Perfect Guacamole

perfect-guacamole

I usually prefer to purchase my produce from the local farmer’s market. However, avocados don’t grow in these parts, and a girl can’t live without a little avocado on occasion.

So, for a treat, I made myself some guacamole for New Year’s Eve, to go alongside a few Grapefruit Margaritas. I know you may disagree with me on this, but in my humble opinion, the perfect guacamole needs just 5 ingredients: avocado, lime, cilantro, garlic and salt. No crunchy raw onions for my tongue to stumble upon, and definitely no hard, watery greenhouse tomatoes to chew on. And even though many Latin foods are spicy – my perfect guac is a cooling refreshment, to balance the rest of the meal.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you the exact ratios of all these ingredients. Avocados are different sizes, some limes are juicier than others, and salt is definitely not just salt. So, you’ll have to taste as you go. Start with the least amount of lime, garlic and salt, then taste and add – taste and add – until the flavor just explodes in your mouth.

perfect-guacamole-2

Perfect Guacamole

2 avocados
juice of 1/2 a lime (give or take)
a small handful of cilantro, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, or part of a big one (to start out with, then taste and add more as needed)
fine grain sea salt to taste

Cut the avocados in half, take out the seed, then scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl. Pour in some lime juice and add the cilantro. Mash it a bit with a fork, leaving plenty of big chunks.

Finely mince the garlic, then sprinkle the salt on top. Using the side of your chef’s knife, mash the garlic and salt into a paste. Add the paste to the avocado mixture and stir well. Taste. If it needs a little tang, add more lime. If it needs to bite a bit more, add some garlic. And if it just tastes watery and flat, you need more salt. Keep adding and tasting until you get the perfect guacamole.

serves 2

Roasted Carrot & Wild Rice Salad

roasted-carrot-&-wild-rice-salad

An enormous bunch of carrots called out to me last weekend at the market. I had a few in salads, made carrot soup, and somehow was still swimming in them. I like carrots as much as the next girl, but I can only eat so many. It would take quite a bit to inspire me to finish off the bunch. So I brought out the big guns.

This grain salad makes carrots (or you could use squash or sweet potato) sexy. Carrots roasted in garlic, wild rice, toasty hazelnuts, briny feta, maple dressing…whoa. Lay it out room temperature in a grand holiday spread or eat it warm for lunch.

carrot-&-wild-rice

coriander

Roasted Carrot & Wild Rice Salad

1 c. wild rice
4-5 medium carrots, sliced thinly on the diagonal
2-3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
olive oil
fine grain sea salt
1/2 c. hazelnuts, roughly chopped
4 oz. block of feta, cubed or crumbled

1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, or 1/4 ground coriander
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp. maple syrup
1-2 T. walnut or hazelnut oil (or more olive oil)
fine grain sea salt

Preheat oven to 425.

First start the rice by placing it in a heavy bottomed pot covered with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, turn down to low, and simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes. When most of the grains have split open, it is done. You may have to drain off the excess water, then set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the carrots, garlic, a few glugs of oil and a little salt on a baking sheet. Roast until just starting to shrink and turn golden, 25 minutes or so. Check on them every so often and flip at least once.

On a separate baking sheet, spread the hazelnuts in a single layer and slide into the oven under the carrots. These should only take 7-8 minutes to get toasty and fragrant. Then pull them out and set ‘em aside.

Next make the dressing. If you have whole coriander seeds, crush them up. Add the lemon juice and maple syrup and whisk to combine. Whisk in the oil, then salt to taste. You want the dressing to be quite strong tasting, because it will get watered down when tossed in the grains and carrots.

Combine the cooked rice, carrots and most of the nuts and cheese in a serving dish. Pour the dressing over top and toss gently to coat. Top with the rest of the hazelnuts and feta and serve.

serves 4-6

roasted-carrot-&-wild-rice-salad-2

Vanilla Coconut Popcorn

So, did you survive the biggest cooking day of the year? Anyone scald their arm or slice their finger wide open? I’ve been there – done that, but this Thanksgiving I remained safe and whole. And for that I am thankful.

If you’ve had your fill of cooking for the week, I won’t judge if you decide to just pop up some sweet and salty popcorn and call it lunch like I did (shh, don’t tell my mother…) In this super quick snack (meal?) I tossed stovetop popped corn with toasted coconut flakes and a honey/butter/vanilla drizzle. Vegans, I bet coconut oil and agave would be just as magnificent.

Vanilla Coconut Popcorn

1 T. coconut oil (or olive)
1/4 c. corn kernels
1/4 c. large flake coconut (if you can only find the finely flaked stuff, just use a little less)
2 T. butter (or more coconut oil)
2 T. honey (or agave)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
sea salt to taste

Heat the oil and 2 or 3 of the corn kernels in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium or medium high heat. When the kernels pop, add the rest of them to the pot and cover. Let them sit and they’ll begin to pop. Shake the pot every now and again and wait until you don’t hear any popping for about 10 seconds. Turn off the heat and let it sit and finish popping if it wants to.

Meanwhile, place the coconut in a small skillet over medium low. Toast the flakes until they turn a bit brown and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Don’t let them burn! Set them aside.

In the same skillet, heat the butter until melted. Add the honey and vanilla and stir to combine. When it starts to bubble, turn off the heat.

To serve, combine the popcorn and coconut in a bowl, and pour the butter mixture over. Salt to taste. Feel free to double the recipe for a family movie night.

serves 2 for a snack (or one if it’s lunch…)

Thanksgiving Ideas

As a kid, my Thanksgivings consisted of a long drive to and from Grandma’s house, canned green bean and cream of mushroom soup casserole, and a large, rambunctious Italian family yelling at the Cleveland Browns on TV. And two bowls of cereal. One before we left and one after we got home at the end of the day, so that I didn’t starve.

Boy, I do love being an adult, because now I can cook some delicious meals for myself, family and friends. If your Thanksgiving meal plan hasn’t yet been set in stone, here are a few more ideas from around the web.

Kale and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes - from 101 Cookbooks

Mini Apple Galettes - from Naturally Ella

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash - from Love and Lemons

Roasted Butternut and Coconut Soup - from Green Kitchen Stories

Whole Roasted Tandoori Cauliflower – from My New Roots

Garnet Pilaf – from Sprouted Kitchen

Fall Vegetable Slaw with Hot + Sweet Ginger Dressing – from The First Mess

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad – from Happyolks

Cider Punch – from Not Without Salt

Truffled Delicata and Wheatberry Salad - from Me!

What are you making for Thanksgiving?

Chai Spiced Apple Crisps

5 Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water. Each element has 2 corresponding organs and a whole host of other characteristics associated with it. Today, this week, in fact, for the next few years for me, it’s all about the Earth element. It’s organs are the Spleen and the Stomach. It’s in charge of things like nourishment, sowing and reaping. It’s associated with the sweet taste, a fragrant smell and all intellectual pursuits.

So, what does all this have to do with me? (and you?) As a student, I’m pretty much always engaged in some intellectual pursuits as of late. Overthinking, according to Oriental medicine, can lead to weak Spleen qi. To counteract that, while studying, people tend to crave something sweet. (See how these are all riffing off the list of Earth-y things). This is why, so my teacher informs us, many students gain weight. Too much sugar. I’m working on counteracting that with these apple crisps. Just a touch of sugar and spice, but most of the sweetness comes from the apples. They are great to grab as a quick snack while studying, or doing most anything else. And if you want your house to smell like Fall, I recommend baking up a bunch.

The idea for these came from Kimberly’s Cocoa Pear Crisps. I had to make many adjustments as I went along. Maybe because my mandoline doesn’t say 1/8 inch (just thin), maybe the temperature of my oven is off, maybe apples are different than pears…who knows. In the recipe I gave a range of options, just to be on the safe side. So keep your eyes and nose open so you don’t burn anything!

Chai Spiced Apple Crisps

3 apples (I used honeycrisp)
2 T. sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cardamom

Preheat the oven to 275. Slice apples to 1/8 of an inch thickness with a mandoline and pull out any seeds. Lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet or 4, with either a cooling rack or parchment paper set inside. I had to do this in a few batches since I only have a half size stove and 2 baking sheets.

Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl and sprinkle over the apple slices. Slide them into the oven. Check up on them after about 15 minutes. If you are using parchment, flip them once they are shrunken. Keep a close eye out, and remove them as they start to pull away from the pan. It could take 30 minutes, or up to an hour. If you get them too early they’ll be more like fruit leather and not crisp, and if you wait too long you get charcoal.

Let them sit and cool to crisp up.

 

Grilled Eggplant Pizza with Sesame Crust

The other night my boy Darren and I were talking about where to get the best pizza in the neighborhood when he mentioned an old pizza joint that he loved that put sesame seeds in the crust. I’m not sure what else he said, because by that time my brain had already come up with a handful of toppings for said sesame crust. Asian-inspired? Mediterranean? How about Middle Eastern? I ended up combining a few and came up with this gem.

I used Joy the Baker’s version of Jim Lahey’s no knead pizza dough, subbing spelt flour for the whole wheat, and of course adding sesame seeds. Then I grilled some eggplant slices on my grill pan (it’s gotten a bit cold to grill outside – not that I have anywhere to grill outside…), added feta cheese and thin garlic slices. Straight out of the  oven I added fresh cilantro and a dukkah-like seed/spice blend. If you’ve never had dukkah, you’re really missing out! Two of my favorite food bloggers have recipes for it here and here. I totally dig it with a hunk of crusty artisan bread dunked in olive oil, then into the dukkah. With this recipe, though, I simplified – and made a not-quite-traditional version to sprinkle over the pizza for extra flavor. Don’t leave it off or you’ll be sorry!

Also, this crust recipe uses a decent amount of yeast which makes it rise during cooking. Keep this in mind, and if you’re not a huge fan of thick doughy crust, roll it out really thin. And sine it makes enough for two pizzas, you can freeze or refrigerate the extra dough and make a super quick easy dinner later on.

Grilled Eggplant Pizza with Sesame Crust

2 3/4 c. bread flour
1 c. spelt flour
2 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
3/4 tsp. fine grain sea salt
3/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. sesame seeds
1 1/2 c. warm water

1 small eggplant, sliced in 1/4″ to 1/2 ” slices
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
olive oil
2-3 oz. crumbled feta
2-3 garlic cloves, sliced as thinly as you can get ‘em

2 T. pine nuts
1 T.sesame seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. sea salt

a big handful of cilantro, chopped

Combine the flours, yeast, salt, sugar and 1/4 c. seeds in a large bowl. Pour the water over and stir until it all comes together into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for at least 2 hours.

Lay the eggplant slices out in a colander and sprinkle 1 tsp. salt over them. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes to drain the excess water.

At least 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 and place a baking stone, or an upside down baking sheet in there to heat up.

Pat the eggplant pieces dry and coat them in a thin layer of olive oil. Lay them out on a grill pan (or in a skillet if you don’t have a grill pan) and cook them for 10 minutes until they get nice brown marks. Set aside.

Lay a piece of parchment out on your work surface, and with wet hands, transfer the dough onto it.  Divide the dough in half and wrap the half you’re not using in plastic wrap. Put it in a plastic bag and into the fridge or freezer, depending on how long you need it to keep. Take the other half and roll it out using a flour dusted rolling pin. Remember, keep it extra thin because it will rise more in the oven.

Top the pizza with more olive oil, the eggplant slices, garlic slices, and the crumbled feta. Transfer the pizza, parchment and all, to the baking stone/sheet in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set.

While the pizza’s in the oven, toast the pine nuts in a small dry skillet for about 1 minute, then add the sesame seeds and all the rest of the seeds. Toast for another 2 minutes, until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and lightly crush.

Slide the pizza out of the oven and slice. Top with the cilantro and the crushed seeds and serve.

serves 2-3

Summer Squash Mini Flatbread

My plans for Labor Day involved a frittata, some “Mars” grapes, a big loaf of fresh baked bread, and a picnic near the water. Unfortunately my picnic companion didn’t get home until after sunset, and I wasted 5 cups of beautiful local spelt flour trying to rescue a wad of dough and make it into bread. We ended up with a late, intimate dinner of room temperature eggs and some biscuits, at the dining table. Still good, but not quite what we had in mind.

After that bread fiasco I decided that the “pizza crust” for this recipe had to be easy, no rise, and flatbread-y. I used a recipe Jeanine posted a while back  to make some yogurt flatbread. Of course, I had no more spelt flour, so I had to use the whole grain pastry flour I had on hand. Between that and the 110% humidity we’ve got right now, I ended up using almost double the amount of flour called for. Still, it ended up turning out ok {phew!} so I’m thinking it might be time to go back to the drawing board on that bread loaf. Be on the lookout for the recipe. Eventually.

This recipe may look a bit time consuming, but a lot of the time is waiting around, checking email (or taking pictures) and it’s not too difficult. Plus, you end up with a no-fail, mini pizza kind of deal, with homemade crust. I used the pesto I had leftover from this, but you can use your favorite pesto here.

Summer Squash Mini Flatbread

Dough:
1/2 – 1 c. flour (spelt or whole wheat would be best, but I used whold wheat pastry)
1/2 c. yogurt
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Toppings:
1/2 c. pesto
1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 small summer squash or zucchini, sliced paper thin
a few oz. goat cheese (optional)
chopped fresh basil, for garnish

Combine all the dough ingredients in a bowl and mix until combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so until smooth. Start with 1/2 of flour, then add more as needed to get rid of any stickiness. Wrap in plastic wrap and slip into the fridge for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour.

While you’re waiting, slice those onions. Heat the oil in a skillet over low heat and cook the onions until brown and sweet, this could take up to 30 minutes, but don’t skimp, you’ll love that caramelized flavor. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Once the dough is ready, unwrap it and place it on that floured surface again. Divide in half, then in half again to form 4 hunks of dough. Roll each piece out with a floured rolling pin and place them on the baking sheet. Spread some pesto on each piece, then top with the caramelized onions, squash and goat cheese. Slide into the oven for about 15 minutes, until the crust gets the faintest hint of brown.

Sprinkle each piece with some of the basil, slice and serve.

serves 2 as a main, 4 as an appetizer

Black Bean Cakes with Roasted Tomato Coulis

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I’ve been here. It feels like no time has passed, yet it’s been so long. I spent most of that time visiting my Papa on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Clean air, hot sun and quick jaunts on the boat to visit empty island beaches. And to top it all off, I was able to cook for a few guests in a big, fancy, state-of-the-art kitchen. I cooked them this dish.

The first night, a few of Dad’s friends came over for dinner. About halfway through dicing the red pepper I diced into my finger pretty good. “How bad is it?” they asked. “Uh, got it pretty good,” I replied. I took a seat – I do have a tendency to faint in situations like this – and the damage was assessed. “Looks like we’ve got to go to the Emergency Room.”

So, after an hour and some fancy tape (no stitches!) we arrived back home – still without dinner. That night we had microwave dinners. However, we tried the whole thing again the next night, and success! Well, kinda. I actually wasn’t able to form the cakes myself, since the cut has to stay clean and dry, but I had help, and they tasted good – isn’t that what counts?

We had this with some rice on the side for dinner, but you could just as easily make smaller cakes and serve them as appetizers with the coulis as a dipping sauce. And letting the mixture sit is, unfortunately, very necessary if you want cakes not crumbles. I used these cute little heirloom tomatoes I found – but any fresh tomatoes will work.

Black Bean Cakes with Roasted Tomato Coulis

1-1 1/2 lbs. of tomatoes, quartered (or halved if small)
1 yellow onion, quartered
olive oil
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (1 15 oz. can, drained)
1 large egg
3/4 c. cornmeal, divided
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. chipotle powder
1 tsp. sea salt, divided
1 T. maple syrup, or sweetener of choice
to garnish, chopped fresh cilantro and feta, crumbled or cubed

Preheat the oven to 400. Prepare the tomatoes and onions and spread on a baking sheet. Pour on a little oil and toss to coat. Make sure the tomatoes are sitting cut side up so the juices stay inside. Pop the sheet into the oven for 30 minutes.

Mash the black beans with a fork or potato masher. Mix in the egg, 1/4 of the cornmeal, the pepper, cumin, chipotle and 1/2 tsp. salt. Let it sit for 30 minutes to soak up the egg.

A minute or two before you’re ready to start frying the cakes, heat some oil in a skillet over medium heat. The oil should cover the bottom of the skillet in a thick layer.  Spread the rest of the cornmeal on a plate.

Take about 2 tablespoons or so of the black bean mixture and roll it between your palms. Flatten in a bit, then coat in the cornmeal. Place it in the skillet and cook about 5 minutes on each side. Repeat with the rest of the mixture, I got 8 smallish cakes out of it.

While the cakes are cooking, transfer the roasted tomatoes and onions to a food processor. Add the other 1/2 tsp. of salt, maple syrup, and a little drizzle of oil, and process for a few minutes, until you get a smooth sauce.

To serve, spread some coulis on a plate, top with a few cakes. Drizzle a little more sauce on top, and garnish with the cilantro and feta.

makes 8 cakes.

 

Socca with Smoky Eggplant Spread

Usually when Mama comes to town, we splurge on a few fancy dinners. It’s always fun trying out new restaurants around the city. But this year, by the last night, we were a little tired of all that richness, and instead had a picnic. Hummus, cheese and crackers, fruit and of course a little Prosecco were on the menu. While I usually pick up local fruit, this time it was late at night, a spur of the moment decision, so we were stuck with supermarket fruit. An experiment took place – one “conventional” fuji apple versus an organic fuji. We sliced into both and ate them side by side. We were all agreed that the organic apple was about 3 times more flavorful and sweet, with a thinner, less chewy skin. They were both crisp and firm, but the organic was juicier. I’ve heard people mention that organic produce tastes better, and now I know.

What this has to do with socca, well, I don’t know. It would be good picnic fare. It makes a great appetizer. Or you can go crazy and just eat it for dinner like I did.

Socca, for the uninitiated, is a flatbread made from chickpea flour (also known as garbanzo bean flour, or besan at an Indian market). It’s crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and while delicious on it’s own, it’s really fantastic as a base for pretty much anything. This socca pizza looks especially inspiring.

While it’s not completely necessary, it’s best to make the batter ahead of time and let it sit. It helps keep it super creamy. And be sure not to scrimp on the oil, we don’t want any of that crispy goodness sticking to the pan, do we?

Socca with Smoky Eggplant Spread

1 c. chickpea flour
1 c. water
2 T. olive oil (plus more for the pan)
1/2 tsp. sea salt

Smoky Eggplant Spread:
about 1-1 1/2 lb. eggplant (I had four little ones, I think one medium eggplant would do), halved
2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
olive oil
2 T. tahini
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 c. water

toasted pine nuts and chopped cilantro for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400.

Mix the flour, 1 c. water, 2 T. oil and salt in a bowl. Set aside. (you want this mixture to sit at least 30 minutes).

Lay the eggplant on a baking sheet and brush olive oil over the cut side. Turn them cut side down, add the garlic to the pan, and bake for 30 minutes, or until browned and slightly collapsed. The garlic may brown before that, so keep an eye out, and take it out early if needed.

About 10 minutes before the eggplant is done, slide a cast iron skillet (or other ovenproof skillet or tart pan, etc.) into the oven to preheat.

When the eggplant is done, take it out to cool, then turn the oven up to 450 and remove the skillet.

Pour a tablespoon or two of olive oil into the skillet, then follow with the socca batter. Slide the full skillet back into the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until set (depends on how big the skillet is, and how thick the bread).

While it’s in the oven, peel the garlic (wait until it is cook enough to handle) and place it, along with the eggplant, in the food processor. Add the rest of the spread ingredients and process until smooth.

When the socca is done, move it to the broiler to brown for a few minutes before taking it out. Keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

Run a spatula under the socca to loosen it from the pan, then slide it onto a cutting surface.  Spread the eggplant mixture on top and cut into wedges. Sprinkle with pine nuts and cilantro and serve.

serves 2 for dinner, 4-6 as an appetizer

 

Curried Pea Sandwiches with Coconut-Cilantro Chutney

Dear Mr. Bittman,

Smashed peas spread between two layers of bread does not make an easy sandwich to eat.

Love, Elizabeth

This week’s Food Matters Project recipe is for Tea Sandwiches. One of the variations Bittman gives is for gingered peas. Since I’m still on my Indian food kick, I decided to curry them instead of ginger them, and whipped up a little chutney for good measure. These really made a great lunch for me – and the components can be made ahead so you’ve got lunch all week – but they come with a warning label: Eating this sandwich may cause smashed peas to land on table, lap or floor. Consume with caution.

I used a large flake dried unsweetened coconut for the chutney, but if you can only find the small flakes, decrease the amount to 1/2 cup. Sweetened coconut, unfortunately, won’t really work here.  And for the bread, what you see here is a toasted, sprouted grain bread. When grains are sprouted they digest like a vegetable, which makes it easier in the tummy, and not so starchy in the mouth. I keep mine in the freezer since I don’t eat a lot of bread, and just toast it when I need it. If you like your sandwich bread soft and squishy, you can use untoasted whole grain bread instead. This recipe makes more chutney than you will use for these sandwiches, but luckily you can stir the rest into a bowl of rice, top a fried egg, thin it out and use as a dressing, or garnish some soup.

Curried Pea Sandwiches with Coconut-Cilantro Chutney

Curried Peas:
1 lb. shell peas (~ 1 c. after shelling)
1 T. virgin coconut oil
2 tsp. curry powder
2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Coconut-Cilantro Chutney:
3/4 c. large flake dried coconut (or 1/2 c. small flake)
3/4 c. tightly packed fresh cilantro
1/4 c. raw cashews
1 green chili, de-stemmed, de-seeded and roughly chopped
1 in. knob of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp. sweetener of choice (honey, agave, sucanant, brown sugar, etc.)
juice of 1 lime
3/4 tsp. sea salt

8 slices of thin, whole grain sandwich bread (I used sprouted grain)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Add the curry, a few pinches of salt and stir for 30 seconds. Add the peas, and stir to coat them in the curry oil. After a minute or two add the garlic, and cook for another few minutes until the peas are bright green. Watch that the garlic doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and smash with a potato masher or a fork. You can leave a few whole. Set aside.

Meanwhile, add all the chutney ingredients to a food processor, along with 1/4 c. water, and process. If it’s dry, add a bit more water, up to a 1/4 cup more, until the consistency is to your liking. If you want your bread toasted, now is the time.

To assemble, spread a thin layer of chutney on one side of each of the bread slices. Spoon the peas over half of the slices. Top with the rest of the slices of bread. Cut into triangles and serve.

serves 4.