Friday, April 30, 2010

Chipotle Salad

It's clear to me from all the enthusiastic comments on my last post that you readers are just crazy about my salad recipes. Who am I to argue with popular demand?

Chipotle. I'm not talking about the smoked jalapeno (we'll get there), I'm talking about the fast food restaurant. I love Chipotle. I crave Chipotle. No, that's not quite right. I love and crave Chipotle's salad dressing. SERIOUSLY. It's so good - spicy, sweet, tangy, peppery, and neon orange. I could almost drink it.

I never ever feel bad or guilty after eating at Chipotle, because they use real food. But I wanted to try it from scratch at home with a few substitutions. It was ridiculously time consuming! But so worth it because I ate a gigantic and delicious supper and have lots of leftovers. And the salad dressing - OMG. Fabulous. I totally nailed it.

So, if you haven't had a Chipotle salad before - I am sorry! Here's how I always order mine. Start with romaine lettuce. Top with Chipotle's cilantro-lime rice. I wanted something healthier than white rice so I used this Harvest Grain blend that I picked up at Trader Joe's.

It's Israeli couscous, orzo pasta, baby garbanzo beans, and quinoa. After simmering in salted boiling water for 10 minutes the grains are soft. Add juice of 1 lime and a big handful of chopped cilantro.

Put a big scoop of your cilantro-lime grain on top of your romaine lettuce.

Chipotle offers you their fajita veggies (onions and green peppers). I used an orange pepper and added mushrooms and asparagus and stir fried them all on very high heat in a wok.

Put your fajita veggies on top of your lettuce, cilantro-lime grain, and some cumin-seasoned black beans.

Add your fresh tomato salsa, fresh guacamole, and a couple freshly baked corn tortilla chips.

Top with the un-freaking-believable chipotle salad dressing (recipe follows). Then add more. Then add some more. Don't be shy, take as much as you want. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos in a vinegary sauce with adobo spices. I used 2 in my dressing but I have a high spice tolerance so you maybe want to start with 1 if you're sensitive to heat.

Eat your delicious salad! I'm almost embarrassed to show you how huge this salad was. I ate every bite.

Something's missing, though. What could it be?

Ah yeah, there it is! TGIF!

Chipotle Salad Dressing
2 chipotle peppers
1 teaspoon of the adobo sauce from the can of chipotles
juice of 1 very juicy lime (or 2 regular limes)
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp salt
lots and lots of freshly cracked black pepper
3/4 - 1 cup olive oil

Blend all ingredients in blender until well emulsified. Taste for seasoning and add more of any ingredients to suit your taste.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Soy and Sesame Wild Rice Salad

I don't normally post during the work day, but I just enjoyed the best lunch and couldn't wait to share it. I threw this together in about 45 seconds this morning before leaving for work and it turned out so tasty and filling!

I'm all about the grain salads this spring until the fresh spinach and lettuces show up in our Farmer's Markets. Quinoa, wild rice, wheat berries, and now oat groats are a regular staple of my whole grain diet lately.

Sorry, no measurements. This is an eyeball-it salad. Keep adding ingredients until it looks like it's good enough that you'll want to eat it.

Soy and Sesame Wild Rice Salad
Wild rice, cooked
Asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces and blanched
Green peas, thawed
Carrot, peeled and chopped
Super-firm tofu, diced
Handful of chopped parsely if you have it

Mix all together, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and powdered ginger.

Drizzle over about 2 Tbsp tamari (i.e. soy sauce) and 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil.

Toss again and let it all marinate together in your lunch bag for about 4-5 hours.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Steamed Artichoke with Balsamic Aioli

I've recently disclosed to you a couple of my kitchen fears - dried beans and dough so far. Here is another one. I've always been terrified of artichokes, unless they came in a can. They're scary looking and very intimidating if you've never seen one cooked or eaten at home.

But the nutritional value of artichokes combined with their delicious and unique flavor should have been enough to convince me this was a fear worth conquering. Artichokes are low in calories, fat free, and high in fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, and antioxidants. Interestingly, this website claims artichokes can help cure hangovers, which is sadly appropriate today after all that wine I drank with my friend Jodi last night!

Lindsey's encouragement today gave me the courage to tackle this funky green vegetable. I tackled that motherf*cker like Jared Allen and I was rewarded with a SUBLIME spring dinner with a super flavorful artichoke, tangy and creamy balsamic aioli, a piece of charred bread, grated parmesan cheese, and a glass of white wine. HEAVEN.

Artichokes are incredibly simple to cook. Start by cutting off both ends (the bottom of the stem and the top of the leaves. Then take a scissors and snip the tips off each petal. I also peeled the stem with a paring knife. Rinse.

Add to a pot of boiling seasoned water. Mine had 3 cups water, half a lemon (squeezed), a cup of white wine, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Cover and boil gently for 35-40 minutes. Remove from water and sprinkle with more salt and pepper and some parmesan cheese.

The balsamic aioli is just regular Hellman's mayo mixed with some balsamic vinegar, I made up the fancy name to grab your attention! Another good dipper for artichokes is melted butter with some freshly squeezed lemon juice.

To enjoy this fabulous meal, peel each petal off the stem and dip in your aioli or butter. Use your teeth to scrape the yummy stuff off the tough leaf. Discard the leaf.

Once all the petals are gone, you can see a hairy "choke." Use a spoon to scoop this out and DO NOT EAT IT, it will taste terrible. Cut the rest of the "heart" into pieces and dip them in your aioli and make lots of "mmmmmmmm" noises as you savor each bite.

This is my new favorite spring dinner. I have another artichoke and it's not gonna make it out of this weekend alive.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Seafood Lasagna

I am a walking contradiction. I know this. There isn't another way to explain how a mere day or so after I claim to be a hippie and post about raw kale, I now go in the completely opposite direction. What is the furthest from hippie food that you can get? A Paula Deen recipe, y'all!

Don't know Paula Deen? Well, she's the southern belle of the Food Network with the most pronounced drawl I've ever heard. Her two favorite foods are butter and mayonnaise. I saw her put a huge hunk of butter on top of hot spaghetti once. She probably drinks melted butter instead of water and puts a scoop of mayo in her morning coffee. She is hard core.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this recipe isn't good for you. It certainly has a higher calorie and fat count than anything I've ever posted before but I guarantee it's better for you than THIS. Because this yummy dish contains real unprocessed ingredients - butter, cheese, and cream. Just like the French eat every day (but in moderation!). This picture is before baking.

My recommendation if you want to make this - forget the lasagna noodles! All that layering business is too putzy for my taste. Just cook up some of your favorite whole wheat pasta (shells would be cute, to go with the seafood....get it?) and mix it with the creamy cheesy seafood mixture, top with more cheese, and bake.

Seafood Lasagna (adapted from a Paula Deen recipe)
4 Tbsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups half-and-half
1 1/2 cups grated romano, parmesan, asiago, or other hard cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup shrimp, peeled and deveined (no tails)
2 cups scallops, cut in half or quartered if large
2 cups crab meat
1 box pasta, cooked
3/4 cup grated parmesan

Cook onion in butter over medium heat in a large skillet with deep sides for about 5-8 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add flour and cook 1-2 more minutes. Add half-and-half slowly and whisk until all flour is blended into cream. Let cook over low heat, whisking occasionally, until mixture thickens slightly. Add 1 1/2 cups grated hard cheese (I used a mixture of romano and parmesan) and mix well. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add all your seafood and cook about 2-3 minutes or until they're cooked through (shrimp turn pink and scallops become firm).

Either mix this creamy seafood mixture with cooked pasta shells or layer with lasagna noodles in greased casserole dish.

Top with 1/2 cup grated parm and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until it's hot and bubbling and golden brown on top. Let sit 10 minutes before serving with a green salad and white wine.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Oat Bran Muffins and Raw Kale Salad

I'm feeling extra hippie lately. Especially today since I whipped up a batch of homemade yogurt then spent about three hours with Marney picking up trash around Lake Nokomis for the Minneapolis Earth Day Clean Up event.

My hippie tendencies are of course affecting my food choices. I didn't think I could even post these recipes because nobody will ever want to make them - they are almost too healthy. But then I remembered that I don't really care if anyone reads this blog or makes my recipes because I'm doing this to record the food I like and want to make again someday. So feel free to skip this if you aren't interested in some serious hippie food - and read these posts instead (they're more mainstream).

Bran muffins - sounds boring, right? So not! But it's hard to find a recipe that actually calls for bran and not some type of processed bran cereal. It's counter-intuitive to me to make a healthy from-scratch muffin using some overly processed boxed cereal. And I found this cool bag of oat bran in my little neighborhood grocery store and was determined to make some delicious bran muffins from it. Can you see that the oat bran is also local? It's from Cook, MN.

I used Ina Garten's (she's the Barefoot Contessa) recipe, and adapted it for what I had on hand, including adding dates for a little extra natural sweetness. The muffins turned out really super moist and not too sweet, perfect to grab each morning to go with some yogurt and hot coffee. They actually taste better the next day. I only baked up 6 muffins and kept the rest of the batter in the fridge and baked the rest a week later so I could have fresh muffins two weeks in a row.

Oat Bran Muffins with Bananas and Dates (adapted from Ina Garten)
1 cup oat bran (or wheat bran)
1 cup buttermilk, shaken (I made my own buttermilk with milk and adding a Tbsp of distilled vinegar - let sit for 10 minutes to thicken)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 extra large eggs, room temperature
6 Tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour (I used whole wheat)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 - 3/4 cup dates, diced (or raisins or nuts - be creative!)

Combine bran and buttermilk and let rest for a few minutes. Cream butter and sugar for 5 minutes, add eggs, molasses, and vanilla. Mixture will look curdled. Add bran/buttermilk mixture and combine.

Add dry ingredients slowly and don't over mix. Fold in bananas and dates.

Bake in muffin tin for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees or until done.


You know how much I love kale. I eat it pretty consistently year-round. Usually in soups, or sauteed with eggs (poached or in frittata form). Today I was craving RAW kale, don't ask me why - it just fit with the hippie vibe. Plus I've noticed that the healthier you eat, the more you crave healthy food - not junk.

There are tricks to making raw kale tasty. First, you should always use Tuscan, or lacinato, or dinosaur kale. Second, it should be as fresh as possible. Finally, you need to give it a massage to soften it before eating or it will taste like plastic. This is a salad that you can make in advance even with dressing because the firm texture of the kale makes it get better the longer it sits.

Raw Kale Salad for Hippies
1 bunch Tuscan kale, stems removed and sliced into thin ribbons
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 apple (I used a pink lady), diced finely
1/4 cup craisins
2 Tbsp raw red onion, diced finely
1/4 cup toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds
A small hunk of blue or gorgonzola cheese (or feta or goat cheese), crumbed
grated parmesan cheese for garnish
Vinaigrette of your choice (homemade or store bought - I used homemade balsamic vinaigrette)
salt and pepper to taste

Cut your kale and put in a large bowl with salt. With your hands, massage the kale for 2 full minutes. It will start to wilt and get dark. Your hands will be stained green - get over it. Let it sit for 10 minutes to absorb the salt. Drain off any liquid that has gathered in the bowl.

Add your apple, craisins, onion, seeds, and cheese and toss it all together. Add your vinaigrette, enough to moisten it all and taste for seasoning - adding more salt or pepper if necessary. Serve with freshly grated parm and grilled bread. Also, a huge glass of pink wine on the side never hurts on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

al Vento Chef's Dinner

Back in February, as I was jetting off to Mexico for fun in the sun, a horrible fire burned down two great South Mpls restaurants - Heidi's and Blackbird. I went to Heidi's once (and blogged about it!) and had a great time. The good news in this tragedy is that all the other local Mpls restaurants joined forces for "Fork the Fire" on March 14 to raise funds for the staff who were out of work.

Marney, Colin, and I went to our fave n'hood restaurant, al Vento, for dinner that night to do our part. While there, I threw in five bucks for a raffle. The prize was a 4-course chef's dinner for 4 people, plus wine pairings. Well, lo and behold, I freaking won!!!!

So, I took Marney, Colin, and Alicia with me last Saturday to cash in on this great prize. I hated to take up a table on a Saturday night but the manager assured me it was OK. I also hated to be one of "those" picky guests when I told him I don't eat red meat but he told me that wasn't a problem either-they'd create a meal around my dietary restrictions.

I came prepared, after reading this post, so I knew that bringing a bottle of booze for the kitchen staff as a thank you for the free dinner would be welcome.

We were pretty giddy when the server brought our first bottle of wine to go with course number one, which was two little plates for each of us: a sicilian stuffed mushroom with pine nuts and mother sauce (didn't get a picture), and a crostini with smoked salmon, mascarpone, and berry compote.

Second course started with a crisp chardonnay, followed by feather light gnocchi that melted in your mouth, with lots of garlic and pepper, asparagus, and mushrooms.

Our server brought out a blended red for course number three. Alicia asked what the 3rd course was, and he quickly replied "PORK!" and silence descended upon our table as all eyes turned to me. Clearly, chefs don't consider pork red meat, but I certainly do.

I reassured everyone that I was OK, and that because this meal was being specifically prepared for us, I would at least try the pork. I did have a few bites, and it was OK, if a little chewy. Nothing I'd want to eat again but not gross enough that I had to spit it out. The star of the dish was the amazing zucchini, yellow squash, and fennel in balsamic reduction with chive oil. Wow, paired with the red wine it was incredible.

By this time, I was drunk and full. I couldn't imagine what the fourth course would be but I was hoping for a cup of coffee and a tiny piece of cake for each of us to have a bite of. Instead, we got beautiful cordial glasses filled with a grand reserve port...

...and we each got a plate filled with a huge piece of tiramisu and a square of olive oil cake with berry puree and toasted hazelnuts.

The cooks came out and were clearly shocked to have gotten a gift, they were nearly speechless and it felt good to have made them happy. The manager even emailed me a couple days later to say thanks and told me we made their night by acknowledging the work they do in the kitchen.

It was one of the best nights ever. I had a total blast. I recommend you avoid the McDonald's and Olive Garden's (or insert another generic chain restaurant here) in your towns and please go to an independent local restaurant. I guarantee that you will get better food and better service. You will probably even help the economy in your area, and you will definitely feel really good about going there. I was an al Vento fan before, but now I can truly say it's one of my favorite restaurants for all those reasons.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


This is fattoush, traditionally a Lebanese salad with veggies and toasted pita chunks. I guess it's the Mediterranean version of a panzanella (Italian bread and tomato salad).

I had a bunch of veggies and wheat pitas left over from my falafel so this worked great as a healthy simple weeknight dinner. The addition of canned artichokes and kalamata olives and feta cheese ensures that the salad has that good Greek flavor. The dressing is really fantastic - savory and tangy. Also, I think it is supposed to have romaine lettuce, but I didn't have any so I threw in some leftover cooked quinoa to bulk it up.

Fattoush (aka Pita Salad, Ali's version and not traditional)
1 red bell pepper
1/4 cup red onion
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (mine were yellow! and locally and hydroponically grown!)
1/2 cup kalamata olives
1/2 cup cucumber
1 can artichokes, drained
3 scallions
1-2 cups garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups cooked quinoa (or other grain or romaine lettuce)
whole wheat pitas, cut into triangles

Toast pitas in 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Meanwhile, chop all the rest of the ingredients into bite-sized pieces and mix together in a big bowl.

Greek Vinaigrette
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp dried oregano
freshly cracked black pepper

Toss vinaigrette with chopped veggies and feta. Just before serving, mix in crumbled toasted pita chunks and toss again.

ONE YEAR AGO: Fish Tacos

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Falafel and Tzatziki in a Pita

I still have some chickpeas in my fridge from when I made that big batch of dried beans. They came in handy for my Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, and tonight I turned them into falafel - which is just ground up chickpeas with some spices and lemon juice, formed into patties, and fried or baked.

The falafel patties are super mega ultra tasty, and I put them in a whole wheat pita with a bunch of fresh veggies such as spinach, cucumber, red pepper, red onion, and cherry tomatoes.

The sauce that goes with falafel is called tzatziki - simply a mixture of greek yogurt, garlic, cucumber, lemon zest and juice, and salt. Very light and healthy yet creamy enough to taste really indulgent.

2 cups rinsed chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)
2 garlic cloves, grated on microplane
1 handful parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
freshly cracked black pepper
a few drops of hot sauce
lemon juice - a few teaspoons at a time

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor and keep adding more lemon juice until the mixture makes the right patty-making consistency.

Place patties on a baking sheet brushed with olive oil. Brush tops of patties with more olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, flipping after 10 minutes.

Tzatziki Sauce
1 cup plain greek yogurt
zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup seedless cucumber, grated on box grater
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, grated on microplane or pushed through garlic press
some chopped flat leaf parsley

Mix all together and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until ready to use.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Baked Sweet and Sour Tofu

The baked egg rolls were a certified hit. And I did get ambitious enough to make a half batch of homemade sweet and sour sauce to go with them. I will totally be making this combo again, it was fantastic and nearly all made from scratch - yet still EASY.

It's funny how I gravitate towards asian foods in the spring. Looking back at last year's blog posts from this time shows similar meals. Anyways, I kept thinking about that leftover sweet and sour sauce in my fridge and realized I could make a homemade version of that old Chinese restaurant standby: sweet and sour tofu (or chicken).

I marinated the tofu while I walked around beautiful Lake Hiawatha this sunny April evening. The marinade is the same simple but delicious sauce that went into those egg rolls - soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. And instead of frying in oil, I baked the tofu to make the meal more healthful. The tofu was so flavorful from the marinade and had a great texture from baking at high heat - not as crunchy as fried, but still firm with a nice chewiness.

In Chinese takeout, you always get a side of steamed broccoli with your sweet and sour chicken or tofu. I NEVER think to steam veggies, I'm a little too enamored of grilled or roasted veggies usually. But my mom made a gigantic batch of fresh steamed carrots for our Easter lunch. And the sweet pure flavor of those carrots was so spring-like that I'm all about the steamed veggies right now. So I steamed up some carrots and broccoli, drained them when cooked, then added a pat of butter and some salt and pepper.

Baked Sweet and Sour Tofu (or Chicken)
1 package extra firm tofu (or 1 pkg chicken cutlets)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 clove of garlic, grated on microplane
1/2 inch fresh ginger, grated on microplane
sweet and sour sauce (either homemade or store bought)
some type of cooked whole grain (I used quinoa, but brown rice would be good too)
steamed veggies, such as broccoli and carrots
2 scallions, sliced

Cut tofu or chicken into bite sized pieces and add to a large Ziploc bag. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger, seal bag and shake so all the tofu is coated with the sauce. Let sit for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. I lined my baking sheet with parchment so the tofu wouldn't stick. Layer tofu on single layer and bake for 12 minutes. Flip tofu or chicken pieces and bake another 12-15 minutes or until browned (or cooked through in the case of chicken).

Serve on top of your cooked whole grain. Top with heated sweet and sour sauce, garnish with scallions, and serve along side steamed veggies and (of course) a nice wine of your choice.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Baked Egg Rolls and Potsticker Salad

This post is dedicated to my brother Nick, who thought last week's avocado and pea puree looked gross. Whatever, dude - it tasted good! So tonight I made food that you would have to be CRAZY to think doesn't look delicious.

Two nights from now, I'll be rocking out to Bon Jovi at the Xcel Energy Center. I'll be sure to pull him aside and ask him if he remembers that one time I saw him walking down the street in Soho while I was sitting in a cab. I'm sure it's burned into his memory! Before we head to the show, Alicia is hosting a pack of crazy women at her place in St. Paul for cocktails and appetizers.

I want to bring an appetizer that is a little more substantial than a dip since we'll probably be consuming a good amount of booze. I found this little gem in my recipe box, cut from a magazine and it's so simple! You could cut all your veggies yourself, but I found a bag of broccoli slaw on sale for about $1 at my grocery store. The chicken was also on sale, labeled "for stir-fry" and it was already cut into small pieces so most of my work was already done for me.

The best part is that these rolls are baked, not deep fried. And the test roll I baked tonight was really tasty. I wrapped up the rest of my egg rolls and put them in the freezer and I'll bake them directly from frozen on Wednesday. If you are really ambitious, you can make your own sweet and sour sauce to go with the egg rolls.

Baked Egg Rolls (adapted from "Cooking for 2" magazine)
1 bag broccoli slaw mix
1 package chicken cutlets, diced into tiny pieces
4.5 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch fresh grated ginger
egg roll wrappers

Put the broccoli slaw in a large bowl. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook in a skillet with some olive oil until no longer pink. Add chicken to bowl with broccoli slaw. Whisk the soy sauce, sesame oil, minced garlic, and grated ginger in a small bowl and pour over broccoli slaw and chicken. Mix well. The mixture will smell really good at this point and you will just want to eat it as is - resist the temptation and you will be rewarded later.

Place 1/4 cup chicken/broccoli mixture in center of 1 egg roll wrapper. Follow directions on back of egg roll wrapper package to roll up egg rolls and seal with water-moistened edges.

Spray cooking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and place egg rolls seam side down. Spray tops of egg rolls with more cooking spray (I used olive oil spray). Bake at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until browned, turning once halfway through cooking time.


And, since I was in the asian food mood tonight, I pulled out some homemade frozen potstickers and threw them in with some stir fried carrots, snap peas, red pepper, and edamame beans. I was inspired to make this today after reading this post, but I used the sauce from Cafe Cyan's Potsticker Succotash.

To make potstickers, add to hot oiled pan and cook until bottoms are browned. Add 1/4 cup water and cover quickly. This will steam the potstickers, finish cooking them, and unstick them from the pan. Easy peasy. You can buy frozen potstickers or make your own like I did.

The sauce was complex: spicy, tangy, acidic, and sweet. I could have eaten the whole batch but now have 3 containers for lunches this week. It's nice to move away from cold weather roasted veggies and into springtime stir fries as I look outside and see more and more green on the ground!