Gourmet Veggie Mama

The easiest gourmet meal you’ll ever make

We had a fairly action-packed evening around these parts (by recent standards) yesterday. After a quick run by the farm stand after Nora woke up from her afternoon nap, we picked up the hubby and headed straight to Ridge for their First Friday tasting. After enjoying some lovely wines and tasty nosh and chasing a toddler around the grounds, we headed home in time for baby dinner (baked tofu, peas, and pears baked with vanilla and cinnamon). Add in some pre-bedtime crankies due to teething (molars, ugh), and we were all spent.

After all that, we needed something quick and easy for grown-up dinner tonight. Normally we’d probably turn to take-out, but, as luck would have it, I had some ravioli in the freezer.

Score.

I figured out awhile back that, instead of just pairing store-bought ravioli with store-bought sauce, it’s way better to toss the pasta in some olive oil or butter and top it with some combination of veggies, nuts, and/or cheese. It takes only a little more effort, and the result is a much better (and healthier) dinner.

Yum.

This time around, I tossed the ravioli with a little olive oil and a dash of black truffle oil (purchased at Trader Joe’s for insanely cheap), sautéed some baby spinach to top it off, and finished the dish with toasted walnut pieces and a sprinkle of fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper. It was definitely a winner, and the most time-consuming part of the whole meal was waiting for the pasta water to boil!

I have to say, this is a pretty good trick to have up my sleeve on a hectic day. What’s your favorite no-fuss meal, fancy or not?

CSA day!

Our regular CSA* share ended at Thanksgiving (the season runs from March through November), and I have been feeling culinarily adrift since then. But, today marked the beginning of a new winter quarter for the farm down the street from us, and I couldn’t be happier!

* For the uninitiated, CSA stands for “community supported agriculture,” and means that you buy a share of the produce expected for a season from a local farmer. We pay up-front for the share, and then pick up a weekly box of veggies and fruit throughout the season.

The bounty.

This week, we ended up with mizuna, butternut squash, salad mix, garlic, Meyer lemons, oranges, baby red pac choi, kale, and purple kohlrabi.

The CSA box is the anchor of my kitchen creativity. I tend to plan the week’s meals around what we get in the box. This coming week, I’ll probably do some sort of stir-fry with the pac choi, kohlrabi, and/or mizuna, a tart with the Meyer lemons, maybe beans and greens with the kale and/or kohlrabi greens, and I’ll probably let the butternut squash sit on the counter for a bit, since they keep well and get sweeter over time.

Joining a CSA program is a great way to support local small farmers, plus you get ridiculously fresh produce. Full Circle Farm told me they harvest produce for their CSA the very morning of pick-up — it doesn’t get much fresher than that unless it’s from your own garden! Plus, the variety forces me to be creative. I cook based on what I get in the box,* rather than searching for recipes and then shopping for the ingredients at the grocery store. I’m pretty sure it saves us a lot of money, too.

* It helps to have a database searchable by ingredient, like the one Mariquita Farm has put together. Of course, you can always search by ingredient in your cookbooks (use the index), or trusty ol’ Google often does the trick for me when I’m coming up short elsewhere.

I guess I’m up on my soapbox today, but if you don’t subscribe to a CSA program, you should! Local Harvest has more info and even a tool to find CSAs close to you, so check it out.

Chambord Caipirovska

The last time hubby made a BevMo run, I asked him to get a small bottle of Chambord. In browsing for Cocktail Thursday, I have come across a number of recipes that call for Chambord, and we don’t have it in our bar, so I figured it was time to stock up.

But, when it came time to test a recipe for this Thursday, I had a hard time finding a great cocktail — go figure. All I found were recipes for chocolate raspberry martinis (blech), some variation on the cosmopolitan (been there, done that, over it), and drinks with filthy names that made me think of a 21-year-old ordering a shot in a sleazy bar. No thanks.

Then I ran across this post with a bunch of great Chambord cocktails. There are at least a couple of recipes on that list I intend to try, but the Chambord Caipirovska sounded best, and I had everything on hand already, so I went for it.

Good choice.

It’s definitely going to be a repeat player around here. I just hope Nora doesn’t mind that I appropriated a few of her raspberries!

Chambord Caipirovska
Based on this recipe

2 oz vodka
1/2 oz Chambord
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
3 fresh raspberries

Muddle raspberries in the bottom of a shaker. Add ice and other ingredients. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.

Mushroom ragout

After venturing into the crawl space under our house (which serves as an additional wine cellar for us*) to pull out the wines to be drunk in 2012, the hubby was all excited to crack open a bottle of Ridge 2003 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

*I realize that this is totally ghetto, but we have a wine buying habit with which our storage space just can’t keep up. We tested the temperature during the hottest part of the summer, and it stays cool down there, so why not?

In honor of the occasion, I set off on a search to come up with a vegetarian dish that would pair well with the wine. I found it in a recipe for wild mushroom ragout (which I was easily able to vegetarian-ize) that I served over slices of fried quinoa polenta with a salad. It was excellent, and the pairing was amazing.

Good stuff.

The hubby pronounced it “grand,” so I know it was a hit. The original recipe says it freezes well for later use, so this is something I will definitely make again in a bigger batch.

Wild Mushroom Ragout
Based on this recipe

1 lb mixed fresh wild mushrooms**
1 Tbs unsalted butter
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 cup vegetable stock
1 tsp Better Than Boullion mushroom base (optional)
1/3 cup cream
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 Tbsp chopped chives

Trim the mushrooms, reserving the stems for another use.*** Slice the larger caps and leave smaller caps intact.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Add the stock and cook for about 5 more minutes. Stir in the mushroom base, if using, and cream, and cook until it starts to thicken, about 5-7 minutes. Add thyme and chives, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve over polenta or pasta, finishing off with a light dusting of grated parmesan or gruyère.

** I used an 8-oz “Chef’s Sampler” pack of gourmet mushrooms, supplemented with sliced cremini mushrooms.

*** I’m saving mine for either a small batch of mushroom stock, or to throw into vegetable stock (where it adds a nice depth of flavor).

Cauliflower carbonara

Thanks once again to the lovely and talented Ruby, I now have another great option for making cauliflower into a meal. I made cauliflower “carbonara” based on her recipe not long ago, and it was delicious.

Yes, please.

This is a vegetarian version of the original dish, which generally includes pancetta or bacon. Needless to say, this was right up my alley, and of course I didn’t miss the meat at all! Nora devoured the leftovers with me the next day.

Oh, did you want some?

This is a fantastic dish that you can throw together with stuff you probably already have around the house, so what’s not to like? Add a salad and it’s a meal.

Cauliflower Carbonara
From this recipe from Guitar Picks and Apron Strings, with my modifications

1 head of cauliflower, large florets cut away from the stem and sliced into bite-size pieces*
12 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
2 Tbsp butter, divided
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground pepper
Crushed red pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten**
2 oz grated parmesan, plus more for serving

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water and add the sliced cauliflower, cooking for about a minute. Fish out with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In the same water, cook your pasta according to package directions. Drain, retaining about a cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, melt 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the black pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper and stir until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower, salt to taste, and toss to coat with butter. Leave the cauliflower for a couple of minutes until it starts to brown and then toss again.  Once the cauliflower is browned to your liking, remove it from the skillet and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the remaining butter and olive oil to the skillet. Once melted, add more fresh ground pepper and crushed red pepper.  Once the garlic has softened, add about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.  Add the pasta, tossing to coat. Turn off the heat and toss in the cauliflower. Add the beaten eggs and parmesan and gently toss until coated.  The eggs shouldn’t scramble, but rather thicken into a silky sauce consistency from the retained heat. Add more pasta water if needed to achieve your desired consistency.

Season to taste with additional salt and pepper and serve with additional parmesan grated on top.

* Cutting the cauliflower into slices gives you nice, flat surfaces for browning.  

** As mentioned in the original recipe, you really should try to use fresh, local eggs rather than commercial ones. As a vegetarian, this is a cause near and dear to my heart, since laying hens are treated just about as poorly as any other animal out there in a big commercial farm setting. “Free-range” is better, but it doesn’t always mean what you imagine it to, so try to pick up eggs from the farmer’s market or another local source if you can.

A taste of my childhood

I am trying more and more to make things for Nora’s meals that I can eat, too, or vice versa. This is really the only practical course, since she’s always interested in what I’m eating, and preparing two separate meals is just a little silly. That was how, not too long ago, the two of us came to be sitting together at the dining room table eating cream cheese and black olive sandwiches for lunch.

Whoosh.

It made me flash back to my own childhood a little bit. Cream cheese and black olive sandwiches were a perennial favorite in my lunch box, and, as it turns out, I grew up to favor the same whole wheat sprouted grain hippie-style bread my mom did, so the taste really did bring me back.

This sandwich is so easy that I actually can’t believe I hadn’t had one in such a long time. It’s just black olives folded into cream cheese spread on lightly toasted bread. Nora and I shared some blackberries to go with it. She seemed to like the sandwich, although she preferred the open-face version she (accidentally) created.

All the better to get to the cream cheese...

I’m glad I re-discovered this one, and it will definitely be on the lunch menu again soon.

Happy New Year!

Where I’m from, New Year’s Day means black-eyed peas. Eating them on New Year’s brings good financial luck for the coming year, so it’s definitely not something I like to skip. Thankfully, I love black-eyed peas, and I have been able to adapt the recipes from my childhood (made with ham and/or chicken broth) to be just as delicious vegetarian.

Hurray for 2012!

Today we were up at 5 am to catch a flight back home from Texas, where we were visiting family. However, that was no excuse. As soon as we got home, I had to get the peas into a quick soak so they could be ready for lunch. It was totally worth it, too — they were delicious.

Nora heartily agreed.

Plus, I’d hate to risk the bad luck.

Every year at this time, I wonder why I don’t make black-eyed peas more often. This year, I just might have to!

Happy New Year, and may you all have good luck, financial and otherwise, in 2012.

Black-Eyed Peas

3 cups fresh black-eyed peas, or 1 1/2 cups dried, soaked* and drained
3 cups vegetable broth
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Bring all ingredients except the salt and vinegar to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until peas are almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes. Stir in salt and simmer, covered, for an additional 20 minutes, or until peas are tender. Add vinegar and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

* I recently read that you don’t technically need to soak dried peas, including black-eyed peas, but I still do. If you’re pressed for time, you can do a quick soak by covering the peas with 4 times their volume of water and bringing to a boil, then turning off the heat and letting them stand, covered, for a hour.

Roasted parsnips with apples

I never really know what to do with parsnips when they show up in our CSA box. Thankfully they keep well, since it gives me some time to come up with uses for them, other than making veggie broth or throwing them on the compost pile.  However, I read recently that they’re quite nutritious*, so I decided to try them in a recipe for Nora.

* I will confess that I am a little prejudiced when in comes to veggies and fruits, since I tend to feed Nora (and myself, for that matter) by color. The more colorful a meal is, the more diverse nutrients it must have. This is a pretty good shorthand, but there are some tricky colorless foods out there, like parsnips, that are nutritionally valuable.

Personally, I think parsnips are pretty boring on their own, so I added some apple to the mix and roasted everything with a nice coating of butter.

Butter makes everything better.

They were a hit with Nora, and, as an added bonus, I was able to freeze the leftovers in baby-sized portions for use in future meals. Gotta love that!

Butter-Roasted Parsnips with Apples

3-4 parsnips (depending on size)
1 apple
1 Tbsp butter, melted

Peel the parsnips and apple. Chop the parsnips into coins, and the apple into bite-sized chunks. Toss the parsnips and apples with the butter. Spread in a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, or until tender. Serve or freeze in individual portions for later use.

New Year’s Kiss

Today’s cocktail was based on a recipe originally called the Danish Christmas Cookie Martini, but since Christmas is over, I figured it needed a new name. This is basically the only intriguing recipe I found for a holiday cocktail this year, so I gave it a shot.

Clink.

The hubby and I liked it, but it was a little on the sweet side, so I’d nix the sugar rim, unless you’re just really into sweet. If champagne isn’t your thing*, maybe give this a try instead on New Year’s Eve.

* Who are you? Champagne is awesome.

New Year’s Kiss
Based on this recipe, with a couple of tweaks

2 oz Stoli Vanil or other vanilla vodka, chilled
1 oz Di Saronno amaretto
splash of ginger ale (to taste), chilled

Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice. Give one brisk shake to mix and pour into cocktail glasses. Makes 2.

Beet and mâche salad

Now that the Christmas feasting is over, we could all use something a little lighter for dinner, yes? Beet and mâche salad is perfect. Pick up some beautiful golden beets, if you can find them, reserving the greens for another use. Roast them, toss them with mache in a simple vinaigrette, top them with some toasted walnuts and crumbled blue cheese, and you’re all set.

Yum.

Mâche is my favorite salad green — it’s tender and mild, and pairs perfectly with an acidic vinaigrette, a light creamy dressing, or even just a squeeze of lime juice and some sliced avocado. This particular salad works well with any blue cheese (I used gorgonzola because we already had it), goat cheese, or even hard-boiled egg. Served with a slice of crusty bread, it’s hearty enough for a nice, light dinner. And, if your Christmas feast was anything like mine, that exactly what you could use tonight!

Beet and Mâche Salad
Based on this recipe for Salade de Bettereve et de Mâche from Mariquita Farm

2-4 beets, depending on size
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp walnut oil
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper
12 oz mâche or other tender greens
2 oz. blue cheese or goat cheese, crumbled, or 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 400°. Trim and scrub the beets, reserving the greens for another use, and wrap in foil. Place in a baking dish and roast for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on size), or until tender. Cool, remove from foil, and rub with paper towels to remove skins. Slice thinly.

Meanwhile, combine the olive oil, walnut oil, vinegar, and mustard in a small bowl, whisking  until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.*

Toss the mâche and sliced beets with dressing to taste and divide among plates. Top with toasted walnuts and cheese or hard-boiled egg and serve.

* This makes plenty of extra dressing, so just refrigerate it for another use. Bring it to room temperate and whisk it to re-emulsify before using.

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