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.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Sliders

It's raining in Seattle.  Big news, huh?  

I have to confess, I love grey days with lots of drizzle.  The tiny Anna's and Rufus hummingbirds love it too. The best part of rainy days for me?  

Roasted root vegetables are often on the menu.

Taco sliders came to mind when I spotted the corn tortillas in the refrigerator. They'd be perfect with roasted root vegetables and black beans, but when I found a can of butter beans in my pantry, I thought why not make some quirky taco sliders with butter beans? You can use any kind of beans you like, or try seitan or chunks of sauteed tofu.

You can get sweet potatoes or yams at the farmers market now for $2.49 a pound, or you can buy them in a grocery store.  I love local flavors and get them when I can, but do whatever your budget allows because this recipe is all about roasting.

What can be easier than roasted vegetables? 

That's what I'd always thought. But recently I discovered not everyone is on the same page when it comes to roasting.

Last week I learned that local chefs often parboil potatoes before roasting them.  "The texture and taste is better," a farmer at the market told me.  I nodded, but as we walked away my friend said, "Parboiling? What's that?"

Parboiling is an old-fashioned term, but the  technique is exactly like blanching, except for the ice water bath at the end. In both techniques, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the vegetables and cook briefly to set the color and activate enzymes. Strain the vegetables, and for blanching rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. For parboiling, once the vegetables are parboiled, you can then use them in cooking.

Bringing the pot of water to a boil, etc, seems significantly more work for a home cook, so I tried an experiment this past weekend. I parboiled half the vegetables I cooked and I cut the others and roasted them raw.  Both were tossed in oil.

The end result?  The vegetables that were parboiled, were slightly sweeter and retained more moisture when roasted.  

The taste difference was not enough to induce a lazy chef like me that home cooks need to "parboil" vegetables before cooking.

Roasting times:

Another rumor I heard recently was rutabagas take longer to roast than carrots.  So I deliberately used different vegetables and roasted them for the same amount of time.

I set the temperature to 425F.  Tossed all the vegetables with a bit of oil and roasted them for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent burning or sticking.

The garnet yam, carrots, turnip and rutabaga were all roasted in 30 minutes.

Some people think roasting is only done in an oven.  But what about the fire roasted peppers at the market?

River Farm at the University District Market


Other experts insist roasting is done without any covering but what about foil covered roasted garlic?

The more I found out, the more I wanted to know more about this technique that many people define differently.  And why are potatoes in foil called baked while garlic in foil is called roasted?  

If not adding any liquid is part of the roasting process, why does Barbara Kafka use liquid with roasted vegetable in Roasting: The Simple Art?

While many chefs say roasted vegetables should be cut into uniform pieces, some recipes defy this rule laid out in The Roasted Vegetable by Andrea Chessman. 

Garlic, peppers, carrots and even cauliflower can be roasted as whole vegetables.

Are there any rules at all for roasting?   It seems like it depends on which cookbooks, blogs or websites you read or what your friends tell you. 

Who wouldn't want these amazing tiny carrots from Willie Greens Organic Farm left whole? 

For this recipe, I cut everything to the same size, only because I was estimating the timing for different vegetables.

One of the delicious things about roasting without any liquid or covered in foil, is the oil and heat caramelize the outside and make the vegetable sweeter.

I cooked the onions and mushrooms with a little olive oil, adding the butter beans and a few leaves of baby collard greens in the last few minutes of cooking.

Roasted Vegetable Sliders with Butter Beans
(Serves 4 to 6)

6 small corn tortillas
Canola oil, enough to coat the bottom of a small pan, plus 2 tablespoons

1 rutabaga, root trimmed, small dice
1 turnip, root and top trimmed, small dice
1 large carrot, small dice or matchsticks
1 small sweet potato or yam, small dice
1 small onion, diced
1 cup small shiitake mushrooms, or sliced larger mushrooms
1 can butter beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup salsa
Slices of avocado, chopped tomatoes, sliced green onions and chopped olives
1 cup chopped cilantro 

Heat oil in a skillet and fry corn tortillas until almost crisp.  Remove tortillas and place on an absorbent towel.   

Heat oven to 425F.  Place rutabaga, turnips, carrot and sweet potato in a single layer in a shallow baking dish.  Toss with 2 tablespoons canola oil.  Roast on a rack close to the heat for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to brown evenly.

While vegetables roast, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and shiitake mushrooms.  Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add about a tablespoon of oil, butter beans and 1/4 cup salsa.  Cook for about 5 minutes.

Place roasted vegetables and butter bean-mixture on tortillas.  You can top it with avocado, tomatoes, green onions and chopped olives, and garnish with cilantro, or enjoy it plain with a little salsa.

And try not to tempt your Cooking Assistant too much.