Category: Grains

Pilaf as a Main

August 30, 2011

Randy and I have sort of a don’t ask/don’t tell approach to my cookbook collection.  As in, don’t ask me if I have bought any new ones lately and I don’t tell you.  Sometimes eyebrows are raised.  Sometimes mental measurements are taken on the diminishing space on the “overflow” shelf.  Sometimes heads shake.  As in, no, no, no, not another one.

But here is the thing.  I am kind of a girly girl.  I like to dress up and I like nice things.  I could very easily be collecting shoes or purses or expensive perfumes.  Instead I collect cookbooks.  Relatively inexpensive and something I use every day.  Whenever he starts to comment I remind him, oh so gently, that his life is greatly enriched by the fact that we are surrounded by so many wonderful books with so many wonderful recipes and so much of the wonderful food I make comes from these wonderful books.

Tonight our dinner came from one of my newest acquisitions – Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume.  The book was written by the chef of an Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in London’s Mayfair neighborhood.  In bookstores, I pick up Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cookbooks all the time – those are the cuisines I miss most from our year in London and is difficult to find decent restaurants in Seattle.  Most of the books I peruse have too many meat dishes for me to buy them.  Although this book has a meat and poultry chapter, as well as one for fish, there are still so many tempting recipes for me to try in those pages.  And not just mezze.

I tell you this because the book happened to be sitting near us as we ate and Randy put down his fork (put down his fork!), picked up the book (picked up a cookbook!), and started reading through the recipes, voicing aloud the ones that sounded good to him (!!!).  In other words, this dish was that good.  If you know Randy, and if you read here often enough you probably feel like you do, unsolicited praise means a dish is out of sight.  Actually picking up a book and requesting dishes to be made out of it it is unheard of.

This pilaf is the third thing I have made out of the book (the soup I made last night is next up on the blog), and all have been incredible.  And in need of serious tweaking.  I’m not sure if this is the result of a restaurant chef writing a home cookbook or if something happened when the British measurements got transcribed into American ones, but if I didn’t know a thing or two about cooking, I probably would have thrown the book across the kitchen in frustration.  Of course, I am far from an expert about this kind of cuisine, but I do know that 1½ cups of rice and 3 ounces of pasta will need much more than 2 cups of liquid to turn out all right.

So, I’ve tweaked.  And I’m giving you the tweaked recipe.  I changed the proportions, I used spaghetti instead of vermicelli (angel hair is what I normally use but my little market up the street didn’t have it and what’s more, we both liked the thicker strands of pasta in there).  I added spice where there was none and some additional shallots.  This dish is probably meant to be a side dish along side some lamb or chicken.  We ate it as a main course alongside the previously mentioned soup and some perfect steamed green beans.  The author says it is street food, Turkish-style.  Both Randy and I say it is food we could eat everyday and be completely happy.

One Year Ago:  Vanilla Cake with Strawberry Cream Frosting
Two Years Ago:  Mixed Berry Spoon Cake

Pilaf with Vermicelli, Chickpeas, Apricots, and Pistachios
Adapted from Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume
Serves 4-6

I have a large spice cabinet and I actually have something called Turkish spice mix, bought at a farmers’ market.  This dish needs something so, assuming you do not have Turkish spice, you can add pinches of cumin, coriander, even a bit of curry.  Fennel would be fine too.  And lots of black pepper. 

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 shallots, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron
2 tsp. Turkish spice mix
3 ounces vermicelli pasta (or angel hair or spaghetti), broken into 1-inch lengths
1½ cups Arborio rice
1 cup cooked chickpeas (I used canned)
½ cup chopped dried apricots
4 cups vegetable stock or water
½ cup coarsely chopped pistachios
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Melt the butter, then add the shallots and a large pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until starting to turn golden, about 4 minutes.  Stir in saffron and the spices.  Add the vermicelli and stir continuously until the pasta starts to turn golden.  It burns easily so be careful.  Add the rice, chickpeas, and apricots and stir to coat the rice with the fat and the spices.  Pour in stock (or water) and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid.  Cook over low heat for 20 minutes.  Check for water a couple of times as you might need to add more.

When the rice is tender, add the pistachios and turn off the heat.  Cover the saucepan with a clean kitchen towel and replace the lid.  Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes – this will allow the the rice to cook further and become more fluffy.

One more thought:  My dish was not particularly fluffy.  I didn’t mind, it was stick to your ribs hearty which is nice for a main course.  Arborio rice, the one that was called for in this recipe and which is also used to make risotto, is starchy and heavier than a basmati.  I imagine that if you use basmati or jasmine, you will end up with a fluffier pilaf.  Let me know if you try?

Double Quinoa Salad

June 23, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Scottsdale to learn about Thermador and the amazing range they are unveiling in August.  I expected, with about 20 food bloggers coming, that they would feed us well.  And then I remembered the lunch I was served at BlogHer Food a couple of years ago.  If you were reading this or any blog around that time, you might recall that lunch was a three course meal put together by Bertolli’s Pasta.  Yes, they served food bloggers frozen pasta.  So, while I hoped Thermador would have planned a bit better, I was cautious.

It turns out there was no need for worry.  Our dinners out and the breakfast and lunch they served us on site were nothing short of amazing.  In addition to incredibly delicious and well-prepared food, there was plenty on hand for the two vegetarians in the group and also for our vegan.  I was very impressed.

One of the salads that the group prepared for lunch starred perfectly plump edamame and red quinoa, things that I would never have put together.  I took some on my plate with about 10 other things and truly enjoyed each thing I tasted.  I came home with that salad in my head and determined to recreate it.  But, seeing as I only had a few bites, I had to rely on my insufficient memory which put pine nuts in there as well as feta cheese.  (It seems neither of which were in the original.)  I found fresh fava beans in my market so opted to use those instead of edamame and I also decided to make the salad more focussed around the quinoa than the beans.  I also put in very little in the way of the dressing and added tomatoes for color and acid.

The result?  Basically nothing like what I had in Scottsdale but incredibly tasty.  Sometimes all you need is a little inspiration to create something delicious.

One Year Ago: Flo’s Chocolate Snaps
Two Years Ago: Feta Radish Spread
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Dulce de Leche Bars

Quinoa Salad with Fava Beans, Pine Nuts, and Feta Cheese
Dana Treat Original
Serves 6-8 as a side

I always toast my pine nuts in the toaster oven.  Regardless of how you do it, you will need to watch them very carefully because they burn in an instant.

1 pound fava beans
½ cup black quinoa
½ cup white quinoa
2 tbsp. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbps. fresh mint, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
6 ounces feta cheese, cut into small cubes
6 ounces cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Using a paring knife, split open the fava bean pods and extract the beans.  Discard the pods.  Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add the fava beans.  Boil for 2 minutes, then drain.  When cool enough to handle, pop open the skin and take out the bright green bean.  Place in a large bowl.

Bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add both of the quinoas, give a quick stir, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low.  Cook for 20 minutes, then check the pan.  If there is still liquid in the pan, cover and cook for another 5 minutes.  Allow to cool to room temperature, then add to the bowl with the fava beans.

Stir in the olive oil, lemon juice, and mint along with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Gently stir in the pine nuts and the feta cheese, followed by the tomatoes.  Mix just to combine.  Adjust the seasoning by adding more olive oil, lemon juice, salt or pepper to taste.

(Will keep for at least 3 days, covered in the refrigerator.  The mint will lose its color but the flavor will improve.)

Meyer Lemon Risotto Cakes

January 24, 2011

Sometimes I am struck by the fact that having a food blog is kind of weird.  I take pictures of my dinners and my salads and my treats and I write about those things.  I put the pictures out there for anyone to see.  I love doing it and it is a big part of my life, but imagine explaining it to someone who has never read a food blog or doesn’t think finding the perfect chocolate cake is important.  Weird.

I bring this up because if I didn’t have a food blog, I would have been really happy about this dinner.  As is stands, I was happy but also crestfallen because I didn’t pay that much attention to measurements.  This is one of those “doing the very best with leftovers” and “planning ahead ” kind of meals – neither of which, I have no problem admitting, I am any good at.   In my haste, I did not weigh or measure or really even eyeball anything.  But because our dinner was good, because I got some decent photos, and because there was a truffle involved, I am going to soldier on.

Here is the deal.  I made risotto.  I had risotto left over.  I had a husband out of town.  I like to make dinners on Sundays, especially when he has been out of town, but am usually kind of worn out from the weekend.  In other words, I prefer not to start from square one.  In my foggy brain, I managed to realize early in the week that I would probably have leftover risotto and so bought things to compliment it.  Then I remembered that I don’t like leftover risotto unless it takes another form.  Like risotto cakes.

I stopped eating meat when I was 16 but I ate fish for another 4 years after that.  I remember going to the Bay Café on Lopez Island where they almost always have two fish specials.  One is salmon and one is halibut.  One has a side of rice cakes and the other has a side of potato cakes.  I would choose whichever fish had rice cakes as the side.  The Bay Café’s rice cakes, super savory, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, were to die for.  Once I really paid attention to that fact – that my diet was much more about side dishes than the “protein” – making the switch to full vegetarian was very easy.

I loved rice cakes then and I still love them.  In fact, I think I will always make more risotto than I need just so I can make these.  I make this very easy on myself by making sure I have very cold risotto and using a 3-inch biscuit cutter to mold them.  I find that little tool works best but I have also used a stainless steel measuring cup with good results.  If you try that, just run a little water in it every other cake or so, making sure they come out easily.

You can certainly pan-fry them either in olive oil or butter.  You will get more browning and a crunchier crust.  But the healthy me just can’t pan-fry something when I know I can bake it with almost as good results.  20 minutes in a 375º oven does a pretty nice job.

I was looking forward to this dinner almost as soon as the first round of the original risotto was in its resting place in the refrigerator.  And then I bought a truffle at the farmers’ market.  Did you know that in addition to having chanterelles and matsuke and lobster and porcini mushrooms growing in our half of the state, we also have truffles?  This little mushroom made me very happy.  If you have ever bought Italian or French truffles, you might be amazed that this little guy, the size of a chocolate truffle, cost me only $3.  Now, my first black truffle was shaved over a plate of homemade pasta in Paris on my 34th birthday.  This Washington guy did not have the potency but did have a nice flavor.  I would say it certainly brought a special something to a plate of leftovers.

Meyer Lemon Risotto Cakes
Dana Treat Original

If you make the risotto recipe below, you can serve 2 with it and then 2 making cakes with the leftovers another day.  Approximately.  You can, of course, use this method with any leftover risotto.  The mushrooms I served alongside can be found here.

Olive oil
1 large shallot, finely diced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
5 cups vegetable stock
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
Zest and juice of 2 Meyer lemons
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parsley or chives to garnish

Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Turn the heat to low and keep warm.

Put a wide shallow pot over medium heat.  Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot and then add the shallots along with a large pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, until they start to soften, but before they brown.  Add the rice and stir well to coat the rice with oil and the shallots.  Stir in the thyme and the lemon zest (not the juice).  Pour in the wine, another large pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.  Stir constantly until the wine is absorbed.

Ladle one cup of stock into the pot and stir constantly until it is absorbed.  Ladle in another two cups, give it a vigorous stir as you bring the rice to a boil.  Turn the heat to low and cover the pot.  Allow to cook for 15 minutes, stirring it twice during that time.

Remove the cover and add another cup of stock plus the lemon juice and peas.  Stir vigorously until the stock is absorbed.  When it is about half absorbed, add the Parmesan and continue to stir.  At this point, you may not need any more stock.  If the rice is too al dente for your taste, add a bit more and continue to cook.  Also, if you prefer your risotto brothier, add more.  The  risotto will continue to thicken as it sits so if you aren’t serving it right away, add more liquid than you think it will need to prevent it from drying out.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve in wide bowls garnished with chives and more Parmesan.  Allow the unused portion to cool completely, then cover and place in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

For the Cakes
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a 3-inch (or smaller) biscuit cutter on the baking sheet and pack it full of the cold risotto.  Smooth the top.  Remove the biscuit cutter and repeat with the remaining risotto.  (If you are using a measuring cup, you will need to pop the cake out of the cup.)

Sprinkle each risotto cake with a nice dusting of Parmesan and bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and the cake is heated through, about 25 minutes.  Garnish with shavings of fresh truffle – if you are lucky.

Beans and Rice

December 27, 2010

Beans and rice.  What does that mean to you?  Meager food?  Hangover meal?  Food you cook when you have no money?  Side dish only?

I myself love beans and rice and have no problem making a meal out of it.  And not because it’s cheap.  Of course, it can’t be just white rice and canned re-fried beans, although if you put enough salsa and guacamole on a dish like that, I would not complain.  Black beans have a special place in my heart because they starred in one of the first “real” meals I ever cooked.  (Cue the story music…)

The year after I graduated college, I moved back to Seattle and lived at home.  I got a crappy job – one that I certainly did not need my brand new shiny degree for, and tried to plug back into the Seattle scene after four years away.  The advantages to living at home were many, not the least of which is that I got to eat my mom’s cooking.  She has always been a good cook, but during the time I was away at college, she also converted to vegetarianism.  It opened so many doors for her creativity and her food got really good.  My mom is territorial in her kitchen, so I was not helping her prepare any meals, but I think I learned by osmosis.  And I certainly learned to deeply appreciate the act of sitting around the table as a family and eating good, healthy, homemade food.

Just as I found an apartment and was preparing to move out, my parents took a trip to Europe.  My brother Michael, who is eight years younger than me, was still in high school and they asked that I stay with him and make sure he didn’t starve.  At the same time, my college friend Darcie was visiting and another couple from college was coming through town as well.  I realized that we all needed to eat and it was time to get in the kitchen.  So I did what my mom always did.  I got out her notebooks and cookbooks and spread them out on the table.  I chose three dishes that sounded good to me and I wrote up my shopping list based on the ingredients needed.  I shopped for the groceries and made the food, all the while being mildly surprised at how natural it all felt.  I lived in Paris for a semester during college and cooked for myself, but it was just me and I made the same four things over and over.  This time there was more responsibility and it came easily.  More importantly, everyone loved the food.  I realized that I could cook.

That little boost of confidence is what got me on the path to loving food and loving cooking.  I remember one of those first three dishes well and it starred black beans that had been simmered low and slow on the stove.  Up until that point, I had not known that beans could taste that good or could be something I craved.  The rest of the dish was a little odd so it did not stay in my repertoire, but I’ve been making similar beans ever since.

I make a fair amount of Mexican food because both Randy and I love it.  (In fact I am teaching Vegetarian Mexican Food class in March.  Find out more here.)  Whatever I make as a main, I always make beans because they are truly my favorite part of the meal.  I have eaten my share of either boring or excessively greasy restaurant rice, so I enjoy making it more to my taste at home.  Last week, I didn’t have the energy to take on burritos or enchiladas but really needed some beans and rice, so I made the rice heartier.  It was my intention to roast two poblano peppers, chop them up, and use them in the rice, but mine had gone south.  I wanted some kind of spicy bite so I opted for canned chiles instead.  If you happen to have poblanos in your refrigerator (doesn’t everyone?), I think they would be awesome here.

Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to tell me what your favorite holiday gift was.  You can win some awesome Vosges chocolate.  Check it out here.

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter (or Caramel) Candy Mini-Brownie Cups
Two Years Ago: Penne with Greek Style Vegetable Marinade

Hearty Beans and Rice
Dana Treat Original
Serves 4-6

Epazote is a delicious herb and can easily be found in the Penzey’s web site, but it is not necessary here.  For the beans, you control their consistency.  I like mine a little soupy but you can make yours drier by not adding as much water.

For the rice
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried epazote (optional)
1½ tsp. ground cumin
1 7-ounce can diced chile peppers, drained
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup long grain rice
2 cups water
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
¼ cup “lite” sour cream
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt

For the beans
Vegetable or canola oil
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. cumin
2 cans black beans, drained

Serve with guacamole and salsa.

Prepare the rice
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly oil an 8×8 glass or ceramic baking dish.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onion and a large pinch of salt, and sauté for 5 minutes, until soft but not brown.  Add the garlic cloves, oregano, epazote, and cumin and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often.  Add the chiles and corn, and rice and give it a good stir to coat the grains with the fat and the vegetables.  Pour in the water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook undisturbed for 20 minutes.  Remove the cover, fluff the rice with a fork, then cover for another 5 minutes.

Remove the cover and carefully stir in the cheese, sour cream, and cilantro, trying not to mush the rice too much.  Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.  Scrape the rice mixture into the prepared pan, cover with foil, and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 minutes.

Prepare the beans
Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and then add the onions and red bell pepper plus a large pinch of salt.  Sauté for 5 minutes, until soft but not brown, then add the garlic and the cumin.  Cook for 3 minutes, stirring often.  Add the beans and about ½ a cup of water and turn the heat to medium-low.  Cook, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary, until the beans are hot and a bit soupy, about 20 minutes.  Season to taste.

Inspired by The New Yorker

December 1, 2010

The New Yorker has been a part of my life ever since I can remember.  My parents, transplanted New Yorkers, have subscribed to it ever since they left The City in the early 70’s.  As a child, I would look through it every week, trying to find the Nina’s in the Hirschfield drawings and trying to understand the jokes that studded most of the pages.  As I got older, I would read the movie reviews and realized that if Pauline Kael actually liked something, you had to go see it asap.  I learned that some of the best short fiction was published in those pages and some of the best writing in this country, period.

When I moved into my first apartment after college, my mother’s housewarming gifts to me were a set of pots and a subscription to The New Yorker.  That was in 1993 and I have been getting it ever since.  Even in my dark days of exhaustion that comes with having newborn babies, I made every effort to read that magazine.  I may not have read anything else for four years, but I was always more or less caught up with The New Yorker.

Once a year, the magazine comes out with a food issue.  As you can imagine, it is heaven for me.  Amazing writing about food – I treasure every article.  This year, I was captivated by a recollection written by Chang-Rae Lee about growing up in a Korean household in New Rochelle.  In addition to telling a wonderful and heartfelt story, the writing in this article is extraordinary.  I am a good and fast reader.  I find that, these days, I skim a lot of what I read.  Sometimes I happen upon something that is so well-written that I calm down, slow down and savor.  I did that while reading Away by Amy Bloom while on vacation and I did it with this article.  There are some beautiful passages in there and the story really affected me.  (If you are a fiction lover and have not read Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, please go buy it from your local bookstore.  It shot right up into my top 5 favorite books I have ever read.)

This may sound trite, but one of the things that stuck with me from that article is the following:

“She cooks an egg for me each morning without fail.  I might also have it with fried Spam or cereal or a slice of American cheese, which I’ll unwrap myself and fold over into sixteen rough-edged pieces, but always there is a fried egg, sunny-side up, cooked in dark sesame oil that pools on the surface of the bubbled-up white in the pattern of an archipelago; try one sometime, laced with soy and sweet chili sauce along with steamed rice, the whole plate flecked with nori.  It’ll corrupt you for all time.”

OK.  Corrupt me.  I could not get that idea out of my head.

In general the words “rice bowl” are intoxicating to me in the way that the word “chateaubriand” might be to someone else.  I had to make this.  But.  I also had to change it, add to it.  Make it more about the rice and less about the egg.  As I started to create my version of the dish, I realized it was starting to look an awful lot like this rice bowl and so I went off in a slightly different direction.

Here is what I ended up with.  Brown rice studded with scallions, grated fresh ginger, sesame seeds, and avocado chunks.  Tofu and red pepper marinated and baked in a mixture of tamari, sesame oil, sherry, and kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce).  That sunny side-up egg is cooked in sesame oil like described and the whole thing is topped with a healthy dose of sweet chili sauce and all together it tasted nothing like the stuffings and mashed things of last week.  In other words, it was awesome.

A few notes.  I cook brown rice like I cook pasta and you should too.  It will not end up mushy if you make it this way.  Instructions are below.  I really like the flavor of tamari, so I try to use that when using soy sauce.  You can use whatever you have on hand.  Kecap manis, as I mentioned, is a type of sweet and very thick soy sauce, and I have fallen in love with the flavor.  It adds a lot here, but if you don’t have any, you can just add another tablespoon of tamari and a tablespoon of honey to the marinade instead.  (The dish will no longer be vegan in that case.)

One Year Ago:  Holly B’s Stollen
Two Years Ago:  Breton Apple Pie

Brown Rice Bowl with Soy Sauce Marinated Tofu and a Fried Egg

Dana Treat Original
Serves 3-4

For the Tofu
10 oz. extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch squares
3 tbsp. tamari, or other soy sauce, divided
1 tbsp. sesame oil, plus more for frying the eggs
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1-2 tbsp. kecap manis

For the rice
1 cup short-grain brown rice
2 tbsp. sesame seeds
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
1 small avocado, cut into ½-inch chunks
3-4 eggs
Sweet chili sauce (such as Sambal Olek)

Make the tofu
In a medium baking dish, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the tamari, sesame oil, sherry, and kecap manis.  Add the tofu and the red bell pepper and gently stir to coat all the pieces with the marinade.  Allow to sit for at least half an hour and up to 8 hours.  Cover and refrigerate if longer than 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Place the baking dish in the oven and bake, stirring occasionally, until almost all the marinade has been absorbed, about 40 minutes.  Set aside.

Make the rice
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the rice and cook, keeping at a boil, until tender but with a slight bite, about 35 minutes.  Taste often to make sure you don’t overcook it.  Drain and allow to cool just slightly.  In a bowl, combine the cooked rice with the remaining 1 tablespoon of tamari, the sesame seeds, grated ginger, the white and pale green part of the scallions, and the avocado.  Use a rubber spatula to stir so that it doesn’t become too mushy.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Carefully break the eggs into the skillet, trying to make sure they don’t touch one another.  Turn the heat to medium-low and cover.  Cook until the whites of the egg are set but the yolk is still soft, about 5 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove the eggs to a paper towel-lined plate.

Finish the dish
Place a portion of rice in a bowl.  Top with pieces of the tofu and red pepper.  Lay a fried egg on top.  Garnish with the dark part of the scallions, chili paste, and more tamari to taste.

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