Monday, March 25, 2013

Lemon-Spinach with Brown Rice, Mushrooms and Cashews

I'm looking for fresh and easy these days, and this side dish (or main dish if you add a protein source like tofu) fits the ticket.  I'm also looking for more inspiration and that's why my first cookbook purchase of the year is Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison.

I want to linger over each section like a delicious dessert.  Spinach happens to be in the Goosefoot and Amaranth families, along with beets, chard, epazote, lamb's quarters, and  orach.  I'll review it a little more extensively next week because it's one of those books that should be in every cook's kitchen.

And as for vegetables, most cooks have lots of greens in the refrigerator this time of year.  You can find many varieties at markets, farm stores and grocery stores.  

Gathering Together Farm store
University District Farmers Market
Hearty spinach at Nash's organic farm

Now to come up with something a little different, yet easy-to-make.  If you seen this post and this one, you know, I'm fond of shiitaki mushrooms lately.  Well, more than fond actually.  They do amazing things  for your immune system, plus the fresh shiitaki mushrooms from Sno-Valley Mushrooms at the market are so fresh and tasty, they're always on my market shopping for the market. 

And of course they pair well with greens, so I had them on my list as well. I'm flexible about which greens, but when I saw the tiny spinach bundles at Nash's organic produce, I knew that's what I had to get. 

A few years ago, I noticed farmers growing this small hearty variety of spinach in fall and winter.  And since my weekly market budget is smaller these days, I felt like I hit a gold mine when I saw the  fat  bundles of hearty spinach.  It was enough for two days, and since I like things simple, I got a Meyer lemon at a store on my way home.  

I wanted to add these vegetables to brown rice, because from there, you can create a side or main dish. But brown rice takes about 50 minutes from start to finish.  So start the rice first and by the time it's done, you have all the other ingredients ready and dinner is just a few minutes away.  (If you're really pinched for time, use a quicker cooking rice or another grain.)

Try quinoa, millet or couscous for a faster dish.  

The red peppers aren't really in season now, but the added color is a bonus, and you don't have to use much.  I usually make red peppers go a little farther by dicing smaller and using them two or three days instead of just one.  You could also use carrots instead of red pepper for color if you like. Also, if you don't have cashews, try pecans, almonds or pistashios.

Lemon-Spinach, Brown Rice, Mushrooms and Cashews
(Serves 4)

1 3/4 water
1 cup brown rice, rinsed
Pinch of salt
1 cup diced shiitaki mushrooms
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
1 tablespoon Mama Lil's Peppers (or use 1/4 teaspoon dried pepper flakes)
4 to 6 cups rinsed spinach leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons apple cider
Zest of 1 fresh lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Sea salt to taste
1/2 cup toasted cashews

1. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan.   Add brown rice and pinch of salt.  Cover and bring to a second boil.  Then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until water is absorbed.  Remove from heat.  Wait 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

2. While rice cooks, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add mushrooms.  Stir and cook until mushrooms lose some moisture.  Add red pepper and Mama Lil's peppers.  Stir and cook until red pepper is soft.

3. Add spinach.  Stir until spinach, mushrooms and peppers are blended.  Add apple cider and cover until spinach wilts.   Remove from heat.  Remove cover and stir in lemon zest, lemon juice and sea salt to taste.  Garnish each serving with toasted cashews.

From side to main dish:

Add 6-ounces of precooked marinated tofu, or chunks of seitan right after stirring in the Mama Lil's peppers.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cider Braised Cabbage with Mushrooms and Olives

I can't resist the allure of cabbage just before spring arrives.  Cabbage means frugal, budget friendly meals.   And because of Saint Patrick's day bargains are everywhere again this week. Or why not go to your local market because you know what they say?  Two heads are better than one.    

That's what I told myself, and that I always like cabbage but  now I've got more than I can handle. So I run through recipes like rolled cabbage leaves like this one or coleslaw, or added to a stir fry or braised in cider. 

I also had mushrooms on hand.  A more expensive budget item, mushrooms should be eaten within a few days.  They lose moisture and become rubbery.  How would they go with cabbage?

Cider Braised Cabbage with Shiitaki Mushrooms and Kalamata Olives
(Serves 4)

1/4 cup chopped shiitaki mushrooms 
1 tablespoon oil
4 to 5 cups shredded cabbage
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, or 1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 cup apple cider (or berry wine)
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives 
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's peppers
Lemon wedges

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.   Add shiitaki mushrooms.  Stir and cook until mushrooms get softer. 

Add oil, cabbage and garlic powder.  Stir and cook for a few minutes.  Add apple cider, stir, cover and steam until cabbage is soft.  Stir in kalamata olives and Mama Lil's peppers.  Serve lemon wedges with cabbage.  A squeeze of lemon gives this dish a perfect bit of tang.

Served over toast this is amazing!

My Cooking Assistant gave this one a  big paws up

Monday, March 11, 2013

Balsamic Leeks and Shiitaki Mushrooms


The in between season

We're over winter squash and apples and still waiting for asparagus and strawberries.  It's the in between season in the Northwest, and not as many people shop the market now.  It's a slower pace, with more time for talk, but there are still lots of great things to get at the market.

Before I left for the market, I watched a recipe segment on the morning news. A chef cooked mushrooms and glazed them with balsamic vinegar. The chef pointed out how healthy mushrooms are--"filled with protein and nutrients", she'd said.  But she was using crimini mushrooms, which are related to white button mushrooms, and I'd never heard that regular grocery store mushrooms were healthy, so I did a search and here's Dr. Weil's take on mushrooms.   The take-away is to do your research when you hear something is healthy and find out for yourself if it's true.

Mushrooms, cider and leeks 

I just wanted the recipe idea anyway, because I had shiitake mushrooms already on my list, along with leeks, apple cider and bread.  I like to get mushrooms at Cascadia Mushrooms because the flavor and texture is so amazing. I like them better than Lion's Mane mushrooms. The flavor and texture of shiitake that you can buy at the local co-op, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods can't compare.  (And FYI--In case you didn't realize, Trader Joe's only appears to have lower prices.  They downsize items so it looks like they cost less when in fact they add up to the same prices at co-ops and Whole Foods. Trader Joe's regular shiitake mushrooms are about the same price as organic shiitake mushrooms at the local co-op.) 

And as for pricey balsamic vinegar--you could just as easily go local with this too and get a nice berry apple cider vinegar or a Rocksalmic (an aged apple balsamic) vinegar produced by  this local farmer.  Who doesn't love Rockridge Orchards in Seattle?

Berry wine and apple cider vinegar from Rockridge Orchards

Shiitake mushrooms from Cascadia Mushrooms

Lots of options at the market during the in between season

The ingredients are nothing that my Cooking Assistant and his sister like.  This has got to be a first and believe me, I have apologized.  (Dogs are not supposed to eat onions and since leeks are a relative, I assume they're also toxic to canines)   And the hounds are definitely not thrilled with mushrooms.

The recipe

Always get all the ingredients out first.  Cut the leek and wash it well because sand can stick between the layers.

See how white the ends of the stems are?  That means they are very fresh.
I confess I've fallen in love with this olive oil my nephew sent me.  It's from Spain and I'm not quite sure if it has a translated page to read.   I love the white container called Oro De Canava, the best.   But use your own favorite olive oil for this dish.

Balsamic Leeks and Shiitaki Mushrooms
(Serves 4)

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large leek, sliced (using green part if it's tender enough) and thoroughly washed
1 dry pint, shiitaki mushrooms (about 2 cups), sliced (remove stems only if large and woody)
2 tablespoons balsamic, berry or Rocksalmic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Coarsely ground seas salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add olive oil, leek and mushrooms.  Stir and cook until leeks and mushrooms soften.   Add vinegar and sprinkle with garlic powder.  Stir, cover and cook for a few minutes.  Remove cover

Add sea salt and pepper to taste.   Serve over rice.  For a main dish conversion, add spiced tofu and toasted nuts.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Lion's Mane Mushrooms and Spinach

The past few weeks I'd been looking at Lion's Mane mushrooms at the farmers' market.  I made up my mind to try this unusual mushroom before I even read about how Lion's Mane mushrooms can enhance memory function.  They have also been promoted for boosting the immune system.

But look at it.  Lion's Main isn't like a normal mushroom.  No cap or gills, just long thin moist spongy strands.  Some bloggers call it mild, others say the taste is reminiscent of lobster.  Really?   I'm not sure I like that part, but I'll be open to a new interpretation.   

How do you cook it and what can you do with it?  

I decided to ask the experts.   At the Cascadia Mushroom booth, I learned these mushrooms have a mild flavor and simple is best because they can be overwhelmed with lots of other ingredients. A woman buying them mentioned she sautéd the mushrooms in olive oil or added them to frying potatoes and they blended in.  Greens came to mind.  Don't ask me why.

As I gazed at the mushroom(s?) I wondered, where does one Lion's Mane mushroom end and the next begin?  Also I puzzled about how to cut it at first.  Fresh food doesn't usually come with instructions.

My plan was to sauté the mushrooms in olive oil and garlic and add some seasonal greens.
Consider any of the following greens:

When I saw this fantastic winter spinach at Nash's Organic Produce, I knew  the perfect pairing for Lion's Mane mushrooms.

Lion's Mane Mushrooms and Spinach
(Serves 4)
The trick with Lion's Mane mushrooms is to cook them until the edges get crispy.  That's when they taste best.  (Undercooked Lion's Mane mushrooms may taste a little bitter.)

1 small onion, diced
1 to 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pint of Lion's Mane mushrooms, cut into bite size chunks
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 to 4 cups fresh spinach, chopped (not baby spinach)
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.   Add onions and olive oil.  Stir and cook until onions turn translucent.

Add the Lion's Mane mushrooms and garlic powder. Stir, cover and cook until mushrooms become slightly browned and crispy around the edges. Stir in spinach.  Cover and cook until spinach is soft.   Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over toast or as a side dish.

No, Lion's Mane did not taste "fishy" but still my Cooking Assistant isn't  quite sure what to think of this dish.
 Quinoa, Brown Rice, Black Beans and Broccoli (left) Lion's Main Mushrooms and Spinach (right)