Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top Ten of Green and Lean '12

"And so happy Christmas, I hope you had fun.  
Another year over, and a new one just begun."  
- John Lennon

I started this blog four years ago.  At that time, I had recently turned 30 and decided I needed to overhaul my lifestyle habits to include more physical activity and healthy balanced nutritious eating.  I wasn’t willing to go the "diet" rice cake and cayenne water route, however, so I spent many hours in my kitchen cleaning, chopping, preparing, and cooking a lot of vegetables.  

Since I needed a place to record all the great healthy food I was cooking and eating, I started this Green and Lean blog.  It kept me accountable, it kept me entertained, and it kept me busy.  I have loved every minute of this blog.

Green and Lean has MORE than served its intended purpose in my life.  Throughout these four years, I’ve maintained a significant weight loss, I’ve discovered new foods, I’ve become more confident in the kitchen, and I’ve really enjoyed my readers and commenters.

And, as often happens in life, things grow and change.  I have grown and changed.  I no longer want to spend one or two nights a week taking photographs (I was terrible at that part anyways) and trying to think of something interesting to say about me or my food.  I am finding myself more often re-making a good recipe from the archive, rather than trying to dream up something new.  And, I'm finding a majority of my time now needs to be spent outside of the kitchen with people I care about.

So, it's time to say goodbye to this space I've called my little slice of the Internet for the last four years.  

Please know I will continue to live as much as possible according to the food philosophy I preach here.  I will continue to eat as much homemade food as I can: mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, some fish, seafood, and poultry, excellent quality cheese, lots and lots of red, white, pink, and sparkling wines, and occasional homemade, all-natural sweet indulgences.  It makes sense for me, and seems to be working.  My health has never been better.

Thank you so much for reading, commenting, talking to me or listening to me talk about food, or sharing this blog with others.  I would have NEVER kept it up for this long without your awesome feedback.  I am so blessed to be surrounded by such supportive people, both in person and virtually. 

May your 2013 and beyond be filled with amazing meals, shared with wonderful people.  And, if you see me around, PLEASE tell me all about it!

Here are my favorite recipes of 2012:

10.  Strawberry Icebox Cake – A dead simple and beautiful summer dessert.  I know lots of you have made it, because you’ve told me about it!  I’m glad you like it.

9.  Dragon Bowl – One giant bowl of nutrition, so similar to Hippie Chow.  Use the Carrot Ginger dressing to switch it up if you get sick of the Tahini dressing!

8.  Okonomiyaki – Just because I love saying it and I had a lot of fun writing that post.  Sometimes I think I’m very hilarious.  This was one of those times.

7.  Almond Milk – So simple!  So cheap!  So devoid of fillers, additives, chemicals, sweeteners, and preservatives! It’s just plain silly to buy it in a carton when you can make it at home.

6.  Rosettes and Fattigmand – I only ate two tiny pieces of fattigmand on Christmas Eve, but we were all happy to have it on the sweets tray.  It’s our heritage!

5.  Honey Mustard Roasted Chicken – Everyone needs a “go-to” chicken recipe.  This is mine.  Perfect for entertaining and a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

4.  Grilled Zucchini Enchiladas – Mexican food is probably what I crave most.  This is a slightly healthier take on it.  Plus it uses all that zucchini we have in the summer!

3.  Yoatmeal – Nearly every weekday morning since this post I’ve eaten combined oats and yogurt for my breakfast.  I like it with any combination of peanut butter, fruit, coconut, nuts, or whatever I can scrounge from the fridge or pantry.  So filling, and a great start to every day.

2.  Vegetable Stock – I use it all the time, and if I'm running low in the freezer, I panic.  I use it for soups, risotto, cooking beans or grains, making gravy, etc.  It’s FREE and takes only an hour.  Plus you get second life out of your vegetable scraps.  It’s the ultimate in recycling!

1.  Colin’s Garlic Citrus Shrimp – I can’t not mention him, I miss him terribly.  He and Johanna have been a huge inspiration to me and motivation for getting and staying healthy.  Knowing these two amazing individuals has cured me from ever again taking my health or the health of my loved ones for granted.  If there is any silver lining in the awful diagnoses these two have faced, it's that they have both helped me change my life for the better, and for that I will be always grateful.

THREE YEARS AGO:  Top Ten of Green and Lean '09

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mushroom Stroganoff

Merry Christmas boys and girls!  Yesterday as I drove home from work, I heard Mary Lucia on The Current (an amazing Mpls public radio station 89.3 FM, available to live stream online!) putting all stressed out people ON NOTICE.

Looch said, in a nutshell, if you are all stressed and cranky and grinchy this Christmas because you have lots of gifts to buy, food to prepare, places to go, and things to do, then you need to SUCK IT UP and GET OVER YOURSELF.  Even if your family is crazy (which, frankly, they all are), you need to enjoy every single second with them.  Because you never know how many Christmases you will have with them.

Well, Looch, you are so right on.  It hit especially close to home for me, as I ache in sadness for one of my very closest and dearest friends who has dealt with unimaginable grief and pain this year.  It's been an awful but important lesson for me to learn: do not take the health of your loved ones for granted.

Through the sadness, the only way I can think of to honor Colin and Johanna is to hug my family and friends as much as possible, say "I love you" frequently to those I love, spend time with them, and take care of my own health with nutritious food and activity.  It seems like it's not enough, but indeed it is all I have to offer.

So this is the simple meal I made for a couple of friends this week as we met to wish each other a Merry Christmas.  It's a super quick 30-minute meal, which leaves plenty of time for sharing a great bottle of red wine and catching up on each others' lives.  Plus it's quite healthy, with lots and lots of mushrooms providing important B Vitamins and minerals.  Throw some oiled and salted broccoli in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes and you've got a complete meal.

Mushroom Stroganoff
Serves 4

2 Tbsp each olive oil and butter
4 packages mushrooms (I used half crimini, half white button), sliced thick
1 large yellow or white onion, diced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, leaves pulled from stems and chopped (dried would probably work too)
2 Tbsp flour
up to 2 cups vegetable stock/broth
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
Egg noodles
Flat leaf parsley

Start boiling a big pot of water for the noodles.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, saute mushrooms, onion, and thyme in the olive oil until they soften and begin to brown (about 8-10 minutes).  They'll release a bunch of liquid, and then that liquid will start to cook down.

Drop your egg noodles into the boiling salted water and cook according to package instructions.

When the liquid has mostly cooked out of the mushrooms, add the butter and flour and stir together for at least 1 full minute.  Slowly add the vegetable stock/broth and let cook 2-3 minutes to thicken.  I used about 1.5 cups to get the right saucy gravy consistency.  You can make it thicker or thinner by using more or less stock.

Season mushroom mixture with salt, pepper, and paprika to taste.  Stir in sour cream and remove from heat. Serve over egg noodles and garnish with fresh parsley.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Homemade Kahlua
TWO YEARS AGO:  Spicy Beans and Tomatoes on Polenta
THREE YEARS AGO:  Creamed Mushroom and Artichoke Pasta

Friday, December 7, 2012

Baked Brie with Root Beer Cranberry Sauce

Once again (sooner than I imagined possible), it's that time of year where I could either be:

A)  Super cranky and fighting crowds at a mall trying to find a gift that can be considered thoughtful while cursing the mind shattering sounds of the Salvation Army bell ringers,


B)  Blissfully spending evenings sipping holiday cocktails with my favorite people, decorating Christmas trees, and making seasons bright because I've purchased all my gifts online before Thanksgiving.

For the second year in a row, I've done option B.  And. It. Has. Been. Fantastic.  I'm totally the irritatingly cheerful one wishing everyone a Merry Christmas more than two full weeks before the big day.  I have all my thoughtful presents wrapped, and some are even homemade (what else do you do when your boyfriend wants a Willie Nelson tree topper?  You make it, of course)!

When the holiday spirit is all up in my business like this, I enjoy every day and night so much and I don't want December to end!  Tonight Marney and I went for our first snowy walk of the season.  It was beautiful and still outside, with tiny flakes slowly blanketing the path and our heads while also illuminating the beautiful Minneapolis lakes and parks.

Earlier this week, my amazing friend Ann (i.e. the Hostess with the Mostess) threw a lovely holiday dinner party and I brought this cheesy, nutty, sweet appetizer.  The color is so perfectly suited to holiday parties, it's a beautiful addition to your menu and table.  If you don't like brie, the sauce is just as good (if not better) as a condiment on a cheese tray, complementing Swiss, havarti, and bleu cheese exceptionally well.

The cranberry sauce recipe makes at least a quart and you won't need it all for your baked brie appetizer.  I recommend you use leftover sauce in the following ways:

  1. Shake 2 Tbsp sauce with 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar and 4 Tbsp olive oil in a jar to make a dressing for a field green salad with feta and toasted nuts.
  2. Mix 1 Tbsp sauce with 1 Tbsp mayonnaise and spread on a turkey or apple/cheddar sandwich.
  3. Mix a spoonful or two into your morning yogurt or oatmeal (or yoatmeal)
  4. Drizzle a spoonful over ice cream.
  5. Make a batch of piping hot popovers and eat slathered in sauce.
  6. Substitute for jelly in a PB&J sandwich, or anywhere else you would use jelly (like in baking).
I got the recipe for this sauce from my co-worker Lori who's husband was an editor on a country cookbook several years ago (so sorry I can't find the name of the book) and this recipe is in the book.  

Baked Brie with Root Beer Cranberry Sauce
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer, with lots of leftover cranberry sauce

1 can root beer
1 bag cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 wheel brie cheese
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans

Crackers, apple slices, and/or pear slices for serving.

Optional:  pulse cranberries in a food processor.  I did this because I like a more chutney-like consistency in my sauce.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring root beer and cranberries to a boil.  Whisk in sugars and cornstarch, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Chill to set.

To serve appetizer, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut top rind off brie.  Scoop as much cranberry sauce and toasted pecans you can fit on top.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is soft and gooey.  Serve with crackers, or apple/pear slices.

THREE YEARS AGO:  Green and Lean Loaf

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rosettes and Fattigmand

My ancestry is about 75% Scandinavian, mostly Norwegian and some Swedish.  There's also a splash of German in my blood, too.  But it's the Norsk in me that I identify with the most.  In broad generalizations, we Norwegians are a peaceful, outdoorsy, mostly unemotional folk with a great work ethic.  We also have varying degrees of Sarah Palin-esque accents and both of my grandpas sound like extras from the movie "Fargo."  I have even let slip an "uff da" or two in moments of extreme awe or disbelief.

Unfortunately, in the food realm, Norwegians eat very bland white food that I have historically turned up my nose at.  Lutefisk, or "fish jelly" was a horrifying annual occurrence at our Christmas Eve table until Grandma finally realized she was spending a lot of money and time on something that was only used as a punchline.

I've spent the better part of the past several months with a smart, kind, patient, cute, and witty Italian who loves food as much as I do.  He's much better at embracing his heritage than me, though, and together we have enjoyed ziti, risotto, homemade pasta noodles, quick sauce, all-day sauce, ricotta raviolis, and more wine than I can remember.  Two things have made themselves clear to me from this culinary experience:  1) I should be doing more yoga, and 2) I should take more pride in my Norwegian food traditions.

Our best Norwegian food traditions are the pastries on the Christmas cookie tray - Rosettes and Fattigmand (pronounced futti mon, hence the title on the recipe card - it means "poor man's cookie").  Both are white fried cookies sprinkled with sugar.  Grandpa Bob always made these and the whole family would enjoy them with a glass of wine on Christmas Eve.  After Grandpa's stroke a few years ago, he could no longer roll out the dough or handle the frying on his own.  My mom and I started helping, and while Grandma Verna preps everything and tackles cleanup duty, Grandpa Bob is the lead sugarer and supervises with a critical eye for the right amount of dough thinness and fried doneness.

My mom has never really enjoyed this tradition as much as I did, so she was overjoyed when I told her the Italian would be helping me this year and learning our Norse fried cookie ways.  While Italians will always win the culinary battle in any ethnic match, it was very fun to showcase some of my roots with him in this way.

Warning to vegetarians:  these cookies are fried in lard.  I'm sure you could use some other type of oil or fat, but that wouldn't be true to the recipe.  Melt 2 pounds of lard in a large pan over high heat and when a frozen french fry bubbles up immediately, you know it's at the right temperature (this is how it's done, don't question the methods!).

We make Rosettes first, as they will fry up prettier with cleaner lard.  And we use ancient Rosette molds that were purchased by my Grandma "many years ago" from "the store."  That's what she said when I asked.

Both recipes below have a secret ingredient that for some reason is not included on the written recipe, and that's a splash of brandy.  I have no idea why it's not written down, but it must be included to give the cookies an extra "tang" according to Grandpa.  And, while I'm sure every scandihoovian family has their own methods of making these treats (powdered sugar is often used in place of regular sugar), this is how we do it and I'm proud of it!

Makes about 15-18 Rosettes

Official recipe as written:
2 eggs - whip with fork
1 tsp sugar
1 C. flour
1 C. milk

Don't use much fat in pan or it bubbles over.

Unofficial chef's notes from several years of practice:
In a large pan, heat 2 pounds of lard until the right temperature (see 2 paragraphs above) and put your Rosette molds in the oil to get hot.  In a small bowl with a flat bottom, beat 2 eggs, add a pinch of salt, 1 tsp sugar, 1 cup of milk, and don't forget the splash of brandy!  Then add in 1 cup of flour and mix until lumps are gone, but don't overmix.  Batter should be runny like pancake batter.

Take Rosette iron out of hot lard and dip in batter.  Be careful to not go over top of mold, only dip in enough so batter goes up side of mold.  Gently tap off excess batter and hold iron in lard until golden brown.  Use a fork to pop Rosette off the iron and on to a paper towel covered pan.  Immediately sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Repeat until dough is gone.  Cool Rosettes at room temperature, then store in an airtight container until Christmas.

Lard is too hot if batter won't stick to iron, or batter immediately pulls away from iron when dipped in fat.

Makes a lot

Official recipe translation:
4 eggs beaten
4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons cream
1/4 tsp salt

Unofficial chef's notes from several years of practice:
We have never made a full batch of this, we always cut it in half.

Start in a medium bowl with 2 beaten eggs, add 2 Tbsp sugar, 2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream, salt, and don't forget the splash of brandy!  Then add enough flour so that it comes together like a dough.  Dump dough onto a well-floured table and start to knead more flour into the dough until it's no longer sticky.

Keep flouring table and rolling pin to avoid sticking.  Cut dough in half and roll one half out into a large, thin circle.  The thinner, the better.  Use a pastry cutter with fluted edges, or a regular pizza wheel to cut vertical strips into the dough, about 2 inches apart.  Then cut diagonal lines from bottom left to top right about 2 inches apart.  You will end up with pretty diamonds.  Use cutter to put 2 small air vent holes in the middle of each diamond, to help cookie stay flat while frying.  Repeat with second half of dough.

Carefully peel diamonds from table (hopefully you used enough flour so it doesn't stick too much) and drop 3 or 4 at a time into the hot lard.  Keep diamonds flat and flip once so it's evenly browned on both sides.  Remove to a paper towel lined pan and immediately sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Let Fattigmand cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container until Christmas.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Roasted Mushrooms over Creamy Polenta
TWO YEARS AGO:  Pinecone Cheeseball
THREE YEARS AGO:  Thanksgiving Shepherd's Pie

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Cioppino is a San Francisco style stew with lots of fish and shellfish in a spicy tomato broth.  It's very, very simple to make and tastes amazing if you use incredibly fresh fish and seafood.

For the freshest fish in Minnesota, you go to Coastal Seafoods.  I got there at about 4:00 pm on Saturday.  They were sold out of a lot of things, but I was fortunate to come home with some little sweet clams, shell-on tiger shrimp that were the daily special, and their last piece of monkfish, which was recommended to hold up pretty well in a stew.

This Cioppino started with a batch of homemade stock (you could substitute store-bought if necessary).  Two large frozen gallon bags of vegetable scraps went into a giant stockpot filled with water and shells from the shrimp from Coastal Seafoods.  I let this simmer for an hour.

In another soup pot, saute a ton of aromatics in some butter and olive oil.  I had onion, garlic, fennel, and leeks.  When soft, add a can of diced tomatoes, some white wine, and 4 cups of the stock.  After this has simmered together for awhile to let the flavors mingle, bring to a boil and add your clams and/or mussels.  Cover and cook 5 minutes or until the shells open.  Add shrimp and fish, turn off heat, and let sit covered for another 5 minutes.  

I couldn't decide which part of this Cioppino I liked the best: the monkfish, the clams, or the shrimp.  All three were absolutely top quality and cooked perfectly.  The fish was firm and meaty and mild, the clams were sweet and tender, but the shrimp was the best: savory, buttery, and perfect.

Although I'm not actually a doctor, I'm pretty certain this meal has cured the common cold.  I have anecdotal evidence.  So, there's that. Plus it tastes great and is incredibly good for you.  

Makes 2 very large servings

4 cups fish stock (homemade if possible)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 bulb fennel, diced (reserve fronds)
2 leeks, sliced and cleaned
1 cup white wine
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes (San Marzano style recommended)
1 lb small clams, cleaned
1/2 lb shrimp, cleaned/shelled/de-veined
1/2 lb firm fish such as monkfish or halibut, cut into large pieces
juice of half a lemon
salt, pepper, and red chili flakes to taste

In a large soup pot, melt butter and oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion, fennel, celery, garlic, and leeks and season with salt, pepper, and red chili flakes.  Saute until soft, about 8 minutes.  Add tomatoes, wine, and stock.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Bring to a boil and add clams.  Cover and cook 5 minutes, or until clams open (discard any that don't open).  Add shrimp and fish, cover and remove from heat.  Let sit for 5 minutes, or until shrimp and fish are firm and cooked through.

Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the stew and serve with crusty grilled bread rubbed with garlic.

TWO YEARS AGO:  Mexi Turkey Juicy Lucy

Monday, October 29, 2012

Smoked Cheddar and Kale Dutch Baby

In the five weeks since last I posted, the Earth has continued to revolve, the sun has risen and set many times, the seasons have turned, and nothing has really changed.

Except that in my little slice of the planet, many things have changed.  The funny thing about change is, even if you plan for it and know it will eventually happen, you are still punched in the gut when it actually does.  The changes here at Green and Lean have been both expected and unexpected, happy and sad, welcome and unwelcome.  It has been a crazy mix of emotional highs and lows.

Through all this, I have become so acutely aware of my tendency to connect with people through food.  Whether it's remembering epic meals cooked years ago or making new memories by testing a recipe, great food seems to be what I use to build relationships with like-minded foodies.

So, in an effort to repair my relationship with you like-minded foodie readers of G&L, I'm offering you a Smoked Cheddar and Kale Dutch Baby as an apology for my extended absence.  A Dutch Baby is also called an oven pancake or skillet pancake.  It's like a heavier version of a giant popover, often served sweet with powdered sugar and lemon juice.  This version is savory with lots of healthy dark leafy greens but also plenty of butter and cheese to keep it rich and indulgent.

I brought home many great things from the Midtown Farmer's Market on Saturday (the last one of the year), including a huge bunch of dark green Tuscan kale and a brick of Wisconsin Smoky Cheddar.  They paired wonderfully in this simple dinner.  The original recipe had Ham and Swiss instead of the kale and cheddar, but I think Spinach and Goat Cheese or Mushroom and Gruyere sound awesome also.

Dutch Babies usually puff up dramatically in the oven but mine didn't, for some reason.  Maybe I put in too much kale or my oven was too hot.  It doesn't really matter because the end result, while maybe not as photogenic as other Dutch Babies, tasted great.

Smoked Cheddar and Kale Dutch Baby, adapted from Lund's and Byerly's Real Food magazine
Serves 4

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
4 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grated smoked cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice)
3/4 cup sauteed kale and shallot (or other veggie or meat of your choice)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, have ready a 10 inch round baking dish with tall sides.  A pie dish would work perfectly, but I used my new cast iron skillet, a birthday present from mom and dad.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, and mustard.  Whisk in flour and salt and mix until just blended.  Fold in 1/2 cup each cheese and kale.  Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Put butter and oil in skillet or baking dish and place in oven for 5 minutes to heat pan and melt butter.  Remove and pour batter into hot pan.  Bake 25 minutes.

Remove pan carefully from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup each cheese and kale.  Return to oven for 5 minutes to melt cheese and brown edges of pancake.  Serve hot.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Buffalo Tofu Sandwich
TWO YEARS AGO:  Oven Fried Fish 'n Chips
THREE YEARS AGO:  Olive Oil Granola

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Honey Mustard Roasted Chicken

For someone who gets nervous cooking for more than 3 people, I'm surprisingly very much looking forward to cooking for 25 in a couple of weeks.  Cassandra is flying back from New York City and we are co-catering a large pre-wedding family dinner for her beautiful little sister Libby.

I've taken the day off work so that we can clean, prep, chop, and prepare an entire fall harvest feast for Libby and Edward and their closest friends and family.  Can you imagine anything more wonderful than spending a crisp October day in the kitchen with your best friend?  I really can't.

I was excited to try to create a fall menu to incorporate wild rice, squash, kale, Brussels sprouts, and apples.  Easy!  However, I was stumped on what protein to serve.  I don't know how to cook red meat, the thought of trying to serve fish or seafood to a crowd at the proper level of doneness is terrifying, and I was pretty sure Libby didn't want us to serve a lentil loaf.  So, I was thankful to find a simple recipe on Simply Recipes for honey mustard chicken and promised to test it before the big day.

Testing happened over the weekend and it was very successful!  The recipe is so easy and straightforward, and it works on any cut of poultry you like.  I tried a boneless/skinless breast, boneless/skinless thighs, and bone-in skin-on thighs.  The breast was great and cooked quickly, but the thighs were juicier and more flavorful.  Also, using thighs helps create more liquid/fat to make a nice gravy out of the honey mustard mixture. This will be the perfect entree to kick off Libby and Edward's wedding celebration!

Honey Mustard Roasted Chicken, from Simply Recipes
Serves 4, and easily multiplied to serve a crowd

4 pieces chicken (thighs recommended)
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place chicken in a roasting dish and lightly season with salt and pepper.  In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, honey, oil, and salt and pepper.  Pour over chicken and sprinkle with chopped rosemary.

Bake 45-55 minutes, or until chicken is firm to the touch (25-35 minutes for boneless breasts).  The honey mustard mixture should have made a nice gravy, but if thin, heat it on the stovetop and whisk in a teaspoon each flour and butter.  Pour gravy over chicken and serve immediately.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Spicy Sweet Corn Cakes
TWO YEARS AGO:  Squash and Spinach Risotto with Gorgonzola
THREE YEARS AGO:  Tomato and Corn Pie

Monday, September 10, 2012

Open-Faced Croque Madame

I have not eaten my usual August/September quota of tomatoes this year, and it makes me feel like I just let an important piece of paper fly away in the wind, gone forever.  Typically, I'm mainlining tomatoes now for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because they just never taste as essentially tomatoey as they do these few weeks of early fall.  But through a series of weekends with other plans, I just haven't made it to the Farmer's Market with my usual diligence, hence the tomato deficiency.

Marney to the rescue!  My favorite friend/neighbor/co-worker Marney came through like a champ last night and donated two big ruby red beefsteak beauties along with at least a cup of little cherry tomatoes from her garden.  The little guys were a great snack at work today, and the big boys were destined for dinner.

My favorite restaurant in Minneapolis, Barbette, has a sandwich on the late night menu called a Croque Madame.  In French, I think this translates to "Mrs. Crunchy" (I don't speak French so I could be mistaken).  It's traditionally supposed to be a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, smothered in a cheesy bechamel sauce, and topped with a runny fried egg.  Figures - usual French decadence.  The Barbette version subs in roasted tomatoes for the ham.  My version is even lighter yet, but still bistro-quality elegant and very tasty.

To really ensure the wow factor with this humble dinner, first make sure your tomatoes are at peak ripeness.  Then, buy (or make) the highest quality fresh artisan bread you can find (Rustica, in the Mpls metro area), and if possible source out the real deal cave-aged French gruyere cheese. Buying fresh local free-range brown speckled eggs is up to you but I think it's worth the effort and extra buck or two.  Serve with something green - a mixed green salad or sauteed kale and onions.  Just like that, you've turned your kitchen into a French bistro, with food that's lighter and just as delicious.

By the way, Barbette's version of this sandwich is $10.  I think this sandwich at home cost me (even with top shelf ingredients) about $1.50, and that's estimating very high.  For ten bucks, I could have made enough of these sandwiches to feed about 8 people.

Croque Madame, inspired by Barbette in Minneapolis
Serves 1

1 half inch thick slice artisan bread (mine was a center slice of Rustica's Miche)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp or more dijon mustard (I like the coarse grainy style)
Thin sliced gruyere cheese (can substitute swiss)
2 or more quarter inch thick slices fresh garden tomatoes, lightly salted on both sides
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Butter both sides of your bread, put it on a sheet pan and toast for a few minutes until the bottom gets golden brown.

Flip the toasty bread over and spread a thick layer of mustard on the golden brown toasty bread.  Add a layer of cheese and top with tomatoes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until cheese is melty.  Feel free to pop this under the broiler at this point for a minute or two to help get a nice heat on the tomatoes and finish melting the cheese (I did).

While baking/broiling, gently fry your egg over medium-low heat until it has reached your desired doneness.  Top sandwich with egg and eat with a fork and knife.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna and Quinoa
TWO YEARS AGO:  Cherry Tomato Tart
THREE YEARS AGO:  Rainbow Rollup

Monday, September 3, 2012

Grilled Carrots with Avocado

This summer I was invited to join a group called "Ladies Salon" which actually has nothing to do with hairdressers, but is in fact "a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase knowledge of participants through conversation."  I call it book club without the hassle of reading books.

The ladies in this group are a classy bunch: mostly vegetarian, partly gluten-free, and totally interesting.  Most have gardens and bring very fresh salads or dishes to the potluck.  Last week, Jess brought a roasted carrot and avocado salad that was hands down the best dish of the night (even though my gazpacho garnered some praise as well).  When I googled it, of course Smitten Kitchen had a great recipe (which was, I'm sure, the inspiration for Jess's dish).

I liked it so much I made it last night, but modified for the grill.  It was a piece of cake to cook, and just as great, or better, than I remembered!  I bought a beautiful bunch of neon orange mini carrots at the Farmer's Market yesterday.  They were about 4 inches long each, and no thicker than an inch.  I scrubbed them up (no need to peel these little babies!) and cut them at a sharp angle before grilling in a grill basket with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  After about 30 minutes over indirect heat, the carrots were soft all the way through and nice and charred.  I tossed them with some chives, juice of half a lemon, and half an avocado.

I served these lemony carrot coins with some cedar plank grilled salmon and a stunningly beautiful heirloom caprese salad.  It was a great and colorful dinner!

Grilled Carrots with Avocado, adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4

1 bunch small, fresh carrots - well scrubbed and cut at an angle
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp chives
Juice of half a lemon
half an avocado, diced

Heat your charcoal grill until all coals are coated in white ash.  Move all coals to one side of the grill and place your grill basket on the other side to cook with indirect heat.  Toss carrots with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put in grill basket.  Cover grill.  Stir every 10 minutes or so and they should be soft through after about 30 minutes.

Remove carrots from grill and toss with avocado, lemon juice, and chives.  Serve immediately or at room temperature.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Spicy Broiled Tofu Tacos
TWO YEARS AGO:  Chicken Fajitas
THREE YEARS AGO:  Pesto, Hummus, Tapenade

Sunday, August 12, 2012


It's time to play Refrigerator Surprise, everybody's favorite game show where you must make a healthy dinner solely out of ingredients scrounged from your fridge or pantry - no grocery shopping trips allowed!   Ali from Green and Lean, come on down!  You're the next contestant on Refrigerator Surprise!

Wooie!  I'm so good at this game.  Sure, it's been a full week since I was last at the Farmer's Market and I know food is a bit scarce, but let's see what we've got to work with here.

Ok, the top shelf is pretty much just cocktail mixers, a half bunch of cilantro (in a mason jar, covered by a bag), and a half gallon of whole milk intended for a batch of yogurt.  Second shelf contains a salad spinner of somewhat wilty leaf lettuce, refrigerator pickles, ground flaxseeds, three jars of assorted Trader Joe's nut butters, and a whole bunch of other condiments.  Bottom shelf is 2 beers and 4 mini cans of pineapple juice (more cocktail mixers).  Well, this is a bit more bare than I expected, but I'm up for the challenge.  What's in the refrigerator door?

Wow.  Pretty bare here, too.  Eggs, butter, anchovy paste, several mustards, and lots more condiments.  Maybe this won't be quite as easy as I thought.  Oh, wait!  The crisper drawers!  I ALWAYS have lots of great fruits or cheese or veggies there!  Hallelujah, I'm saved and will win this contest after all!

Oh crap.  I'm so screwed.  I can't make a fabulous quick and healthy meal out of a tiny $1 farmer's market head of cabbage, half an onion, and some old carrots.

Or can I?

I can!  I'll make okonomiyaki (say it out loud, it's so fun! oko-nomi-yaki), a Japanese pancake/frittata/pizza (depending on which website you believe) made mostly of cabbage.  My aunt Barb has lived near Osaka, Japan for many years, teaching at the US military base.  She once told me about how delicious okonomiyaki is.  Then shortly after, I read about it on Heavy Table.  I used 101 Cookbooks' recipe today because it doesn't call for specialty ingredients like dashi or bonito, which I don't have, and I'd be disqualified from Refrigerator Surprise if I tried to make a quick run to United Noodles for them.

First I shredded up the cabbage, carrots, and onion in my food processor, then tossed in some flour and salt.  And hey, since the only herb I've got in the fridge is cilantro, I chopped that up and added it, too.  I carefully stirred in 3 beaten eggs until everything was coated.  The texture of the batter was kind of like making a veggie burger patty.  Sticky, and not too runny.

In my skillet, I heated a mere tablespoon of olive oil and pressed my batter into the pan.  I was worried about it sticking, but I kept using my spatula to push down the sides of the okonomiyaki and that seemed to help.

When the bottom was nicely browned and started smelling good and toasty, I slid the entire thing onto a plate, used another plate to flip it over, and slid it back into the pan with a touch more olive oil.

While side two was cooking up, I mixed together a tiny spoonful of mayo with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a squeeze of sriracha, influenced by this recipe.  I also found some sliced almonds in the freezer so I toasted them up in a separate skillet.

Now that side two was browned up all over, I used a spatula to slide my okonomiyaki onto a large cutting board, slice off a big piece, slather it with a thin layer of spicy mayo, and top with toasted almonds and some chives snipped from the backyard container.

DING DING DING!  **Bells and whistles**  JACKPOT WINNER!!!!  The cabbage transforms into something sweet but still crunchy.  The crispy brown crust tricks you into thinking you're eating something deep fried and decadent.  The cilantro was a bright hit of freshness.  The spicy mayo added a touch of richness and sweetness and the almonds were the perfect garnish.

Join me next time on Refrigerator Surprise when I make a 4 course Italian feast with only sprouted garlic, almond butter, boxed wine, and a bag of frozen peas.

Okonomiyaki, adapted from 101 Cookbooks and Love and Lemons
Serves 2

1 small head cabbage (about 2 or 3 cups), shredded
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1/2 large onion, shredded
handful chopped fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, parsley, etc), optional
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
3 small eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp mayo
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
hot sauce to taste (sriracha recommended)
toasted sliced almonds to garnish
chopped chives or scallions to garnish

In a large bowl, toss your shredded veggies and herbs with flour and salt.  Mix in beaten eggs until all veggies are coated.

In a medium skillet, heat a tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Press cabbage mix into pan and use spatula to push down sides and press flat.  Cook for about 4-5 minutes or until bottom is nicely browned.

Slide onto plate.  Use another plate to flip over.  Add a touch more oil to hot pan and slide flipped okonomiyaki back into pan to cook second side.  Use spatula again to keep pressing it flat.  Cook another 4-5 minutes or until side 2 is browned as well.

Remove from pan and slice into triangles. Spread a thin layer of mayo mixed with worcestershire and sriracha on top and garnish with toasted almonds and chives.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Pickled Red Onions
TWO YEARS AGO:  Grilled Balsamic Veggie Sandwich
THREE YEARS AGO:  Quick Zucchini Saute