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Sunday, February 22, 2009

avocado toast


I think this recipe might be my favorite thing to eat. I love it just about any time:  as an appetizer when we have guests, as a sandwich for lunch, or as part of supper, served with a soup or salad.  I know, avocados are not exactly indigenous to Alaska. BUT we can get Alaskan red onions, and you can of course buy your hearty, whole grain bread from a local baker—wherever you live!

I’ll list six great things about this recipe.  (I started with three, and then had to keep adding more.)

1.  The main nice thing about this recipe is that it tastes really good.  I’m confident that you are going to love it.  The creamy, rich avocado with the tangy bite and crunchy texture of the onions is really a great combination.

2. Another nice thing is that it looks lovely.  Isn’t it a knockout?  The dark brown balsamic vinaigrette on a slice of sourdough toast, covered by the beautiful light green, creamy avocado, topped with a pile of bright pink pickled red onions, and then sprinkled with a dusting of freshly ground black pepper—this is ART.

3. A third nice thing about this recipe is that it’s great any time of year that you can find good ripe avocados—and that’s pretty much all year ‘round, at Costco.  Here’s a tip for dealing with the bags of avocados you buy at Costco.  Buy a big bag of them when they are hard and green, and set them on your counter.  Every day or so, squeeze them very gently to see how soft they are getting.  When they have just begun to get soft (don’t wait until they are squishy), put them all in the refrigerator RIGHT AWAY—this will more or less arrest their further ripening, and you will have a treasure trove of perfectly ripe avocados for a week or so.  Just don’t forget to check them every day when they are out on your counter—you want to catch them JUST at the time they are starting to get soft, and then refrigerate them.

4. Another great thing is that you can make a big batch of all the components ahead of time, and have them in the refrigerator, just waiting for hunger to strike, or guests to arrive.  Then you can whip this up in the time it takes to toast your sourdough bread (chopping the pickled red onions and peeling the avocado), and sit and relax with a glass of wine with your guests instead of dashing around in the kitchen trying to throw something together. 

5. If you’re cooking for people who don’t eat meat or dairy, you can make this and you will be their hero forever, because it’s yummy and wonderful and doesn’t even have bacon or cheese in it. 

6. Trust me: if people eat enough avocado toasts, they won’t really care what else is for dinner.

avocado toasts

This recipe is loosely based on one I found in Deborah Madison’s Savory Way.

1 large, ripe avocado (see #3 above)
balsamic sauce (recipe below)
pickled red onion rings, chopped coarsely (recipe below)
4 thick slices sturdy whole-grain bread (sourdough if possible!)
freshly ground pepper

1. At least an hour before you want to make this, make the pickled red onions.  They will keep for a couple of weeks in your ‘fridge, so make them ahead!
2. Whisk together the sauce ingredients. This will keep in your fridge for a couple of weeks, too.
3. Halve the avocado and peel it. Slice the flesh about ¼” thick. 
4. Toast the bread.
5. Spoon some of the sauce ingredients over the toast, then cover the toast with slices of avocado. Sprinkle the pickled onions over the top of the avocado (or put a mound of them on top—whatever you prefer) and finish with plenty of freshly ground pepper. 

balsamic sauce

¼ cup minced yellow onion
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together everything but the oil.  Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking. Season to taste with salt. 

pickled red onions

1 pound red onions
1 quart boiling water, approximately
1 cup white wine vinegar
water as needed
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 pinches dried thyme
a pinch of chile flakes (optional)

1. Halve, peel, and thinly slice the onions into rounds.  Separate the half-moons and put them in a bowl.  Pour the boiling water over them, to soften, for one minute, then drain in a colander.
2. In a large jar, put the sugar, salt, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and chile flakes. Put a little hot tap water into the bottom of the jar and swirl it around to dissolve the salt and sugar.
3. Scoop the onions into the jar and pour in the vinegar. Add water to cover the onions (no more than a cup—add more vinegar if more than that is necessary). 
4. Put the lid on the jar, shake to combine, and keep it refrigerated.  The pink color will begin to infuse in about an hour.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

sicilian cauliflower salad


What’s not to like?

A couple of weeks ago we packed cauliflower in our CSA produce boxes, and that same week we were taking dinner over to my friend Margo’s house. I know she loves vegetables, and I also know she loves interesting flavors. I was thinking of using up some of last summer’s cauliflower that is still lining my freezer, so I mentioned that I thought I’d bring an Indian cauliflower dish and a red lentil dal—but I wanted to check with her first in case she thought her husband might not be up for Indian food. Poor Margo had to admit that while Andy likes Indian food just fine, she is actually not the biggest fan of cauliflower, AND she had just gotten one in her CSA box that week…  but she was prepared to try anything! She said she was going to make my recipe from the Glacier Grist, the Sicilian cauliflower salad, and that she would be up for trying my Indian cauliflower dish!

Well, for someone who may just be learning the potential merits of a vegetable, I didn’t want to push my luck. I made the cabbage & potato Indian dish instead for dinner. But Margo told me later that she DID try this Sicilian cauliflower salad, and she said she loved it! It’s so interesting, what turns some people’s taste buds on and off…  Cauliflower is so mild, it’s hard to know what’s not to like? But maybe that’s just it; it’s not interesting enough. This recipe definitely perks up the meek cauliflower (some might even call it bland or insipid—but not me!) and gives it some zing!

sicilian cauliflower salad

This is a variation on the “cauliflower with capers & lemon” theme…  I love those flavors—I bet you will, too. It’s based on a recipe in James Peterson’s Vegetables. If you can get green cauliflower, it makes the salad even prettier than usual! I can sit down and just eat a big bowl of this for lunch.

If you don’t prefer the anchovies, just leave them out—the kalamata olives are nice and briny even without them.

½ cup kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 anchovy filets (optional), rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 small bunch flat-leaved parsley, leaves chopped
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into small florets

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil.
2. While the water heats, make the sauce. Chop the olives and combine them in a big bowl with the capers, garlic, anchovies and parsley. Add the olive oil and lemon juice.
3. When the water boils, add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the pot. Cook the cauliflower florets in the pot for about 4 or 5 minutes, just until tender (taste often!). Drain (don’t rinse), and toss the cauliflower into the bowl with the sauce.
4. Taste the salad and add salt, lemon, oil, and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

cabbage & carrots on pasta with toasted walnuts


vegetable prep

The other day I was selling our bread and handing out our vegetable CSA boxes, and a woman mentioned that she had made this recipe from the previous week’s Glacier Grist. She told me she wasn’t at all sure about the recipe as she was making it—it took a long time to chop all those veggies… “this had better be worth it!” she said to herself. “And how good can it be, anyway, cabbage and carrots?” I admit, not the most tempting sounding recipe. But she persevered (after all, she had the ingredients in her box), she made it, and LOVED IT! She was so happy that she’d tried it! Seriously, this is a fantastic recipe—it’s better than you could ever imagine with these humble ingredients…  in part because of all that chopping!

So this is a good time for a little veggie-prep encouragement. If you’d read my blog much, and/or have cooked my recipes, you’ll already know that most of my recipes are easy, but they do take a fair amount of vegetable preparation: chopping, dicing, slicing, and mincing. Recipes that use lots of vegetables and taste really great usually taste that way because of time spent preparing the raw ingredients. One thing that’s going to help you here is to have a good-quality SHARP KNIFE. I’ll admit, I’m lousy at sharpening a knife. But I refuse to cook with a dull knife. So I have one of those little hand-held knife sharpeners with 2 little blades set in a V-shape. Every time I start to cook (I’m not kidding—every time I set out to cut an onion), I pull that little sharpener out of the drawer, drag my knife over the V a few times, and Voila! a sharp knife. It makes all the difference. Using a dull knife is dangerous (the knife is more likely to slip and cut you), and it is NOT FUN to slice and dice with a dull knife. So, if you don’t already have a couple of decent knives, I’d encourage you to get yourself a decent 9” or 10” chef’s knife and a 4” paring knife, and keep them SHARP by using a sharpener obsessively. I promise, you’ll have way more fun in the kitchen.

cabbage & carrots on pasta with toasted walnuts

I love this recipe! Here’s another of my pasta recipes that has loads of vegetables and not so much pasta. Healthy, healthy, healthy! You can make this recipe with regular green cabbage or Savoy cabbage. The combination of sweet, browned onions, sweet Alaskan carrot slices, and the salty, toasted walnuts… it’s fantastically flavorful Fall food! It’s inspired by a recipe in rebar modern food.

One nice thing about this recipe is that you don’t need to put any cheese on it, because of the salty, roasty-toasty walnuts. Try it with just the nuts before you heap Parmesan on it!

½ pound whole wheat pasta, or buckwheat soba
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion (or 2 medium onions), diced
sea salt or kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes
1 tablespoon dried sage (or ¼ cup fresh sage, minced)
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves)
1 medium head green or Savoy cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into ¼-inch thick ribbons
½ to 1 cup vegetable stock, bean broth, or water
3 medium carrots, cut into thin half-moon slices
1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
freshly ground pepper
½ cup walnuts, toasted for 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven
1-2 tablespoons toasted walnut oil (optional—but I love to use Loriva oil)
½ bunch parsley, leaves chopped finely

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil to cook the pasta.
2. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onions with ½ teaspoon salt until golden. Add carrots and sauté for another couple of minutes, then add the garlic, chiles, and herbs for several more minutes.
3. Stir in the cabbage with another ½ teaspoon salt and the stock or water, and add enough stock to keep the cabbage from sticking in the pan. Continue to sauté the vegetables until the cabbage is tender.
4. Meanwhile, add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta until tender.
5. Chop the walnuts coarsely and toss them in a small bowl with the toasted walnut oil (if using) and a generous pinch of salt.
6. Just before serving, taste the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar to taste, but don’t overdo it—you want to be able to taste the flavors of the vegetables and the toasted walnuts.
7. To serve, put a small mound of pasta on each plate, and mound a big pile of vegetables on top. Sprinkle with toasted, salted walnuts and chopped parsley.


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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Meredith’s orange lunch


a good lunch eater

The other day when Dan dropped Meredith off at pre-school, Meredith’s wonderful teacher, Carol, told him that she wanted to learn how to cook more vegetarian food. I sent one of my farmers’ market cookbooks with him when he went to pick up Meredith that afternoon; the book is loaded with delicious vegetable recipes, and I thought it would give her some good ideas. But she said she already had a copy of the cookbook. She said that the reason she wanted to try more vegetable recipes was that Meredith’s lunches always look delicious—and Meredith loves them! I don’t know when I’ve gotten such a nice compliment! Admittedly, Meredith has been a good eater since she emerged from the womb—we’ve been lucky—but I do make an effort to make Meredith’s lunch yummy and full of vegetables! How nice that Carol noticed! 

So…  the other day I was packing up Meredith’s lunch with various vegetable leftovers from the fridge (my usual strategy) and realized that everything I was packing in the little plastic tubs was orange! Sweet potatoes, carrots & mint salad, and even a little piece of baked squash. I had to add some sliced oranges, of course, to round it out and be completely orange.  It looked so fun I ate the same thing for lunch! And I sent an extra container of the carrot-mint salad for Carol, as well. February just seems like a good time to be eating orange things. If we can’t get much sunshine, eating that vibrant color will just have to do!

soy-glazed yams or sweet potatoes

This recipe is another winner based on one from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors, but I’m using the cold-oven-start method from the Cooks Illustrated recipe for roasted yams or sweet potatoes.

3 large yams or sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese rice wine)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup water
for garnish: 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted in a skillet until golden brown (optional, but nice)

1. Scrub the yams/sweet potatoes and cut them lengthwise into quarters. Place them in a greased baking sheet or baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer.
2. Combine the rest of the ingredients except the sesame seeds. Brush all of the resulting sauce over the yams/sweet potatoes, then cover the dish tightly with foil. Place in a COLD oven, and turn the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Bake until nearly tender; this will probably take at least an hour. Remove the foil, baste the yams/sweet potatoes with their juices, and return to the oven until the liquid has reduced to a glaze and the potatoes are fully tender, 15 to 2o minutes longer. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

carrot & mint salad with currants

This recipe looks so pretty, and tastes AMAZING, even though it’s very simple. Just go ahead and make a double batch—it keeps fine in the fridge for a couple of days. You might be making this every week, just wait and see. This isn’t one of those recipes that you can skip the mint, though. It’s definitely mandatory. The recipe is based on one from Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast.

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (or scallion greens)
coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 pound carrots, peeled (if the peels are tough) and grated
¼ cup dried currants

1. Steam the currants over boiling water for 5 minutes.
2. In a salad bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, oil, mint, chives, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Add the carrots and currants and toss well.
3. Add more salt to taste. If the carrots weren’t very sweet to begin with, feel free to add a drizzle of maple syrup, honey, or sugar to bring the carrot flavors up and make the mint sparkle.

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