Cucumber Grape Salad

Grape Cucumber Salad

This is a simple, fresh salad that took minutes to prepare.

I peeled and cut one cucumber into small pieces and cut 1 cup of grapes into halves. I added about 1 tbsp of finely sliced onions and 2 tbsp of finely sliced cilantro. Adding a bit of salt and pepper, 1 TBSP of sour cream and 1 TBSP of rice wine vinegar and stirred it all up.

The blend of sweet grapes, tangy onion and the springlike freshness of cucumber and cilantro is fabulous and irresistible. It make  4 servings, but good luck not eating it all.

Sauéed Turnips, Carrots, Brussels Sprouts and Apple with Anise Seed

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I put some olive oil in a skillet and heated it with some peppercorns and anise seed until it was perfuming the air.

Then I added chopped onions (1/2 an onion) and one minced serrano chile and sautéed.

I cut up one small parsnip and 2 carrots into thumbnail chunks and added, with a bit of salt and pepper, and cooked until nearly done. Then near the end, I added about 6 brussels spouts that I had cut in half and an apple I cut into chunks and tossed them in to cook until tender. Tossed a bit of rice vinegar on to finish. Salt and pepper. This made two large servings.

This was the most delicious vegetable sauté I can remember. It was earthy and warm, piquant with the vinegar and parsnips. The brussels sprouts gave it a lovely earthiness and the chile gave it some heat. The sweetness of the carrots and apple added another flavor note.

I served it with a pork loin, but it is a vegan dish that you can serve with anything.

Mushrooms and Red Chard with Barley

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I cooked up some barley for breakfast and decided to make some extra to cook up something for lunch. Of course, barley and mushrooms go together perfectly and were my first thought. I had some red chard that really needed to get used and soon, so I decided to go for it. My favorite spice with mushrooms is paprika, so I thought I would give it a whirl. This made four servings. I figure that if I am going to cook something for 45 minutes (the barley) I am going to make more than one meal out of it. When I cooked the barley, I strained it and saved all the barley water to use in this dish.

I started with eight mushrooms that I cleaned and sliced. I patted them dry with a clean towel. I heated up a sauté pan and tossed them in and let them cook on medium high for about 8 minutes. This dry sauté evaporates out a lot of the fluid and enriches the mushroom flavor. Now when I cook them with the other ingredients, they will not get mushy.

While it was sautéing, I would shake the pan every once in a while to keep them from sticking. Meanwhile I thoroughly cleaned a bunch of red chard, separating the leaves from the stems. Red chard requires several rinses and careful attention to be sure you get all the dirt off it. I hold it under the water and run my finger up and down the stem a few times to make sure all the dirt is gone. No one wants to bite down on some sand or dirt in their lunch.

I chopped the stems into 1 inch long pieces. I also chopped 1/4 of white onions. Chopping up the leaves, I kept two cups and saved the rest for a salad. I set the red chard leaves aside for later.

I added 1 tbsp of olive oil and swirled it around the pan. I added the red chard stems and onions. I added 2 tsp of paprika and salt and pepper. I sautéed everything until the onions were transparent. I then added the barley water I had saved from this morning. I added the red chard leaves and the 2 cups of cooked barley I had reserved. I let this simmer until the chard was done (3 to 5 minutes) and tasted tested it. It was good, but a bit one-dimensional – very umami, but the brightness of the chard stems was missing. So I squeezed the juice of one lemon at the end and that lifted up the chard flavor – giving a multi-layered flavor profile that begins with the heart umami of the mushrooms and barley and ending with a bright, fresh chard tartness. It was delicious.

 

 

Curried Parsnip Pear Soup

Curried Parsnip Pear Soup

I had a craving for some curried parsnip pear soup and decided to make it for lunch. It tastes and looks like it is hard work, but it is a simple recipe that only takes patience, not hard work.

To start I minced 1 TBSP of fresh garlic (3 small cloves) and 1 TBSP of fresh ginger (a piece about the length of a thumb) and added them to 2 TBSP of butter on medium heat in my soup kettle. While they cooked, I chopped up a yellow onion and put 1/2 cup of yellow onion in with the garlic and ginger. I added 1 TBSP of curry powder, stirred, added some salt and pepper and let sauté until tender.

While that was sautéing, I peeled 3 parsnips and cut them into chunks about 1 inch square or so. The exact size matters less than trying to make them all uniform in size. I added them to the pot and added water to cover plus 1/2 inch. A bit of salt and pepper was added to taste.

I cut up two Bosc pears. I did not bother peeling because this will be pureed and the pear skin is not tough and woody like parsnip peelings. I added the pears and put the lid on the kettle and turned the heat up to medium-high, bringing it to a slow boil. Then I let it continue to cook at a low boil until the parsnips were tender.

Removing it from the heat, I removed the lid to help it cool faster and let it sit and rest until it cooled enough I could put it in my Magic Bullet. You can use a blender or an immersion blender. I pureed until smooth.

I spooned some into a bowl, added a dollop of sour cream and 3 thin slices of pear. This happens to be Bartlett, but any ripe and tender pear would do.

This could easily be made vegan by substituting olive oil for the butter at the beginning and leaving out the sour cream garnish. The soup itself is a delicious blend of the tart parsnip with the sweet pear. The bit of heat from the curry works well with those flavors. It is so delicious you might find yourself using a spatula to get ever last bite of soup out of the bowl.

This makes 8 servings.

 

 

Brussel Sprouts with Fried Onions & Lemon Vinaigrette

Brussels Sprouts Salad

This tasty little salad was inspired by Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans salad with shallots. I used onions instead of shallots because that was what was on hand. I used more lemon juice and less olive oil than she does because that’s my personal preference. I wanted to try it with walnut oil but could not unscrew the top. I think it will take pliers! I also substituted pecans for walnuts because that is also my personal preference. Still, with all the changes, you can see her original inspiration in the final product.

First I sliced a small yellow onion into 1/4 inch slices and patted them dry and let the rest a bit so they could dry some more. I heated up peanut oil to 350° and fried the onions in the oil. Removing the onions to rest on old paper bags so the oil could be absorbed, I salted them lightly while still hot so the salt would stick.  After they were all fried and patted clean of oil, I let them rest.

Then I cleaned one pound of brussels sprouts. This preparation was different than usual. I cut off the stems and cleared away the outer leaves that were browned or blackened with age. Then I peeled the leaves off, one by one, until they were too tight to peel away. This central core, I chopped thinly with a knife. I tossed the leaves and chopped sprouts in a bowl. Frankly, this part was tiresome and made me long for a sous chef. However, the separate leaves add a lighter, loftier texture to the salad and the individual leaves are perfect for holding dressing. It was worth the effort. One thing made it easier. After peeling off a bunch of leaves, it was easier to peel off the middle leaves by cutting off a bit more of the stem.

Next I put some pecans in a dry pan on med-high heat to toast.

While the pecans toasted, I took a fresh lemon and grated the zest into the bowl with the brussels sprouts. I added a generous amount of grated black pepper and some salt. Then I squeezed the lemon, adding all the juice. I drizzled 2 tbsp of olive oil on top and mixed them together.

I removed the pecans from the heat and chopped them up just a bit.

Then I placed a bit of the salad in a bowl, sprinkled some of the crispy, fried onions and toasted pecans on top and there it is – a light, flavorful salad for Christmas dinner.  This made four salads.

There is something about  the flavor of toasted nuts and lemon vinaigrette that is just wonderful. The brussels sprouts with their sharp, tangy flavor blended right in and the pepper added a delicious mellow heat. It was just a perfect blend of flavors with the wonderful umami of the fried onions.

 

Spicy Pineapple Cole Slaw

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This is a fresh, crispy, crunchy mouthful of sweet and hot. It’s refreshing and delicious.

First I chopped up about 3 TBSP of yellow onion. I also chopped up half a head of red cabbage and two carrots.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan I heated 1/2 cup of white wine vinegar and 2 TBSP of sugar and one serrano chili finely chopped. I cooked until the sugar was fully absorbed and the chili’s hotness blended with the sweet and sour (about 3 minutes).

I poured over the salad fixings knowing that the heat would not cook the veggies. I stirred well and added 1 cup of chopped pineapple. I added some salt and pepper to taste. This made 8 servings.

 

 

Double Mushroom Risotto

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Although I usually prefer fast and easy recipes, some recipes deserve all the time and patience you can give them and reward you with rich, intense flavor that is so delicious you cannot imagine it until you taste it.  This double mushroom risotto is exactly that kind of recipe. I spent hours on the broth – an investment that paid of with rich flavors that infused every bite of the risotto.

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I used leg shank marrow bones – three two inch shank cuts (about 2 pounds). There is no more flavorful meat for making broth than the shanks with the rich leg bones filled with marrow. I put about 1 tbsp of olive oil in the bottom of my stock pot and heated it up. I placed the shanks flat on the heated oil and browned them on both sides which adds to the color and the flavor of the stock. Then I added 1 cup of chopped onion, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp of dried thyme and let them cook a bit until the onions turned transparent. I then added enough water to completely cover the meat and brought to a boil before reducing heat to a simmer. I let it simmer with a cover on it for a few hours before adding 1 oz of dried porcini mushrooms and then let it cook another half hour. I put it in the fridge overnight to cool before straining it in the morning. I ended up with 11 cups of broth which is exactly the amount I needed for this double batch of risotto.  I heated it up to a low simmer while I cooked the risotto since it needed to be the same temperature as the risotto so it could be added bit by bit at temperature for even absorption and perfect consistency.

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The next step was dry sautéing 4 cups of sliced button or crimini mushrooms. To do this, I put them in my pan and turned the heat up and stirred for about 6 minutes while they cooked without any oil or water. I then added 4 TBSP of butter and 2/3rds cup of chopped yellow onions and 1 tsp of  dried thyme. (I would have used a sprig of fresh thyme if I had it.)  I cooked until the onions became tender.

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Then I added good quality red wine – 1 1/3 cup and set it simmer until it was cooked down by half. When it was done, I added 3 1/2 cups of arborio rice and stirred it in and cooked for a couple minutes before adding 1 cup of the broth and stirring while it was absorbed.

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I then continued to add 1 cup of broth at a time – until all 11 cups were absorbed. The rice was still a bit toothsome and the liquid was still not completely absorbed when I removed from the heat and added 1/2 cup of grated parmesan to melt into the risotto. With the lid on it, the rest of the liquid was completely absorbed without any risk of the risotto getting mushy which would be criminal.

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The result is a perfect creamy risotto with intense mushroom and beef flavor. It’s addictive, so be sure you make it for an event where other people will help eat it all.

Rutubaga Soup

Rutubaga Root Vegetable Soup

This may have the most intense flavor per spoonful of anything I have ever made. The flavor is so rich and intense that it is amazingly filling and satisfying. I know I will make this again and again. I was inspired to make it by the fact that I had four rutabagas in the crisper that were losing their crispness. I knew I had to make something and they were no longer crisp enough for great salads, so I decided to make a soup. I looked online for some soup recipes, but most called for cream and I almost never have milk or cream. I was pretty sure I could come up with a non-dairy version that would be pretty good.

To start I sautéed a medium sized yellow onion in 2 tbsp of olive oil with some salt and pepper. I added 1 full inch of fresh ginger (about 1.5 tbsp) and 2 tsp of cardamom. I let sauté until they onions were tender and a soft golden yellow. Meanwhile, I peeled and chopped up 4 rutabaga and 2 turnips into about 1 inch cubes. The turnips were the adorable little small, round ones, not the big ones. I thought they might add a bit of pungent brightness to the soup. When they were all cut up, I tossed them in the pot and added salt and pepper.

I then added 24 oz of broth. I used chicken broth I had made from some roast chicken and froze. You could use a mushroom or vegetable broth for a vegan alternative. The point is to enrich the vegetables with flavor from the broth – but the particular broth flavor is less critical.

While they cooked, I peeled and cubed two tart apples. I happened  to use 2 Fiji and 2 Granny Smith, but so long as they are tart apples and not sweet ones like HoneyCrisp or bland ones like Delicious, the particular strain is not important.

When the rutabagas and turnips were tender, I added the apples with some salt and pepper. I then juiced two fresh lemons. I added the lemon juice and 1.5 tsp of cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. I am sure you note that I am adding salt and pepper over and over and over. This does not make an over-salted dish, because I season to taste at each stage – and adding with each new stage of cooking, the flavor actually becomes rich with less salt and pepper.

Let it cool a bit and puree with an immersion blender. It will be creamy and smooth and delicious.

The brightness of the lemon, the little bit of cayenne and the earthy richness of the root vegetable and the delicious aromatic cardamom combine into an intense and delicious flavor that is hard to describe. It’s has a tiny bit of heat, but it’s not spicy. It has a bit of zing, but it’s not sour. It’s just sublime.

This made 2 quarts of soup – enough for several more than a single serving. It can easily be made vegan and will be just as good.

Sautéed Pork and Brussels Sprouts

Sautéed Pork and Brussels Sprouts

I know pork and cabbage are great companions, so it made sense to me that Brussels sprouts would love pork, too. To make this, I first chopped up 1/4 cup of yellow onion and minced about 1/2 inch of fresh ginger. I heated 1 tbsp of olive oil in a non-stick skillet and sautéed the onions and ginger until tender. I added 2 of the pickled Serrano chilies I had made, diced up to add some heat along with some salt and pepper. Meanwhile, I took a 6 oz boneless pork loin chop and cut it into bite size pieces and added that to the onions and sautéed.

While the pork cooked, I cleaned and sliced up 2 cups of fresh brussels sprouts. When the pork was a few minutes shy of done, I added 2 tsp of soy sauce and a generous squirt of Sriracha, stirred and then added the brussels sprouts and some salt and pepper. I put a lid on it so that the steam would help cook the veggies quickly. After a couple minutes, I lifted the lid, stirred some more and then let cook until done.  I cooked until the brussels sprouts were tender, but still toothsome and not the least mushy.

There was plenty of heat and the blend of ginger, chilies, Sriracha and soy gave this a distinctive SE Asian flavor – with multi-layered spicy heat that was not overpowering. The brussels sprouts absorbed the rich flavors while still remaining fresh and earthy. It was simply delicious and very easy to make.

 

Pickled Peppers

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I have my groceries delivered and sometimes the person packing my order makes a mistake as when I was recently sent 2 pounds of serrano chiles rather than 2 chiles. Oops! Well, I did cook with more serranos this month than usual, but there is no way I was going to use them all up before they spoiled, so I had to figure out what to do with them. I thought about making salsa, but just as I was about to do that, it occurred to me that some pickled peppers might be perfect. So here goes.

The pickling liquid is always a one to one ratio of water and vinegar. You only want enough liquid to cover the chiles so what I did to get the right ratio was add 1 cup of water, then 1 cup of vinegar, then 1 cup of water and 1 cup of vinegar until the chiles were covered. In this case, it took 2 1/4 cups of each. For a bit of deeper flavor, I used 1 cup of white wine vinegar in place of one of the cups of white vinegar. This is 4.5 cups of liquid  The ratio of salt and sugar is 1 TBSP of each for each 3 cups of liquid, so I used 1.5 TBSP of salt and sugar.

So the final recipe for this quantity of peppers (1.8 pounds)

  • 1.8 pounds of serrano peppers, cleaned and pricked with a knife, about 3 to 4 times for each pepper.
  • 2 1/4 cups of water
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 1.4 white vinegar
  • 1.5  TBSP of sugar
  • 1.5  TBSP salt
  • I added 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 TBSP white peppercorns
  • 1 TBSP black peppercorns
  • 1 TBSP rosemary leaves
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

I put them all on to boil. Once it reached a rolling boil, I reduced heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Then let it cool, put it in containers with brine, covered and refrigerated.

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I can’t really tell you how it turns out for a week – after the flavor has had time to fully be a absorbed, so I will update when they are ready.

Update: After 36 hours, they are amazing! They have that combination of sweet, sour and heat that you associate with pepperoncini, but with with about double the heat.