Monday, May 11, 2015

Minted Sugar Snap Peas, Peppers and Leeks

I can't get enough of fresh peas this season. My vegetable love is partly due to an article about peas I'm finishing up for Vegetarian Journal. I love this magazine and if you love vegetables like I do, check out the roasted vegetables in this issue of Vegetarian Journal.

I've enjoyed every pea recipe, even the failures. But I'm not talking about those.  In the process, I became an even bigger fan of garden peas. The Green Pea Guacamole I made last week was to die for. It isn't hard to make--peas, lime, avocado, and salsa. Green pea hummus would be good too--Martha Stewart proves once again that there's nothing new under the sun in cooking. If you can think it up, someone, somewhere, has already cooked or created. 

But seriously, who knew mint was such a great partner for peas? It's as if they were made for each other.  Kind of like cauliflower and cashew butter.

Fresh peas restore my love of spring, but I didn't always like English peas.

When I was young, I turned my nose up at canned peas. They were an annoyance on my lunch tray. I was revolted by the color, and I recall moving the army green specimens around on my plate at lunch time in the school cafeteria, to avoid being forced to eat even one bite the nasty canned things. We were required to take three bites of everything on our hot lunch trays; I wasn't the only kid moving the canned beets and peas around instead of taking required bites. But those canned peas are nothing like fresh English, sugar snap and snow peas, which rarely appeared on lunch or dinner plates.

Today, we've got peas planted in our garden and it looks like we'll have plenty by the end of this month.

I marvel at the bounty at the farmers markets.  These sugar snap peas are from Willie Green's Organic Farm.

English peas are slightly larger, but don't get them too big or they will be starchy not sweet. My Cooking Assistant is waiting for someone to shuck these perfect English peas.  I'm guessing that would be me.

Minted Sugar Snap Peas with Peppers and Leeks
(Serves 4)
16-ounces fresh sugar snap peas, washed and strings removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, washed and sliced
1/2 red pepper, cut into thin strips
2 Tablespoons apple cider or water
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add sugar snap peas.  Blanch for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, drain, rinse and stop the cooking process with cold water.
a heavy skillet over medium heat.  
2. Add leeks and red pepper.  Stir and cook until leeks begin to caramelize and peppers soften.  Add sugar snap peas and stir until the peas warm up.  Stir in fresh mint and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mac and Peas (vegan)

I'd been thinking about making my own mac and cheese ever since I discovered this vegan version, which sounds a little crazy, I know, but vegans have made this old-time comfort food even better. Check out the Vegan Stoner with this version with canned peas (not my favorite) or this version with coconut milk. Both versions of mac and cheese added nutritional yeast. So I was toying with what else to use, when I met a woman in this thrift shop near the blenders. She said she uses a small blender to make a vegan mac and cheese sauce with cauliflower and cashew butter.

"Cauliflower and cashew butter?"

"I know," she said, "It sounds crazy but it works. It tastes exactly like Parmesan cheese." 

I spotted cashew butter at a Grocery Outlet not more than 15 minutes later, so I got some cauliflower  and tired making the sauce.  One problem was she hadn't given me any proporitons, so it was a bit of a guessing game.  


This mixture even smells like Parmesan cheese. How crazy is that? 

I wrote the recipe ahead of time, adding nutritional yeast and a bit of turmeric, a bit of lemon, garlic powder and sea salt. But when I tasted it before adding these other ingredients, I was shocked.  I kept wanting to taste it again and again.

For me, mac and cheese is a starter. It's one of those food canvas as where you add the colors and flavors. I thought it would be easy to find macaroni, and truthfully I only went to one store, but all the designer gluten-free pastas have taken the shelf space and good old macaroni got squeezed out.  Since I was making it yesterday, I could have gone to more stores, but I finally settled for shell noodles instead.

I've added so many different vegetables, herbs and sauces over the years, it's funny that I hadn't peas until recently.  

Zucchini is my standard with mac and cheese these days. So obviously that ingredient came before peas, but if you don't like it, add mushrooms, peppers or whatever non-starchy vegetable that you love.

Use fresh or frozen peas.  I choose frozen because fresh peas aren't quite at the market yet in Seattle.

Who doesn't love opening fresh peas?  I remember my grandmother shelling them and always sharing a few with me.

You can find cauliflower at the market now, but it's pricey because the season hasn't quite started.

So many possibilities for mac and cheese, and so little time.

Too many peas?  Blanch them in a big pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, drain, dry and freeze.

One of my "secret" flavorings is apple-smoked sea salt from Rockridge Orchards.  I didn't add my favorite Mama Lil's Peppers, but you could add those too, if you have them.

Mac and Peas
(Serves 4)
2 tablespoons cashew butter
1 1/2  cup cooked cauliflower (reserve water and add to thin sauce)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
Pinch of turmeric
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, white pepper and smoked sea salt
1 Tablespoon oil
1 cup diced onions or shallots
1 cup diced red pepper
2 cups sliced zucchini
8 ounces macaroni or shell pasta
1 cup fresh garden peas or frozen peas
1. Combine cashew butter, cooked cauliflower, lemon, nutritional yeast and turmeric in a food processor or mixer and blend until creamy, add more liquid to make the mixture smooth.  Set aside. 
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add macaroni and cook according to package directions. While pasta cooks, heat a skillet over medium heat and add onions, red peppers and zucchinis.  Stir and cook until onions and zucchini are caramelized and the peppers are tender.  If using fresh peas, add and cook for a few minutes, or until tender.
3. When macaroni is done, drain and blend with the sauce and vegetables and serve.

I forgot to mention the asparagus. It's not exactly part of this recipe, but I love asparagus even more than peas, so of course I get some at the market every week.  It looks beautiful on top of my Mac and Peas. All the flavors made me wish dinner would never end.

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.