Monday, April 14, 2014

Rhubarb-Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Like any seasonal fruit or vegetable, when rhubarb first comes to the market it can be pricey.  Whether you give in to temptation early is up to you, and your budget, but I splurged this weekend.  I'm actually trying to budget and I have no excuse for this indulgence. It was a pure impulse. I offer no apologies, but I had no idea what to even make with my rhubarb. It was just so beautiful, I couldn't resist.   

I considered a side dish but always came back to pairing rhubarb with  pineapple.  I'm not the first to imagine the flavors. Nothing much is brand new these days.

Check these out if you're interested:

It's nothing I would pick but here's a pineapple rhubarb upside down cake at All Recipes with jello and mini marshmallows.  And an interesting  pineapple-rhubarb pie also at All Recipes.  How about an odd pineapple-rhubarb custard pie that includes balsamic vinegar and mustard?  (Not the image I conjure when the title says custard, that's for sure.)  My favorite find was this pineapple-rhubarb salsa in the New York Times--maybe I'll make a salsa next time.

Like I said, nothing new.  Just unique tweaks on old recipes. 

I like rhubarb when it's really red and at Rockridge Orchards Wade Bennett had mouthwatering red rhubarb.  I think the red hooked me.

My Cooking Assistant is not impressed.  It's a good thing because rhubarb is toxic to dogs. He really is smart about some things. He definitely has the best nose around.

He's definitely interested in the pineapple. You could probably use canned pineapple for this, most upside down cakes use canned pineapple.  We always use fresh when we can.

I like the way the cake looks, with cracks.  Like an earthquake cake.  I've made this recipe with nectarines and pie cherries.  This was a first with rhubarb.  Just goes to show you how a recipe could shift with the seasons. I like the top tastes when it browns. The flour is caramelized and sweet.

Rhubarb-Pineapple Upside Down Cake
(Makes one 8-inch or 9 by 7-inch pan)

2 cups sliced rhubarb
2 cups bite-size chunks of fresh pineapple
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange or tangerine juice
1 tablespoon arrowroot
1/3 cup soy, coconut, almond or rice milk
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg beaten or egg replacer* for 1 egg

Combine rhubarb, pineapple, 1/2 cup orange juice and arrowroot in a medium saucepan.  Stir until well blended.  Heat gently and stir continuously until arrowroot thickens the mixture.  The mixture should be fairly thick.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly oil cake pan on the bottom and sides.  Mix the soymilk and 1 tablespoon orange juice.  Set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder and soda, sifting into a medium mixing bow. Stir to make sure the ingredients are well blended. In another bowl, cream the oil and sugar (Florida crystals).  Blend until soft and creamy. Stir in egg or egg replacer.  Then mix the milk and oil and egg mixture into the flour.

Place an even layer of fruit mixture on the bottom of the cake pan. Spread the cake over the mixture.  Bake for 40 minutes or until cake is browned on top and springs back lightly when you touch it.

Cool, then flip the cake over to serve.  Serve with coconut sorbet.

*Egg replacer--
Combine 1 tablespon ground flax seeds with 3 tablespoons water.  Blend until frothy.  (Hint: it's easier to make a replacer for more than one egg.  Store the remaining replacer in the refrigerator and use within a week.)

Pineapple-Rhubarb Upside Down Cake with Coconut Sorbet

Monday, April 7, 2014

Yam and Mushroom Taco Sliders

With only a small time frame to make dinner, I pulled out my weekly menu, which looked suspiciously like last week's menu. I listed taco sliders as a main dish, but I'd been in a hurry when I wrote down my ideas and I had just picked my favorite foods, thinking I could revise it later. It seemed just like yesterday I'd blogged about taco sliders with this post on roasted vegetables. 

It wasn't exactly last week, but still I'd already blogged them. Magazine editors routinely reject ideas when they've dong them before.  But were is the rule that says you can't repeat ideas on your own blog? 

I mulled over using the mixture with rice, quinoa. baked potatoes and even pizza, which I did blog about last week.

But taco sliders are my current favorites, so use what you want for a base for this vegetable blend, but seriously, what can't you put on a taco slider?  It's becoming my new mantra.

They take about 20 minutes, tops.

I buy these mushrooms every week, so they were first on my list for taco sliders. These fresh shiitaki mushrooms from the market, are better than you can find at any grocery or natural foods store in Seattle.

Next I added  arugula because I found some tempting small bundles of it at Mair Farm-Taki.  Use your own favorite fresh spring greens from a market vendor, or fresh from your garden. Spicy mustard greens would also be a winner in this combination.  Spinach is a little on the bland side.

One thing is certain,  I'm planting more arugula this year.  For one thing, it tends to be pricey at the markets early in the spring; for another, it is one of those greens that grows well in the Pacific Northwest.  

Get your arugula seeds and starts going now.


All the other ingredients, I found in my pantry--onions, a sweet potato, some leftover celery, garlic, Field Roast, and sundried tomatoes.

I was in such a hurry I forgot to add herbs and spices, so I got out some fresh salsa to add as a dollop on top.These were so good, my husband tucked leftovers in a burrito for lunch and I had the rest for breakfast.

Yam and Mushroom Taco Sliders
(Serves 4)

1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon canola or extra virgin olive oil
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 or 2 stalks celery, sliced
8 ounces shiitaki mushrooms, tough stems removed
2 cloves garlic, pressed
6 sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 cup, sliced Field Roast apple sausage or vegan sausage
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's Peppers or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 
2 to 4 cups chopped arugula
Sea salt to taste
Fresh salsa for garnish

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.   Add the onions and oil.  Stir and cook until the onions begin to brown.  Add the sweet potatoes, celery, mushrooms and garlic.  Stir.  If mixture is dry add a tablespoon of water.  Then cover and steam the vegetables, stirring occasionally until the vegetables soften. 

Add the sundried tomatoes, Field Roast and Mama Lil's Peppers or pepper flakes.   Continue to cook for a few minutes, then remove from heat and add arugula.  Stir until wilted and serve.  Add sea salt to taste.

Not even my Cooking Assistant could resist the lure of these taco sliders

Monday, March 31, 2014

Roasted Tomato, Kale and Mushroom Pizza

Back from a short trip to Arizona, I wanted pizza.  Maybe it was the lazy sunny days, but I didn't feel like cooking.  Here are just a few treasures in Arizona.

On the last day two hummingbirds flew down by our feet. I was so shocked I didn't think to snap a picture of them, but I did get this one:

So bright even the dogs wear shades in Arizona.

Who wants to cook?

I didn't want to go to a lot of trouble but I had a craving for pizza.  Delancey is too far away and probably beyond my budget.  I didn't want to go to the trouble of making a crust.  I've had my share of kitchen nightmares with a too soggy or burned crust, so I decided to get something at least semi pre-made. And as for the topping I needed to take more photos of roasted vegetables for an article I worked on for this magazine

Roasting makes vegetables more tasty, even tasteless winter tomatoes have flavor when roasted.

I used Roma for this recipe. They are not on the dirty dozen list, but if you prefer organic, don't let that stop you. 

I've never made a kale pizza before, but that's what I wanted.  I was sure it wasn't anything I'd invented (nothing is really new, not even in the kitchen) and  I found a kale pizza recipe at Vegetarian Times with sweet potatoes and goat cheese, but seriously when does goat cheese not taste like the barn?  I'd go for an almond cheese instead. Some people felt the need to add bacon to kale pizza and one celebrity chef, the skinny Italian, added meatballs.  So you see why I created my own recipe. 

Pizza is meant to be the lazy chef's dinner. Pizza and a movie, right?  Keep it simple so everyone can enjoy it. 

Mushrooms are always on my weekly shopping list.  Shiitake mushrooms are great for boosting the immune system and they're perfect on pizza.

Add more toppings if you want, but it was perfect with just these three.  And we had enough tomatoes so we can make a pasta dinner tonight.

Add a little garlic to the oil, and after 30 minutes of cooking plenty of moisture was released from the tomatoes. My Cooking Assistant likes to inspect all cooking processes. The only problem is, he is sometimes inclined to sample the goods.  

What happens in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen.

The house was filled with that amazing roasted garlic scent.  See the little chunks below.   

Here's the recipe:

Roasted Tomato, Kale and Mushroom Pizza
(1 15-inch pizza)

8 to 10 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 or 3 whole cloves garlic, peeled 
1 cup grated almond cheese or use your favorite pizza cheese

1 frozen or packaged pizza dough, stretched to a 15-inch pizza pan
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced and stems removed, if they are large
1/2 bunch kale, stems removed and sliced
1/2 to 1 cup chopped kalamata olives
Crushed red peppers

Preheat oven to 350F. Place tomatoes cut side down on a parchment-lined pan. Press garlic into half the olive oil and drizzle over the tomatoes. Place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until tomatoes are soft but retain their shape.

Prepare pizza dough according to directions.  Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the shiitake mushrooms.  Stir and cook for a few minutes, then add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, stir, add the kale and stir again.  If necessary add a little water, cover the kale for about 5 minutes or until it wilts and the mushrooms are soft.  Remove from heat.  

Sprinkle cheese over dough. Use tongs to distribute kale and mushrooms over the pizza.

Place the roasted tomatoes around the pizza. Bake according to pizza instructions. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes.

My Cooking Assistant's slice of the pie

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lemon Parsley Rice

Parsley is one of the healthiest greens around and I like to use as much as I can in side and main dishes.  One day I invented this easy side dish that can easily be turned into a main dish.  All you need are brown rice, curly parsley and lemon.  I plant parsley in the spring and it seems to spread and come back every year.

Use your favorite rice--my favorite is California grown.

Here's the recipe:

Lemon Parsley Rice
(Serves 4)

1 3/4 cup water
1 cup brown rice
1 fresh lemon--zest and juice
1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
2 cups finely chopped curly parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring water to a boil in a small sauce pan.   Add brown rice and lemon zest. Add a bit of sea salt and when water boils again, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.  Water should all be absorbed.  If not continue cooking for a few minutes.  Remove from heat.  After 5 minutes, fluff with a fork.

Combine lemon juice and agave nectar.  Place rice in a serving bowl and stir in parsley and lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I turned this easy side dish into a main dish by adding diced carrots to the rice, during the last 30 minutes of cooking.  Then I sauteed seitan and onions, and I topped the finished dish with toasted almonds.  Now that's an easy dinner! 

Both the rice and almonds were from Massa Organics--one of my favorite splurges for my normally tight food budget.

Serve it with crusty artisan bread or corn tortillas.  Add some avocados to top it off.

My Cooking Assistant is dreaming sweet dreams of eating the whole thing.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Asparagus

A simple salad with balsamic vinegar---I've been using versions of this recipe for years. People always want the recipe but the secret is the kind of balsamic vinegar I use. Get the good stuff.  I like this one.  You don't need much and it lasts a long time. Check around because I found it on a closeout at a store a few months ago. A little goes a long way--but it's ndespensible in some dishes like this salad.

Last year when the price of quinoa soared, I started using half millet in any quinoa recipe.  Quinoa is only grown commercially in South America (Peru/Bolivia), and the cost per pound now is about the same as buying a steak--maybe a little less ($8.50 at the local co-op).  Millet, however, is still a bargain at about $2 a pound, and if you are working with a tight food budget, quinoa can push cheap entrees into a more pricey territory.

But my millet was gone, I'd used the last of it and hadn't replenished my stock.  And who wants to drive to the store for just one item? 

My advice?  Put millet on the list and indulge your inner foodie for a day.  Go for the fancy balsamic vinegar and use all quinoa.  Top it with toasted cashews if you want--it still costs less than the average meat or seafood entree.

Pair quinoa with asparagus, and this simple dish with translucent red onions and balsamic vinaigrette is--well, it's amazing.  It's one of those dishes where I wish I had made more before I take the first bite.

Asparagus hasn't made it to my farmers market yet, but it must be close because I've spotted local varieties are in grocery stores.

When selecting asparagus, look for mostly tightly closed spears and more firm, than rubbery stalks.  When you buy asparagus in the grocery store make sure the stalks keep sitting in a little water.  They dry out fast, so turn the stalks and check the base. Is it cracked and dry? The asparagus could be old and tough. Once you find fresh stalks, buy them and bring them home, remember to store them standing in water, if you want to keep them more than a few days.

Asparagus stalks stored without water, dry out and becomes rubbery.

Roasted with a few Mama Lil's peppers--not even my Cooking Assistant can resist them.  I recommend eating them right away.

Until grilling season begins, I vote for roasting asparagus.  Buy more than you think you'll need because you'll be snacking on this long after dinner has ended.

Balsamic Quinoa Salad with Asparagus
(Serves 4)

1 red onion, stem and root end removed, peeled, and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound of asparagus, rinsed and tough ends removed, slice into 2-inch lengths if desired
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 3/4 cups water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons Mama Lil's Peppers, chopped (optional)
1 cup, carrots, small dice
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F.  Spread sliced onions in a shallow baking dish and roast for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, add asparagus spears and toss vegetables with oil.  Arrange in a single layer in the baking dish. Roast for 20 minutes, turning vegetables halfway through. Thicker spears may take a little longer. Onions should be just beginning to brown when the asparagus is tender.

While asparagus roasts, bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add quinoa, cover, bring to a second boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes or until quinoa absorbs all the water and grains are done.  Set aside for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Combine vinegar, oil, garlic, and Mama Lil's Peppers, if desired. Blend into quinoa.  Add roasted onions and carrots. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Serve with asparagus spears on top. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Roasted Portabello Burgers

How many days till spring?  My Cooking Assistant isn't counting, but he wouldn't mind if strawberry season comes a little early this year.

Until then, he'll pose with food and steal a few bites when he can during photo shoot.This week for portabello burgers and home fries he was a perfect model.  Well, maybe I was faster at snapping the photo this week.  Who knows what goes through a hound dog's mind?

For me--I've  always loved ordering portabello burgers in restaurants-- the grilled, charred flavor, the meaty texture--need I say more?  I've roasted peppers, asparagus, garlic and onions, but I never actually roasted portabello until recently. Funny, because roasting mushrooms is one of those things that's so incredibly easy,  I wondered why it took me so long to try it.

A budget-friendly dish, roasted portabellos are beginning to show up on my menus a lot more frequently. 

In my so-called "year of living frugally," I've learned what I can and can't tolerate.  No red peppers from Mexico in the winter. Could somone please tell me what those cloyingly sweet things are? And were they grown in sewage sludge?  No tomatoes from Florida--I don't support slavery--or ginger from China--come on, is it really ginger?   It makes it hard to be more picky and most entrees for dinner should be five dollars or less so I can stay on track with my budget. 

Best prices for mushrooms

In order to find the best deal for produce items, you need to do the math.

Take portabellos--a few years ago, the price was too high-end, but the price has dropped and with all the different prices, buying portobello prices can be confusing. Some stores sell them by the pound and some stores sell them individually.  

Which is a better bargain?  And should you buy organic?  

Many people say Trader Joe's has the best deals.  But at TJ's I find food is often packed in smaller containers or sold as "each" like bananas for 29 cents each.  When you add up the ounces, the price can be the same or more than organic options at PCC Natural Markets, which is often unfairly precieved by bargain grocery shoppers as having all high end products.

Placing mushrooms in four ounce containers and charging $3.00 can make consumers think they are getting a better deal than the store that sells the same variety of mushrooms for $9.99 a pound. I nearly bought portabello mushrooms at one store for $1.79 each, until I weighed two the organic portabellos at PCC and saw the cost was only $2.60.

So if you're saving money or on a food budget, do the math.

I still shop at the farmers' market, unless I'm out of town.  I save a third of my budget for food at the market.

Sometimes I get sweet potatoes
And sometimes potatoes

You can find shiitaki mushrooms, which of course are always on my list, but portabellos are probably like the delicious apples in the mushroom world.  But for me, a portobello burger is one of the guilty pleasures of life.

I haven't tried roasting these (Shiitake)  mushrooms uet.  Any suggestions?

Sweet potatos and yams are good accompaniments no matter what you're cooking.

Buy extra and make sweet potato chews for your favorite canine.  

These have absolutely nothing at all to do with this blog, but my Cooking Assistant is thrilled.

I roasted big and small mushrooms.  I used the small mushrooms in a quinoa dish with balsamic vinegar.

Here's the recipe:

Portabello Burgers
Makes 2 burgers

2 portabello mushrooms
Italian Salad dressing
2 buns or rolls
Condiments as desired
Pickles, onion, tomato, avocado, relish, peppers, lettuce or sprouts

Remove stems and gills from portabello mushrooms.  Preheat oven to 425F. Brush mushrooms with Italian dressing.  Place on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes or until mushroom is fork-tender. Check every 10 minutes and turn mushrooms after 15 minutes.

My Cooking Assistant prefers the fixings.  I'm sure he'd finish off the asparagus and sweet potato fries first.
So polite, amazingly even the fries were saved on this photo shoot.