break them apart with a potato masher. Add beans, rosemary, basil, and warm through. Add salt and pepper to taste. As it heats up the flavor of the rosemary will perfume the tomatoes and beans. So, the longer you leave the rosemary in, the stronger the flavor.

Meanwhile, toast your bread.

Remove the rosemary sprig and spoon your fragrant bean/tomato mixture over your toast. Now, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Very Jamie Oliver!

And there you have it. For those days when you don’t feel like cooking or just don’t have the time, a quick and easy, yet comforting meal. And you can even super-size it without any guilt!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Green Brown Rice

You know when you get a bunch of cilantro (fresh coriander, for the Brits!) to make salsa and all you have left are the stalks?  Well, I’ve come up with a recipe that uses those leftovers.  So, save them from the fait of the garbage bin and try out this recipe!

Green Brown Rice

1 T olive oil

4-5 cloves of garlic

1/2 jalapeno pepper (more if you like it hot!)

1/4 large white onion

1/2 california pepper (this is a mild, long, light-green pepper)

a couple of pinches of dried oregano

salt and pepper

leftover cilantro stalks/leaves

juice of 1/2 a lime

1 can of veg stock


2 cups of brown rice

2 dried bay leaves 

Chop up the peppers and onion into medium pieces.  It’s all going to get blended up, so don’t worry if they’re all different sizes.  Sauté the garlic, jalapeno, onion, california pepper in olive oil.  Add oregano and salt and pepper.  Cook until everything is soft and slightly browned.  This will make the garlic sweeter and mellow the heat of the peppers.  

Put sautéed pepper mix in the food processor and add the cilantro, lime juice and veg stock.  Whiz it all up in the food processor until very smooth.  It will be very watery.  You may not have enough liquid, 4 cups, for the 2 cups of brown rice, so add enough water to make up the difference.  

Now combine the 2 cups of rice with the 4 cups of pepper/water liquid and drop in 2 dried bay leaves.  Bring to a boil on high, then reduce heat to very low.  Cover and simmer 40 minutes.  Don’t open that lid!  

When it’s done, you may have a little liquid left over in the bottom of the pot.  If so, just simmer for a few more minutes with the lid off and this will evaporate most of that leftover liquid.  Take out the bay leaves and fluff the rice with a fork.  Be careful, it’s hot!

So, there you have it.  A great savory grain dish you can eat with a nice delicate white fish, like tilapia or large sautéed shrimp and a simple side salad.  Mmmmmmm.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Spring Peas and Potatoes in Basil Pesto

I live in Brentwood, in the East Bay.  I didn’t realize it 12 years ago, but there are tons of fruit and vegetable stands out here.  A farmer’s market popped up a few years ago, and it’s turning out to be a great place to spend my Saturday mornings.  I just hope at some point it goes year round.  

This morning I perused the stalls for my veggies and weekly basil focaccia bread, which is my daughter’s favorite thing under the sun.  After picking up some tiny baby white potatoes (Yukon Gold, I think), some fresh spring peas, basil, and a loaf of Greenlee’s sinfully delicious Best Cinnamon Bread, which is sliced way too thin, in my opinion, we finally headed home to make way for the Corn Fest goers.

Lunch time was here before I knew it, so I shelled my beautiful spring peas while watching Royal Pains on Hulu.com.  (I love the internet!)  Anyway, I cut up the potatoes and boiled them with the peas for about ten minutes and then tossed them with my version of basil pesto.  It was delicious.  There’s nothing like eating a meal with veggies that have been harvested within the last couple of days.

Here’s my basil pesto recipe:

a big bunch of washed basil, stems removed

1 very small garlic clove (more if you like the raw garlic flavor)

a big handful of toasted pine nuts

a couple of heaping tablespoons of nutritional yeast

salt and pepper

olive oil and veggie stock, equal amounts

So, put all the dry ingredients into a food processor and, as it’s doing it’s thing, add the oil and stock, alternating between the two.  The consistency depends on the amount of liquid you add.  If you want a spread, add less liquid.  If you want a dressing, add more.  

If you don’t have basil, you can really use any green leafy veg, although basil has a very distinct flavor that I just love.  A peppery arugula would work well and so would fresh spinach.  You could use a blender if you don’t have a food processor.

So, there you have it.  A fast meal that’s good for you and super easy to make with fresh local ingredients from Brentwood’s finest!  Scrum-diddly!