Monday, April 13, 2015

Sugar Snap Peas, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Penne Pasta

Pssst: Pea Season has arrived

I spotted pea shoots a few weeks ago at the farmers market, so I bought a bunch, washed and trimmed the stems and I cooked them briefly and served them with a simple lemon rice. 

I also bought pea plant starts from River Farm, but after we planted them, our cat Gino dug up three of them. At first I suspected Gino, was a secret vegetarian and wanted to try pea shoots, but he'd tossed the tiny plants aside, like he was miffed that we hadn't planted catnip.  

Gino, the pea shoot thief

Remove the tough stems from pea shoots.

Fresh peas at the market can be pricey, but they only come once a year, so plant your own or save your pennies and get to the farmers' market when the first shoots appear--which would be now at the U-District farmers market.

The flavor of pea shoots is delicate and subtle so choose ingredients that won't overwhelm them, and remember to remove all of the tough stem, which can make for an unpleasant eating experience.

After the shoots, come sugar snap, snow, and then shelling or English peas which are so good, even self-professed pea haters become converts. Sugar snap and snow peas are the best bargain because you eat the pods.

String sugar snap peas and snow peas after washing.  If you don't, you'll curse yourself because the tips can poke you when you eat and the strings are tough.

Shell English  peas before using in recipes.

Sugar snap peas from Willie Green's Organic Farm

Be sure to remove English peas from the pods before eating 
Sugar Snap Peas from Willie Greens Organic Farm 

My Cooking Assistant is in heaven with these fresh English peas.

Pea shoots from Mair Farm-Taki at the farmers' market

Sugar Snap Peas, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Penne Pasta
(Serves 6)

2 cups penne pasta
8-ounces shiitake mushrooms, tough stems removed (save for soup stock)
1 large red pepper, stem removed, seeded and diced
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sugar snap peas, strings removed
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup Kalamata olives
10 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tablespoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.  While the water boils, prepare the vegetables.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add shiitake mushrooms and dry-fry, stirring until mushrooms become soft.  Add red pepper and oil.  Stir and cook until peppers soften.  

Add sugar snap peas, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until pears are tender.  Stir in garlic powder, green onions, and Kalamata olives.

Transfer to a serving bowl and gently blend in tomatoes, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Gluten-Free Cherry-Rhubarb Crisp with Lavender

I'm getting a jump on spring this year with this pie cherry-rhubarb recipe. I decided to make it gluten-free, too, but you could use whole-wheat pastry flour, if you want.

I also added a touch of lavender in this recipe. Use culinary variety of lavender, such as hidcote or Betty’s Blue, a lavender cultivar developed in Oregon.  The bud's don't need to be fresh.  Dried lavender works in this recipe.

 You can find pie cherries in the frozen fruit section at natural food stores. They probably won't be organic, but they will most likely be local if you live in the Northwest.

Rhubarb made an appearance at Rockridge Orchards at the U-District Farmers Market last week.  Pricey at $7 a pound, but early fruits and vegetables command the highest price and for rhubarb lovers those baby stalks were a treat. As summer approaches, the price drops, and stalks get bigger.

My Cooking Assistant has sweet memories of cherries.

We can't wait for fresh cherries to make an appearance in the Northwest, but in the meantime the frozen cherries will do.  For a dairy-free version use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks and coconut sorbet.  If you can't find coconut, lemon or blood orange sorbet also make great additions to this recipe.

Gluten-Free Cherry-Rhubarb Crisp with Lavender
(Serves 6)
Rhubarb and tart pie cherries pair up in this amazing gluten-free crisp that carries hints of lavender, a mint family relative and an herb that demands a light touch. Some recipes specify 1 or 2 tablespoons in the mix but be aware that when you cook with lavender, it’s best to use less because too much can make the crisp taste soapy.  

4 cups pitted sour pie cherries
1 to 1 1/2 cups sliced rhubarb
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons crushed dried lavender buds
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1 1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup butter or vegan baking sticks

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine pitted cherries, rhubarb, sugar, lavender and lemon zest in a 2-quart casserole dish. Stir gently and set aside.

Combine dry topping ingredients: gluten-free flour, oats, brown sugar and soda in a medium-size mixing bowl.  Mix well.  Cut in butter or baking sticks until mixture looks like small particles.  Add more flour, if necessary.  Crumble the topping over the filling.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the filling bubbles. The liquid is thinner when hot and as the crisp cools, the filling thickens.  Serve with coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Applesauce Spice Cake

The idea for this applesauce cake recipe came from an ancient Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  I used applesauce from apples my friend had last fall, and truthfully, I don't eat or use applesauce enough, but this cake is reason enough to break out the jar.  I think part of my put off is in the 80s and 90s people thought of applesauce as a fat replacement

FYI: I have not tried that recipe, but I once used applesauce to replace of fat in a muffin recipe for a fat free muffin. Yes, it was in the 90s.  They were good warm, but the next day the muffins had the texture of hockey pucks. 

They could bounce off walls the next day. After much experimenting with baked goods, I know successful baked goods aren't the same when you tamper with the recipe. I've used egg replacements but never have never tried applesauce as an egg replacement as Carol claimed on a recent episode of Walking Dead.   

Seriously, if you want changes in the recipe you like, and aren't sure what to expect, experiment, use less expensive ingredients first. And it always helps to have a trusty Cooking Assistant, just in case.  

The "trusty" Cooking Assistant but for how many seconds?

Oil and sugar combine in recipes to make a certain texture and oil and flour, don't get me started. Oil is best cold and mix it in with all flour particles without over mixing which can cause a cake, muffins or brownies to be tough.

Pick your favorite apples and make your own applesauce if you want. 

Applesauce Spice Cake 
(Makes on 8-inch cake/Serves 6 to 8)

1/2 cup Earth Balance butter sticks or shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup Florida crystals
Egg re placer for 2 eggs, use flax seed egg replacer or 1/2 cup mashed bananas
1 cup thick unsweetened applesauce
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup each: currants and walnuts (or use pecans)

Preheat oven to 350F. Thoroughly cream shortening and sugar: add egg replacer and beat well. (A mixer works well for this step).  Add applesauce and then sifted dry ingredients.  Fold in currants and nuts.  Bake in a parchment lined pan. This cake is moist several days in a covered container.  (If it lasts that long.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Split Pea Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

One of the best ways to save money on food is having category nights like sandwiches, pasta, pizza or soup.  Soup is my all time favorite because it makes a lot, is easy to use as leftovers and always makes a great lunch.  You can also freeze it if you make a lot, then you'll have soup for gifts to sick neighbors and friends or for those nights when you just don' feel like making anything.

One secret--I never use boxed, canned or dried stock or boullion, in fact, I rarely even make soup stock but instead I add all the ingredients for stock into the soup--parsley, celery, onions, carrots and mushrooms.

Although mushrooms also impart color, I opt for the deep flavor that mushrooms, especially shiitake mushrooms bring to the pot.  When I use mushrooms for other dishes, I save the stems, let them dry and then rehydrate them with boiling water for the soup stock.

Red potatoes often have more sweet tones than Yukon Gold, white or yellow potatoes, but use whatever potatoes you have for this soup.

Why Shiitake mushrooms?

Shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally in China for over 6,000 years; they offer immune system support and are also beneficial for cardiovascular problems. Lentinian, a compound in the mushrooms has been used as an anti-cancer drug. Shiitake are also good sources of Vitamin D2 and iron. 

Can you eat too many shiitake?

Who knows, but the price is high (compared to button and crimini mushrooms) and they don't exactly go with everything on the menu, so eating a lot of mushrooms could get monotionous. 

Carrots bring and earthy sweet tone to the soup. Local varieties are the best bet if you want a more flavorful sweet carrot.

Croutons add a great texture contrast.  I got gluten-free foccia from NuFlours.  The bakery is on Capitol Hill and they also sell at the University District Farmers Market on Saturday mornings 

Split Pea Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms
(Serves 4)

1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 shallots, peeled and diced small
2 to 4 cloves garlic, pressed
2 stalks celery, sliced 
1 large carrot, diced
1 or 2 yellow or red potatoes, diced
1 heaping cup split peas
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's Peppers, or use your favorite hot sauce to taste
4 to 5 cups water
1/2 to 1 tablespoon tamari
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Garlic powder or pressed garlic, to taste
1 4-inch sliced of gluten-free focaccia, sliced in half

1. Pour boiling water over shiitake mushrooms.  Let these sit for at least an hour before using the liquid and mushrooms.

2. Saute the shallots in the canola oil until they are lightly browned.  Add garlic, celery and carrot.  Stir and cook until vegetables soften.  Add the potatoes, split peas, chopped marinated peppers or Mama Lil's peppers and water.  Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour or until potatoes and peas are soft.  

3. Add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon tamari, stir and sprinkle chopped olives on top. Blend the garlic and olive oil and drizzle over the gluten-free focaccia.  Toast until lightly browned.  Cut into croutons and place on top of the soup.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Grits and Greens

I woke up one morning craving grits and greens.

I didn't grow up in the South and I didn't eat grits or greens until I was older, so I never had the kind served with milk, cream, ham hocks or bacon.  But somehow it seemed right to add tempeh "bacon" strips which have a smoky flavor some might find reminiscent of bacon.

I might use Italian kale for dishes like this, also called Tuscon, black or dino kale.  Whatever you want to call it, it's generally my go-to green, but for this dish, consider collards. They are more tender and with a milder flavor, they allow the lemon and smoked tempeh to take center stage.  Add a bit of lemon juice and it's a perfect frame for the polenta or "grits."

Tuscon kale

I'm not sure what the exact difference is between polenta and grits, but I'm treating them the same for this recipe. I had Amish butter coarse cornmeal from Ayers Creek Farm in my freezer. This local coarse cornmeal has the best flavor.  And the directions for cooking these grits came from Ayer's Creek Farm.

If you don't have shallots, use red onions.

I'm not the only one who loves seasonal greens around here.  My Cooking Assistant has stolen them on occasion.

Swiss chard would also work in this recipe, if that's what you happen to have.  It takes less time to cook than kale, so it's a good option for a quick meal.

I might also add toasted pecans or pine nuts to top this dish, just to vary the textures.

Grits and Greens
(Serves 4)

2 cups water or vegetarian stock
1 cup coarse cornmeal "grits"
2 cups almond, rice or soy milk
1/2 teaspoon smoked sea salt 
1 to 2 tablespoons oil
6 tempeh bacon strips
1 or 2 shallots, peeled and minced
1 bunch kale or collard greens, stem removed and sliced thinly, then chopped
2 or 3 tablespoons apple juice 
Fresh Meyer lemon juice 

Heat water or stock in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  When water boils, add coarse cornmeal or "grits"in a thin stream, follow with salt.  Once the grits have been added, stir in the milk and sea salt.  Stir for 2 minutes. Adjust heat so mixture simmers but does not boil.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes.  Uncover and stir for 1 minute.  Repeat this process two more times.  The mixture will be very thick.  Spread in a baking pan (9 by 11- or 13-inch).

While grits cook, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat, add oil and tempeh strips.  Cook on both sides until browned and crisp.  Remove from pan and add shallots.  Stir and cook until shallots begin to brown, then add greens.  Stir and add apple juice.  Cover and braise the greens until they soften, adding more liquid as needed.  Cut and serve grits topped with greens, tempeh and shallots.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Squeeze lemon juice over to taste.

Enjoy your local flavors.