Sunday, February 26, 2012

Miso Seabass over Sesame Chard and Brown Rice

I'm still pretty blissed out from my California yoga vacation last weekend.  It was exactly a week ago I was tasting wine and cupcake pairings!  I want to keep the healthy juju flowing so I invented this recipe to enjoy with a bottle of great California wine, and dark chocolate for dessert.  If I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated very hard, I could imagine I was back in Santa Margarita, with sunshine on my cheeks and gorgeous green rolling fields of grapevines spread before me.

I found a great deal on barramundi at my grocery store yesterday.  Barramundi is also called Australian Seabass, or the "sustainable seabass" for its low environmental impact.  It's a meaty white fish that's easy to cook and has a great sweet, buttery, delicate flavor.

My friend Kristi raves about the Miso Seabass at Cafe Lurcat in downtown Minneapolis, so I thought I should steal the flavor combo and try some miso with my barramundi.  The marinade I threw together was very simple - just a tablespoon each brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, miso paste, and water.  To cook the fish, you simply throw it in the oven for 10-12 minutes, so it really couldn't be any easier to make this for a dinner guest.

I wanted to keep the Asian flavors in my side dishes to pair with the miso so I added ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and sesame oil to my usual sauteed kale recipe (and substituted Swiss chard instead of kale).  This is also easy to prepare in advance and re-heat before serving with some brown rice.

What a deceptively simple but elegant and delicious dinner.  It looks fancy, like you'd pay about $25 for this at a restaurant, but it probably cost me less than $15 for two servings.  It was light and fresh, yet the chard and rice gave the dish some substantial depth, and the miso and sesame oil gave the whole thing an exotic flair.

Miso Seabass over Sesame Chard and Brown Rice
Serves 2

Miso Seabass:
2 pieces sustainable white fish (recommended: barramundi)
1 Tbsp miso paste
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp water

Mix all the marinade ingredients and add fish.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, or up to a few hours.  When ready to serve, bake on foil lined sheet pan at 400 degrees for 12 minutes, or until it is firm to the touch.

Sesame Chard:
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 inch fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 bunch Swiss chard or kale, washed, stems removed, and chopped
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce or tamari
1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste

In a large skillet, saute onion in olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes or until soft.  Add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute.  Add chard or kale, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Saute and stir occasionally until pan is dry.  Then add rice wine vinegar and soy sauce.  Cover and let liquids steam the chard for 3-5 minutes (or until ready to serve).

Before serving, remove from heat and add toasted sesame oil.

To serve, scoop cooked brown rice on plates.  Add a big scoop of sauteed sesame kale/chard, and top with the miso seabass fresh from the oven.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Fish and Mashed Potato Croquette
TWO YEARS AGO:  La Salade De Legumes
THREE YEARS AGO:  Halibut en Papillote

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What I Ate On My Yoga Retreat

I am taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming of recipes to share with you the amazing food I ate while on vacation at a California yoga retreat last weekend.  I have shared vacation eats before (here and here) and quit doing it over the years because I got bored.  This time it's different because the food was so fresh, colorful, and inspiring that I wanted to share it with you.

First of all, let me start by telling you that this was a 4-day yoga, chocolate, and wine retreat (I know, right!?) on the central coast of California, near San Luis Obispo (halfway between LA and San Francisco).  I went with my good friend Alicia who has wanted to do this since before she had her baby last year.

Often I return from vacation feeling bloated, full, lazy, and poor.  I came home from the beautiful ranch at Sagrada Wellness feeling exactly the opposite:  light, refreshed, strong, satisfied, and centered.  This is mainly due to early morning hikes (with stunning views), excellent 90-minute yoga sessions, fresh air, a good night's sleep, relaxation in the jacuzzi/steam room, meeting fun new people, and most importantly....eating great food.

Alicia was worried that with my selectivity (OK, snobbishness) about eating good food, I would be disappointed in the cuisine at Sagrada.  I was worried a meat eater like Alicia wouldn't be satisfied.  Neither of us had reason to worry.  We were blown away by the meals prepared for us.  The lovely ranch owners Scott and Eva provided us with daily breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that were fruit and vegetable focused, colorful, local, fresh, substantial and satisfying, and most of all delicious.  The variety has totally re-inspired me and I want to cook more than ever now that I'm home!

Our first day at the retreat started with an afternoon yoga session, followed by a wine tasting by Michelle from local Pozo Valley wines, paired with a variety of artisan chocolates.

Dinner was baked salmon topped with a mixture of zucchini, tomatoes, onions, and olives.  On the side, a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, roasted sliced beets, and baked cauliflower and leeks.  This was our favorite meal - I loved the sweet cauliflower and leeks, Alicia went nuts over the salmon.  Dessert was a flaky and delicious chocolate chip flaxseed cookie.

Breakfasts included lots of fresh bananas, citrus, and berries with yogurt and granola or oatmeal.  Also, some just barely hard-boiled eggs, multi-grain toast, tomatoes/avocados, nut butters, and preserves.  I ate twice as much as I normally would for breakfast, with no guilt whatsoever.  It was simple, delicious, and exactly what I needed every day.

Lunch after morning yoga on Saturday was a beautiful curried tempeh salad with blood oranges from our yoga instructor's orchard.  This was served with a giant wedge of brie cheese and crackers.

After lunch, we were treated to a tour of Santa Margarita Ranch and Ancient Peaks Vineyards, plus a visit to the Ancient Peaks tasting room for a wine tasting with cupcake pairings.  Yes, you read that right: wine with cupcake pairings.  So crazy it makes perfect sense.

We began with a rose wine and a raspberry cupcake with lemon curd icing (this was my favorite and I will be recreating this as soon as it's nice enough to sit on the back deck and drink wine).

We moved to a merlot and a chocolate cupcake with caramel and sea salt (not surprisingly delicious).

We ended with a malbec and a cheddar cornmeal cupcake with creme fraiche (very surprisingly delicious).

This had been a rather chilly day, and Scott had been slaving over the stove since before breakfast to make us his grandmother's recipe for "Three Layer Stew" (or something like that).  It was a homey, comforting chicken soup with homemade stock, big beautiful Brussels sprouts, and hunks of fresh sweet corn.  The soup was topped with fresh squeezed lime, cilantro, and parmesan cheese and totally warmed us all up.  Served on the side: baked sweet potato with miso butter (a winning flavor combo that I think will make a great soup itself), and a salad with fennel and wheat pasta.  Again, I enthusiastically cleaned my plate.

Dessert was a tasty little surprise: chocolate bliss balls (I think they had coconut oil, almond butter, flax seeds, raw cacao, agave or honey, and other magical ingredients).  Not photogenic, but addictive and sweet and satisfying.  Especially with more wine.

Day three dawned sunny and warmer.  After a meditative nature hike, we enjoyed another fulfilling breakfast with organic coffee and juice, a 90-minute invigorating yoga session, and another great light and healthy lunch.  This time it was an apple/endive/avocado/walnut/gouda salad with lentil soup.

I whiled away a few hours in the afternoon sunshine with a good book and prepared for another 90-minute yoga session, this time a restorative class.  By the time 5:30 rolled around, would you believe I was ready for more wine tastings and chocolate?  Well, I was.  This time, Shannon from Lone Madrone winery brought some varietals for us to sip with our lavender, cardamom, orange, and extra dark chocolates.

After such hard work, I was ready for the dinner which was absolutely cramming the kitchen with mouthwatering aromas of Italy and I knew were having some type of homemade pasta dish.  I was right, and it was a showstopper.  Fresh artichokes to start, then roasted corn and spinach lasagna with homemade sauce, roasted green beans, cucumber salad, and green salad with radicchio and chickpeas.

Our final dessert was a decadent, rich, flourless chocolate cake with fresh strawberries.  Heaven.

This post has gone on long enough and I think you get the picture that I immensely enjoyed everything about my weekend at Sagrada Wellness, especially the food.   Owners Scott and Eva clearly share my affection for plant-based real and whole foods, prepared simply to let the quality ingredients shine.  If they ever write a Sagrada cookbook, I will be the first one pre-ordering it from Amazon.

Next time you need a vacation, consider one like this that will leave you feeling healthy, not sick and full from overindulgence.  Also, it's a great way to fill up your wine racks, as I purchased a dozen assorted bottles of wine and became a member of two wine clubs!  Viva vino!

**This is not an advertisement and I was not given any compensation to share my review of the yoga retreat at Sagrada Wellness.**

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Creamy Tomato Soup (Without Cream)

There is a cook-writer-scientist (similar to Alton Brown) who I greatly admire named J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  He was a recipe developer at Cooks Illustrated and frequent contributor to the cooking show America's Test Kitchen, and now writes the Food Lab column at Serious Eats.

Although Kenji's bio says his favorite foods are anything covered in pork fat, he just wrapped up a 4-week vegan experiment (sounds familiar to me!) and posted some pretty spectacular recipes.  This one is so simple, he actually titles it "15-Minute Creamy Tomato Soup."

The secret to the soup's fake creaminess is 2 slices of plain white bread.  Sounds weird, but it WORKS.  I didn't really want to buy an entire loaf of Wonderbread (what else would I do with it?), so I bought it, swiped two slices, and gave the rest to my poor, starving, little brother who has zero nutritional standards.  A win-win situation.

I ignored Kenji's whole recipe (except the bread part) and used some roasted tomato sauce from the freezer since it already had onions, garlic, basil, crushed red pepper, and other yummy ingredients in it.  If you don't have that, follow Kenji's recipe and use canned tomatoes and dried oregano.  Easy peasy and MUCH better than the red and white canned stuff loaded with artificial preservatives.

Un-veganize this with a kickass grilled cheese (mine had smoked provolone and avocado - hell yes!) and you have probably the most comforting winter dinner ever.

Creamy Tomato Soup (Without Cream), adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Serves 4

1 small onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste
2 cans (28 oz) tomatoes, plus 2 cups water
     *or instead of all the above, 2 quarts roasted tomato sauce
2 slices white bread, cut into 1 inch chunks

Saute onion and garlic with spices in soup pot over medium heat until soft.  Add tomatoes, water and bread and heat through.  (Alternatively, just heat up tomato sauce and add bread).

Blend in small batches (add extra olive oil if needed) and return to pot to keep warm.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Simple Winter Tomato Sauce
TWO YEARS AGO:  Guinness Cake
THREE YEARS AGO:  Pretty Ribbon Salad

Friday, February 3, 2012

Roasted Vegetable Pizza

After getting a little nutty earlier this week, I've now transitioned into being cheesy.  If you follow along with my rambling posts, you know I did a gentle whole foods cleanse for about two and a half weeks in January.

Since the cleanse ended on January 24, I've slowly added back some whole wheat, eggs a few times, a handful of chocolate chips once, and a cocktail here and there.  I've stayed away from dairy, just because I haven't really wanted any.  Until today, that is.  The cheese craving hit me like a ton of cheddar this afternoon and I knew I'd be making something cheesy for dinner.

But what kind of cheese did I want?  Salty feta with some olives?  Melty fontina in a panini?  Funky gorgonzola on an apple salad?  Brie, fresh mozzarella, or smoked gouda?  They all sounded mouthwatering, but I settled on some tangy creamy goat cheese to top my roasted vegetable pizza.

This pizza was a masterpiece.  A masterpiece, I tell ya!  In addition to the lovely chevre, I added roasted mushrooms, onions, cauliflower, broccoli, and butternut squash (a true Friday night clean-out-your-fridge dinner).  The "sauce" is beet hummus, although any regular hummus or traditional tomato pizza sauce would work just as well.  Even with all these great ingredients, it was the crust that got me rejoicing to the heavens.

Hallelujah!  Miracles really do happen and prayers can be answered!  It was less than a year ago that I wrote on this blog that I wished for a local pizza joint that would sell me some whole wheat pizza dough for a reasonable price.  Ask and ye shall receive...Di Noko's Pizzeria is a brand-spankin'-new neighborhood gem that sold me a wheat dough tonight for $2.50.  That's two DOLLARS and fifty CENTS.  Do you know how much time I would have wasted with the yeast and the rising and the stress and the cursing if I had tried to make this myself?  It is the greatest bargain in the universe.

My roasted vegetable pizza with beet hummus and goat cheese was everything I could have wanted.  The sweetness of the squash, earthiness from the beet hummus, and that great smooth creamy goat cheese made for a symphony of flavors on top of a beautifully charred wheat crust.  The crust had a satisfying crunch and held up all those toppings with ease, and also had a great chewy texture.

Roasted Vegetable Pizza
Serves 2

1/2 whole wheat crust, homemade or purchased from a local pizzeria
1 cup beet hummus (or regular hummus, or pesto, or red pizza sauce)
2 cups roasted veggies (I used onion, mushroom, cauliflower, broccoli, and butternut squash)
1/2 log fresh goat cheese
chopped flat leaf parsley (optional)
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees, and roast your veggies if you haven't already done so.

Cut your prepared dough in half (save half for another day), and spread on an oiled baking sheet.  It helps if your dough has rested at room temperature for awhile to reduce elasticity.  Bake dough for 4-5 minutes or until beginning to turn golden brown.

Spread par-baked dough with hummus/sauce, and scatter with roasted veggies.  Dot top with goat cheese.  Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.  Bake for 4-5 more minutes, or until crust is charred around the edges and cheese has melted.

Note:  my oven runs hot so you may need to bake longer, or increase your oven temp if you can.

Remove pizza from oven and sprinkle with chopped parsley.  Cut and serve immediately.  Bask in your smug superiority.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Pesto Potato Salmon Salad
TWO YEARS AGO:  Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Brussels Sprouts
THREE YEARS AGO:  Tuna and White Bean Salad