Archive for the ‘Dinnerables’ Category

Beets: greens and all

Did you join a CSA this summer? Having a hard time coming up with ways to use up all those beets? Thankfully I avoided the temptation of joining a CSA so I am still free to choose my produce…but I think a lot of people don’t know what to do with beets. They’re delicious, full of white-clothes-ruining power, and don’t provide an obvious meal suggestion. This easy pasta dish uses both the beet roots and the beet greens so it takes care of the whole thing, all without turning on the oven.

It’s been one hell of a hot summer here in Chicago, and without central air conditioning there are few things that can induce me to turn on the oven. But beets should be roasted. Simple solution? Roast your beets in the crockpot! Wrap them in aluminum foil and put in a dry crockpot on high for about an hour and a half and presto! Out come perfectly cooked, delicious beets, without making your kitchen even hotter than it already was.

  • 1 bunch beets, roots and greens
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and diced
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • about 1/2 lb bite-size pasta
  • Plenty of olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice or white wine vinegar
  • Cheese, such as queso fresco or feta (optional)
  • Cut the roots from the greens of the beets. Wrap the roots in aluminum foil, individually for large ones and in groups of 2 or 3 for smaller ones. Place into a dry crock pot and cook on high for 1-2 hours (check after an hour). Remove and let cool. You should be able to peel the skins off without too much trouble (wear gloves if you’re worried about having red fingers for a few hours). Chop into small bite-size pieces and set aside.

    Cook the pasta. In the meantime, remove the tough stems from the greens and roughly chop into 1-2 inch pieces. Sautee the onion, garlic, and greens for about 3-4 minutes, until greens have just started to wilt. Stir in the beet roots and the pasta, add olive oil, lemon juice, and cheese if using. Serve immediately and enjoy how the pasta turns a magic bright fuschia color.


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    It’s funny to me what big business the salad dressing world is. It’s so incredibly easy and cheap to make your own, why would you not? I make mine with lots of lemon juice and vinegar and not much olive oil (for more flavor + healthy), but if you want a less intense, sour-face-inducing dressing just use more olive oil.

    I don’t eat salad very often, but the great thing about this vinaigrette (besides its deliciousness, cheapness, and simplicity) is that it keeps for a long time. Put it in a bottle and store in the fridge and you’re done…plus you can use it as a marinade or sauce for meat or veggies. Simple, done.

  • scant 1/4 cup olive oil (more like 1/8 cup)
  • 1/4+ lemon juice
  • 1 teasp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teasp white wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • Plenty of salt and pepper

    Whisk everything except the oil together until fully incorporated. Slowly, very slowly, whisk the oil in until thickened and delicious. If serving immediately, add 1 teasp of diced parsley and rosemary. Perfect served over a spinach and arugula salad with crumbled queso fresco and shaved red onion. Super versatile and yum.

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    It’s becomingly increasingly and depressingly apparent that things are only going to get a lot, lot worse before they get any better in the Gulf Coast. The good news is that there are agencies who have stepped up and are already helping clean up beaches, swamps, and wildlife that have been affected by oil. The other good news is that you can help!

    For every person who posts a comment somewhere on this blog and becomes a fan of my facebook page (link to the right) before this Tuesday, June 8 at midnight, I will donate one whole dollar to the LA Gulf Response, a coalition of non-profit organizations dedicated to cleaning up the oily mess. You can find more information about the Gulf Response organizations at their website. I encourage you to make a donation on your own. Obviously the point of this is to spread the word, so please send to your friends and everyone else you know–the more comments, the greater the impact!

    Anyway, to pair with the donation to help the Gulf Coast, I made a deliciously cajun meal: gumbo. It just didn’t seem right to have any meat in it though, since this is a post to help the environment, so this is a vegetarian gumbo, also known as green gumbo or gumbo z’herbes. It’s traditionally served during Lent, but you could absolutely swap out some of the greens in exchange for chicken, sausage, or shrimp and it would be delicious.

  • 5 bunches leafy greens, washed well and roughly chopped (any mixture, but I used spinach, kale, mustard greens, beet greens, and arugula)
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil or butter or a combination
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 bunch green onions, diced
  • 1 bunch parsely, diced
  • Lemon juice
  • Worchestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons thyme, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 small can diced tomatoes (optional)

    Put the greens in a large pot and fill with about two inches of water. Cover, bring to a boil and let simmer for about 30 minutes, until tender. In the meantime, combine the oil and flour. Cook over medium low heat and stir continuously (there are horror stories of burned roux from people who didn’t stir it) until it turns a dark reddish brown, almost the color of chocolate. This can take over 30 minutes, so be prepared to get tired of stirring.

    Add the vegetables and garlic to the roux and cook for a few minutes. Stir in the cooked greens and their liquid (this has become your stock) and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes, a few drops of worchestershire and lemon juice and let cook for at least 30 minutes, up to an hour and a half. Stir in the parsley and green onions after you've turned off the heat, adjust for seasoning (lots of salt) and serve immediately over rice. Yum!

    Enjoy the meal and please comment or join the facebook page–I look forward to hearing from everyone who reads these words!

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    Words can’t express how wonderful it is to have the Green City Market back in full effect.  Even though there’s not a ton to choose from this early in the season, there are some interesting vegetable choices that certainly won’t be around all summer.  One of those items is green garlic–the young baby garlic that’s much milder than its adult self and looks like overgrown green onions.

    The green garlic I bought was about three feet long and didn’t entirely fit in the fridge, but that just made it even more fun.  The great thing about green garlic is that you can use all of it–it’s similar to a leek in that the dark green end fronds are a little tough, but the rest of it’s super yummy and mellow garlic-ie.  I used it to create a light and refreshing cream sauce and served it over pasta alongside purple asparagus (which, disappointingly, turns dark green when cooked).   Perfect for a lovely summer evening.

    • 2 pieces of green garlic, tough ends removed and diced
    • 1/2 small white onion, diced
    • 1 spoonful flour
    • 2 pats of butter
    • 1 heirloom tomato, seeded and diced
    • 1/2+ cup milk
    • 1/2+ cup chicken stock

    Sautee the onion and green garlic in the butter until almost soft.  Add the flour and cook until lightly brown.  Stir in the tomato, milk, and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, stirring continuously until thick.  Add plenty of salt and pepper, cayenne if desired, and a touch of cumin.  Serve immediately over pasta with sauteed or grilled asparagus (sauce does not keep well).

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    In my continuing quest to fill my kitchen with ridiculously heavy tools that have been used for hundreds of years,  I recently purchased a molcajete (a Mexican version of a mortar and pestle).   It’s a piece of solid basalt which is extremely heavy and porous; this means it needed quite a bit of work to get it ready. 

    When you buy the molcajete, it’s still really rough on the inside, which  means that small bits of rock/sand chip off when you first use it.  So, before I could use it, I had to go through a lengthy seasoning process of grinding rice and salt into powder to get all the sand out.

    After a few weeks of grinding, it’s ready for action and the first thing to be made was a super yummy cilantro and spinach pesto.  Even after the seasoning process, the inside is really rough which just destroys the herbs.  It goes surprisingly quick and really mashes them up–perfect for pesto!  If you don’t have a molcajete, a blender or food processor will be fine for this recipe.  I didn’t add cheese into mine, but parmesan or romano would be delicious.

    • 1 bunch cilantro
    • ~1 cup spinach
    • 3 cloves garlic
    • a few glugs of good olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
    • 1/4 cup walnuts
    • Splash of lemon juice
    • salt and pepper

    Grind up all the ingredients until a spreadable paste develops.  Serve over pasta, use as a sandwich spread, or sauce over meat.  Can also be frozen (great if your herbs are about to go bad).  Simple and delicious.

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    After spending five days in Mexico, I have returned and am ready to cook up a storm.  Obviously my food will be nowhere near as good as the food from Mexico (it’s made by the gods), but I can try.  Lucky for me, I was able to find some dried chiles negros (known as pasillas when fresh) at the grocery store in Tucson. 

    In other news, the lovely folks over at Marx Foods were kind enough to send me some samples of their dried mushrooms.  Inspired by a fantastically delicious and simple crab tostada I had on the beach in San Carlos, I wanted to pair the dark earthy flavors of the mushrooms with the mellow smokeyness of the dried chiles but still give the mushrooms center stage.  And I don’t know about you, but my favorite stage of all is a Tostada Shell stage.

    The mushrooms from Marx Foods were absolutely delicious!  I used all the types of mushrooms that they sent me for this recipe, including chanterelles, lobster, porcini, black trumpet, and maitake.  I didn’t chop them before I used them, and I should have–the flavor was delicious and paired perfectly with the chiles but having mushrooms in such big pieces on the tostadas made things pretty messy. 

    Chile Negro Sauce (can be made ahead of time):

    • 4 dried chiles (substitute ancho or mulato chiles if you can’t find negro…hint: Marx Foods also carries dried chiles)
    • 4 cloves garlic
    • 2 cups very hot chicken stock or water
    • 1 teasp ground cumin
    • 1 teasp ground coriander
    • olive oil
    • salt

    Cover the bottom of a skillet in a thin layer of olive oil and toast the chiles for a two minutes on each side, then soak them in the hot stock/water for 15 minutes.  While the oil is still hot, add the whole garlic cloves, cumin and coriander.  Scrape all of this into a blender and add the chiles and soaking liquid.  Blend on high until completely liquified.  Pour back into the skillet and let sit over very low heat for 20 minutes, until sauce has thickened.

    Mushroom Tostadas:

    • 2 cups assorted dried mushrooms
    • 4-6 corn tortillas, fried until crunchy in vegetable oil (or store bought tostada shells)
    • 1 small white onion
    • Crumbly Mexican cheese (queso fresco or rancherito are best)
    • Cilantro, to garnish

    Soak the mushrooms in boiling water for at least 10 minutes until they’re soft.  Slice the onion, dicing a little bit super fine to garnish the tostadas.  Remove the mushrooms and save the soaking liquid (can be frozen to add to soup/other things later).  Sautee the onion and mushroom over high heat until the onion has not quite carmelized, about 4 minutes. 

    Smear a small amount of chile negro sauce on the bottom of each tostada.  Pile the mushroom/onion mixture on top and serve with diced onion, cilantro, and crumbled cheese.  Enjoy!

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    Just in case you haven’t heard, Brian Boitano has a new cooking show and it is pretty awesome.  He’s made some delicious-looking meals and inspired me to give homemade mac and cheese another try.  I’ve tried in the past and it turns out that I wasn’t using enough milk–instead of being creamy and delicious it came out stringy and yuck.  Brian Boitano helped me correct my mistakes and this is one of the most delicious meals ever!  Talk about comfort food–perfect for a foggy spring weekend.

    You could use any type of medium hard cheese here (cheddar is an obvious choice, fontina, asiago, etc) but I absolutely love smoked cheese.  The smoked gruyere is just insanely delicious–I had to make this meal right after I got home from the grocery store or I would eat the entire package of cheese just on its own. 

    • 1 cup shredded smoked gruyere
    • 1 cup shredded gouda
    • 1/2 cup shredded jack cheese
    • 1/2 cup shredded romano
    • 2 tablespoons flour
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 1  3/4 cup milk
    • A few tablespoons of parsley, diced super fine
    • 1 lb bite-size pasta (I used penne)

    Using the flour and butter, make a roux and let cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Slowly stir in the milk and bring to a low boil.  As soon as it boils, immediately turn off the heat and stir in the cheese slowly and in batches, starting with the romano first (because it’s the hardest cheese of the four). 

    Taste the sauce and adjust for salt–don’t add it at first because some of these cheeses are extremely salty.  Add in the parsley.  Cook the pasta in heavily salted boiling water, drain, and stir into the sauce.  Serve immediately (goes great with broccoli too!)–YUM.

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