Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stewed Prunes

Would you be less disgusted if I called them dried plums?  Do whatever you need to do to get over any preconceived notions about prunes.  Because they are absolutely delicious and as sweet or sweeter than any candy you could buy.

I'll wait while you laugh it up.  Go ahead, I know you want to.  You are probably thinking I'm some kind of senile octogenarian sitting in my rocking chair eating prunes to cure my constipation.  And, although I quite possibly am a bit senile, the rest isn't true.  I just think they taste really good.

I almost always have some prunes on hand for snacking or satisfying my sweet tooth.  I hadn't ever stewed them, though, until I saw a pot on the stove at the Jones' house at Christmas.  Since then, I've stewed prunes several times and they turn out great every time.

I like stewed prunes best on oatmeal, but these little nuggets of nutrition are also great on greek yogurt, or even over ice cream for dessert.  If you're not afraid of a little teasing, I encourage you to give 'em a try (in moderation).

Stewed Prunes, from The Joy of Cooking
serves 6

1 10 oz canister of prunes, cut into small pieces
1/2 lemon
1 cinnamon stick (or half teaspoon ground cinnamon)
2 Tbsp honey

Put all ingredients in a medium pot.  Cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.  Prunes are done when sauce is thick and syrupy and prunes are plump.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Mocha Granita
TWO YEARS AGO:  Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
THREE YEARS AGO:  Greens and Beans Salad

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Red Beans and Rice

Haaaay, how y'all doin'?  Oh, sorry, I slipped into my N'awlins drawl, you see, because I just spent 4 days down in the Bayou.  Every single person I encountered opened with "Haaay, how y'all doin'?" and now it's my favorite way to start a conversation (or, I just throw beads at people and see how they react).

The food in Louisiana was okay.  On one hand, I had a mediocre (at best) shrimp po' boy in the French Quarter, a dry-ish vegetarian muffaletta somewhere at 2am, and enough green beer on St. Patrick's Day to stain my tongue emerald.

On the plus side, I had some pretty good seafood gumbo in Baton Rouge, a beignet covered with a mountain of powdered sugar at Cafe du Monde, blackened tuna at Mr. B's Bistro, a killer Sazerac, and lots of coffee with chicory.

It's hard being semi-veg in New Orleans because sausage is everywhere.  However, I was too busy drinking to worry about food too much.  Now that I'm home and trying to detox the vacation out of me, I realize I didn't get any red beans and rice.  Red beans and rice is a traditional Creole dish that's made on Mondays with whatever meat was leftover from the Sunday dinner.  I mostly wanted some because of the line in "Baby Got Back" that goes..."gimme a sister can't resist her, red beans and rice didn't miss her."

Even though those lyrics imply that red beans and rice give you a big ass, I made a vegetarian version at home.  Without the pork and white rice, it's much healthier!

You have to start any Creole dish with what they call the "Holy Trinity" in New Orleans:  onion, celery, bell pepper.  Then I added soaked red beans, spices, and chipotle peppers for smokiness.  Boil together with stock for an hour and serve with brown rice.  It was super spicy (just the way I like it!) but I felt it needed some more fat, so I added half a diced avocado.  It was filling and satisfying.  The creamy freshly cooked beans absorbed all the spice from the chipotles, and the brown rice gives it a nice nutty balance.

Red Beans and Rice, adapted from What Would Cathy Eat
Serves lots

1 lb bag dried red beans, soaked overnight or boiled for 1 hour
1 medium onion, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
5 cloves garlic, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 chipotle pepper, chopped (I used 2 plus some adobo sauce but I love the heat)
5.5 cups water or vegetable stock (or combo of the two)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

For serving:  cooked brown rice, chopped scallions, diced avocado

In a large pot, saute your onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and carrot in some olive oil until soft (about 5 minutes).  Add your soaked beans, bay leaves, oregano, cayenne, chipotles, water or stock, and Worcestershire and boil gently - uncovered - for about 1 hour, or until beans are soft.

Serve with brown rice, scallions, avocado, and more hot sauce if you can take it.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Sweet Green Curry
TWO YEARS AGO:  Warm Lentil Salad with Sunny Eggs
THREE YEARS AGO:  Seared Tuna Salad with Spicy Asian Dressing

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I notice that I talk about the weather a lot on my blog. And that's kind of lame so I've been trying to do it less. But also, it makes sorta perfect sense because I often match my meals to the weather. Hot and sunny means grilling and salads, rainy days lead to something in the oven, and snowstorms require soup.

This winter has not been at all familiar in Minneapolis. It's been like nothing I've ever experienced - so warm and very, very little snow (I've only shoveled twice). I actually shouted incredulously at a guy cleaning out his gutters "IT'S DECEMBER NINTH!" a couple months ago on my walk because it was so gorgeous outside (luckily he laughed and shouted something nice back). This weekend has been more of the same, so warm that I've walked an estimated 16 miles around 6 lakes in the last 3 days.

So with this lovely early summer, I felt like having a burger for dinner. And I wasn't joking when I told you yesterday that Beans, Greens, and 'Shrooms were versatile. I just threw some in the food processor with leftover sweet potatoes and wild rice (and some extra black beans) to make these very healthy Yamburgers.

They taste spectacular and the sweet potatoes (or yams) help keep them together.  I don't know about you, but I have a hell of a time finding a good consistency in a veggie burger.  These are a cinch to form into patties and stay together very well.

Serves 4

1.5 cups roasted sweet potatoes
1/2 cup cooked wild rice (or any other grain)
1/2 cup sauteed kale (or sub half cup leftover Beans, Greens, and 'Shrooms)
1/2 cup beans (or sub another half cup Beans, Greens, and 'Shrooms)
1/4 cup oats
1 tsp dried ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt

Pulse all ingredients together in a food processor then form into 4 patties.

Spray lightly with olive oil and grill 3 minutes on each side until you get nice char marks.  Serve on toasted wheat buns with sliced avocado.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Cheesy Spinach Crepes
TWO YEARS AGO:  Mushroom Blue Cheese Pizza with Wheat Crust
THREE YEARS AGO:  Chickpea Salad

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beans, Greens, and 'Shrooms

I made this meal a week ago and wasn't going to post about it because it's boring and my pictures are...not good.  But I find myself wanting to make it again because it's everything I love in a meal - colorful, healthy, filling, versatile, easy to pack up leftovers for work lunch, and oh so tasty.   So that sealed the deal and now I'm posting so it's recorded here in my online recipe diary.

Beans, Greens, and 'Shrooms is code for sauteed kale, crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, and onions, mixed with pan-fried white beans.  It's all topped with lemon juice and parmesan cheese.  I served it with roasted sweet potatoes and wild rice (cooked in homemade vegetable stock).

That sounds like a lot of work, right?  It so isn't!  The sweet potatoes and rice cook themselves so that's a cinch (it's pretty hands off to throw a pan of potatoes in the oven and boil a pot of rice).  And all you need to do for the beans, greens, and 'shrooms, is wash, chop, and saute.  That part can be done in 20 minutes.

Leftover beans, greens, and 'shrooms are great topped with a poached egg, or thrown on a pizza crust with some good melty cheese.

Beans, Greens, and 'Shrooms
Serves 4 as a side

1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 package mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
1 can or pint white beans, drained
salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice, parmesan cheese

In a large skillet, saute onion and mushroom in olive oil over medium high heat for about 5 minutes or until they begin to soften.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add kale and nutmeg.  If the pan is pretty dry, I add a splash (maybe a Tablespoon) of liquid (water, wine, balsamic vinegar, or soy sauce) and cover to let the kale steam and wilt.

Remove kale/'shrooms from pan and squeeze with juice of half a lemon.

Add more oil to the pan and lightly pan fry your beans until they start to turn a little golden brown.  Be gentle when you stir, they'll probably fall apart (that's OK).  Add your kale/'shrooms back into the pot with the beans to mix gently and heat through.  Add more lemon juice or seasoning if needed, and serve topped with parmesan cheese.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Stuffed Mushrooms on Greens and Grains
TWO YEARS AGO:  Garlicky White Beans with Veggies and Egg
THREE YEARS AGO:  Baked Coconut Shrimp

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Easy and Free Vegetable Stock

If you are like me, you make a lot of soup in the winter.  It's such an easy way to get a lot of veggies into your body and it's warm and comforting on a cold day.  I feel pretty virtuous when I eat a bowl of sweet potato and kale soup, or split pea soup, or cabbage soup with dumplings, or any other vegetable-heavy soup.  But it wasn't until recently that I started to question the ingredients in the bouillon I was using.

I use Better Than Bouillon and Rapunzel brands the most (Rapunzel is the better choice, I think).  Between the two, you will find Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Yeast Extract, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Soybean Oil, Palm Oil, and lots and lots of salt.  Maybe I'm not so virtuous eating my split pea soup if it's got these ingredients floating around in it.  Plus I think each of these bouillon brands are around $4 or $5 at the grocery store.

Well I can save my $5 for my next vacation because I now know you can make a great low sodium vegetable stock for FREE in just an hour at home.  The trick is finding a large bucket or plastic container and some freezer storage space.  Why?  Because you are going to start saving all your vegetable and herb scraps from now on (if you compost, this is nothing new to you!).  

For the past month or so, I've saved up two frozen plastic containers full of carrot, parsnip, and sweet potoato peelings, onion skins and ends, broccoli and cauliflower stems, old parsley that was starting to turn slimy, a bunch of limp celery, a few cloves of garlic starting to sprout, chard and kale stems, and fennel fronds.  If it doesn't have fuzz or mold growing on it, add it to your collection.  It's past its prime to eat fresh, but it's still got flavor left that you don't want to toss out in the trash.  I also save all my parmesan cheese rinds in a separate plastic storage bag in the freezer (that's what is in the ziploc bag in the photo above), and adding one adds a great depth of flavor to your stock.  

To make the most flavorful stock, I like to go heavy on the onion, carrots, and celery scraps, but a mixture of many vegetables is best.  Each batch will turn out a little differently depending on what you add.  For example, this batch turned out pretty dark in color, thanks to a bunch of red Swiss chard stems which leaked out their natural dye.

So here's the recipe:  put lots of veggie and herb scraps in a big pot, cover by 2 inches with water, add a parmesan cheese rind (optional), 3-4 bay leaves, a small pinch of peppercorns, and a large pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, partially cover and simmer for 1 hour, then let cool.  That is literally all you need to do!

Once the stock is cool, put a colander over a large bowl and line it with a kitchen towel.  Ladle the stock into the towel and pour the broth through.  Squeeze out all the liquid and discard the boiled veggies - they have fulfilled their veggie destiny and have no more flavor or use.

Pour stock into plastic containers or mason jars (make sure to leave room for expanding) and freeze until ready to use.  I use the thawed out stock to make soup, or even more often in place of water when making rice, quinoa, farro, or other whole grains to add more flavor.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Potato and Greens Gratin
TWO YEARS AGO:  Roasted Vegetable Tart
THREE YEARS AGO:  Spicy Asian Salad Dressing