Friday, February 26, 2010

Caponata



Thanks to gorgeous, incredible Sophia of Burp and Slurp (who comes up with the most ingenious culinary delights, and always awes me with her wise and witty insights in the most beautiful prose...) I recently learned of an exciting new blog event - Friday Firsts, created by Christina of Dinner at Christina's! One of the most delightful, comforting aspects of everyday life is there is never a shortage of tiny, magical new experiences to be found in the most unsuspecting corners - a new tint of color in the flowerbed, a new unbelievable height for the spruce trees in the back-yard, the first taste of a new cheese, sharp and creamy on the tongue, or perhaps a novel way of dressing one's reliable, staple whole wheat pasta.

For Zach, such a first occurred last year when he discovered his passion for capers. So great is his fondness for this small pickled flower that I should perhaps feel some pangs of jealousy, but, having been fortunate enough to witness his first taste of a caper - and possessing a certain fondness for capers myself, both of the culinary and the adventurous kind - I instead find myself enchanted by his enthusiasm. In fact, I even found myself rather chagrined that I had somehow overlooked introducing Zach to capers sooner... Regardless, though, the caper discovery was made at last, at a small pizzeria in downtown Atlanta. While the restaurant is sadly no longer in existence, the precise moment when Zach and capers crossed paths remains fixed in my memory - we had ordered the special of the evening, a glorious brick-oven baked pizza creation topped with eggplant, red peppers, and capers. Zach took one bite, gazed about him in wonder, and asked "What is on this pizza? I've never tasted it before, and it's the best thing ever..."

I delicately raised a single green sphere aloft - "It's a caper..."



Thus, while Zach has had many a caper since that fateful day (purely in the culinary sense this time, as Zach isn't exactly given to dancing ballet on the front lawn), the "Foodie First" we experienced this week was caponata! Whenever Zach adds something to his list of favorite foods I get very excited... As you can imagine, then, I've been working capers into new dishes at every opportunity! Since eggplant is also one of Zach's favorite vegetables, it seemed I needed to learn to make caponata immediately... This is the version I concocted, and, if I may say so myself, it's utterly delightful and refreshing...

May our days always be flavorful and filled with new dishes!



Caponata

1 Eggplant, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
3 T olive oil
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes, un-drained
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 T raw turbinado sugar
2 T capers, drained

~ Soak the eggplant in salt water for 15 minutes, then drain, rise, and pat dry.
~ In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion and celery until the onion is limp and translucent.
~ Reduce the heat to medium, add the eggplant, and continue to saute, stirring frequently, until the eggplant begins to brown.
~ Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.
~ Stir in the balsamic vinegar, turbinado sugar, and capers, and continue to simmer for 20 minutes - until the eggplant is tender and the mixture has thickened. Serve warm or cold, as a salad or atop slices of crusty whole grain bread!



On the blog this time last year... Black-Eyed Peas and Collards!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Curried Salmon or Tofu Fritters



I received my third MRI yesterday, so I suppose it's rather fortuitous that I'm not claustrophobic - given that in the past few weeks I've been repeatedly slid into the giant MRI apparatus to be surrounded by strange loud noises in tight quarters for 45 minutes or so. In fact, I may well be the only person who takes a nap while inside an MRI... I even used my scheduled MRI afternoon nap to justify staying up to watch the Olympic ice dancing on Monday night despite having to get up at 4AM for work in the morning! Thanks to the MRI, I also now have tangible proof that I possess a brain.

Apparently I am blessed with a functional brain, as well, for I am delighted to be able to report that my MRI was normal... This, of course, means that the mystery of my left leg, along with the strange neurological symptoms that sent me rushing to the emergency room last Thursday, still continues, and that I'll now need to visit the doctor's office every afternoon for neurological checks while the doctor looks for signs of "progressing symptoms," but, as this is relatively quite noninvasive I am more than willing to dutifully comply! I am trying to temper my frustration at the continued lack of a diagnosis, and simply focus on being thankful for each small victory, each normal test.

By the time Zach and I arrived home from the doctor's office last night, we were both in the mood for something cozy and uncomplicated, but part of me wanted to fix something fun and new as well, something refreshing and rejuvenating but still not too fussy... Fortunately, Gina of The Candid RD provided the perfect inspiration! Gina is always a wealth of information about nutrition, healthful living, and deliciousness, and this year she's gracing the blog-world with an incredible series of recipes based on pantry staples! I've been so excited about trying Gina's tuna patties recipe ever since she first posted them a few weeks ago... I especially love how Gina always includes suggestions for different versions of her recipes, and thus, based on the ingredients inhabiting our pantry at the moment, I adapted the recipe a bit, inspired both by Gina's base recipe and some of her variations, and came up with the most scrumptious curried salmon fritters! The flavorful batter also worked beautifully in a batch of tofu fritters, and by the conclusion of our leisurely supper we were feeling calm and restored once more... Thank you, Gina!!





Curried Salmon or Tofu Fritters
(Adapted from Gina's Recipe...)

25 grams whole grain rye crackers, finely crushed
15 low fat saltine crackers, finely crushed
1 tsp curry powder
3 egg whites, beaten
6 oz canned skinless, boneless salmon OR 6 oz firm tofu, crumbled
Cajun seasoning, to taste

~ In a large bowl, stir together the crushed rye crackers, crushed saltine crackers, and curry powder.
~ Stir the egg whites and the salmon or tofu into the cracker mixture. Season to taste with Cajun seasoning.
~ Using your hands, shape the mixture into patties approx 2" to 3" in diameter and 1/2" thick.
~ Coat a large skillet over medium heat with cooking spray. Cook the patties until golden brown on each side, turning once. Serve immediately, nice and warm and crispy!


Monday, February 22, 2010

Extra-Dark Chocolate Devil's Food Cake



It seems I've been having entirely too much fun with colored sugar lately...



I well had an occasion to do so, however, because on Saturday night we celebrated our friend (and my college room-mate :-) Emily's birthday!



Since Emily is such a special friend, I wanted to bake her a particularly special cake... I had a gorgeous Dagoba 100% cacao unsweetened dark chocolate bar just awaiting a grand event,



and I've long wondered how my favorite Endangered Species 88% cacao dark chocolate would fare in a baking project,



so I combined the two in an extra-dark chocolate devil's food cake! The resulting cake was so luxurious, so hauntingly and melodically chocolaty, that I decided to gild it with only the light vanilla glaze that I used for Zach's Valentine's Day vanilla cake... along with, of course, just a few sprinkles of colored sugar... ;-)

Here's to birthdays and wonderful friends! :-)



Extra-Dark Chocolate Devil's Food Cake

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 oz 100% cacao unsweetened dark chocolate
3 oz 88% cacao dark chocolate
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup light, non-hydrogenated, olive-oil based vegan margarine
2/3 cup raw turbinado sugar
2/3 cup skim milk
1 tsp vanilla

Vanilla Glaze (optional)

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8x8 baking dish or 9" round cake pan with parchment paper.
~ Stir together the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
~ Melt the two kinds of chocolate in the microwave, by heating at 30 second intervals, stirring between each interval, until the chocolate is nearly melted. Continue stirring until the chocolate has melted completely, then set the bowl aside to allow the chocolate to cool to lukewarm.
~ In a small bowl, whip the egg yolks until they are creamy, smooth, and lemon-colored. Set aside.
~ Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently slide the egg whites into a bowl, and set aside.
~ Beat the vegan marg and turbinado sugar together until creamy.
~ Add the egg yolks to the sugar mixture, and beat well.
~ Add the melted chocolate, and beat again until smooth and well combined.
~ Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla, stirring until just combined after each addition.
~ Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes - until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
~ Allow the cake to cool in the baking dish, then transfer to a plate, remove the parchment paper, and, if you fancy, top with vanilla glaze!



On the blog this time last year... Parsnip and Carrot Sunshine!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sun-Dried Tomato and Marinated Mozzarella Pizza





I suppose one can't be in love with a cheese, but, within the normal bounds of human sanity, I am quite fond of this mozzarella...



Hand braided, marinated in olive oil, herbs, and sun-dried tomatoes, this glorious luxury is usually a bit outside the boundaries of our everyday food budget, but as my parents live out of town they are incredibly sweet about pampering us with treats when they come to visit, and on their most recent visit, they graced us with this gorgeous, creamy cheese heaven!



Of course, we felt this mozzarella deserved a special dish in its honor. Perhaps... a gourmet pizza... with the exotic scents of cumin and paprika...



We often have company over for dinner on Friday nights, but on the weeks when it's just the two of us we've become increasingly fond of "going out to dinner at home." I set the table as grandly as though we were having guests, dim the lights, ignite candles ablaze, and we prepare a special supper together. Personally, I think our dinners out at home are even more fun than a trip to a restaurant! Such as last night, when we discovered the romance of pizza by candlelight...





Sun-Dried Tomato and Marinated Mozzarella Pizza

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 T honey
1 packet quick-rise yeast
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
1 cup tomato puree
1 bay leaf

8 oz marinated mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1/4 cup minced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and patted dry.

1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika

~ In a large bowl, dissolve the honey in the warm water, then sprinkle the yeast on top and allow it to sit until it foams (around 5 minutes).
~ Stir in the salt, 1 cup of the whole wheat flour, and all the all-purpose flour until just combined.
~ Add the remaining 1 cup whole wheat flour, and knead until elastic and smooth - the dough will still be sticky, though.
~ Coat a large glass bowl with cooking spray, turn the dough into the bowl, and roll it around a few times to coat it with the cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set the dough somewhere warm to rise until doubled in size, for about an hour to an hour and a half.
~While the dough is rising, you can make the tomato sauce: In a skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is limp and translucent. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the tomato puree and the bay leaf, and allow the sauce to simmer until the dough has finished rising. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, remove the bay leaf, and set aside.
~ Stir together the oregano, cumin, and paprika in a small bowl, and set aside.
~ Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet or pizza stone with cooking spray.
~ Punch the dough down, turn the dough onto the baking sheet or pizza stone, and gently stretch the dough with your fingers to the desired thickness and circular or rectangular shape.
~ Spread the desired amount of tomato sauce, depending on how much sauce you like on your pizza, on top of the dough, leaving a 1/2" boundary around the edge of the dough.
~ Even distribute the mozzarella slices on top of the sauce.
~ Scatter on the sun-dried tomatoes.
~ Sprinkle everything with the oregano spice mixture.
~ Bake the pizza for approx. 14 minutes - until the crust is lightly browned. Serve nice and warm!





On the blog this time last year... Sweet and Sour Chicken or Tofu!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Black Bean and Spinach Soup





Our theme of cozy winter legume soups continues, as two nights ago Zach had the ultimate foodie inspiration - he sat upright in bed in the middle of the night, and proclaimed out-loud: "Spinach and black bean soup!"



Thus, yesterday evening, Zach fixed us the most gloriously, smokey-spicy black bean and spinach soup...



Dreaming about a new soup recipe - How cool is that?





Black Bean and Spinach Soup

2 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
4 (14.5 oz) cans black beans, undrained
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 to 2 T red chili paste, depending on how much spice you fancy
12 oz baby spinach leaves
1 T dried cilantro
4 T crumbled feta cheese (optional)

~ In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds until they're fragrant and lightly browned, tossing the skillet frequently and taking care not to let the seeds burn. Remove the skillet from the heat, and set aside.
~ In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is limp and translucent.
~ Stir in the black beans with their liquid, the broth, and the red chili paste. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender and flavorful. If the soup starts getting to thick and sticking to the bottom of the pot, stir in more broth as needed.
~ Shortly before you're ready to serve the soup, stir in the spinach leaves a couple of handfuls at a time, allowing each handful to wilt down and make room for the next bit of spinach, until all of your spinach is incorporated.
~ Stir in the cilantro, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and more red chili paste, if you like.
~ Working in batches with a food processor, puree the soup until smooth (making sure to allow an outlet for the steam while the hot soup is in the food processor...)
~ Return the soup to the pot just to rewarm, then serve, garnished with the feta cheese, if you desire! :-)


Monday, February 15, 2010

A Classic Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Glaze



Not only did we have an especially lovely Valentine's Day this year, but we also had a Valentine's Day with snow! Perhaps one of the reasons we're so fond of snow here in the deep south is that it usually is a fleeting, ethereal experience, fluttering down briefly only to drift off stage after a mere few hours in our presence. This time, however, our enthusiastic Friday snowfall decided to linger! We usually sleep in a bit on Saturday mornings, but this weekend, energized by the knowledge that a yard full of pristine white flakes awaited us, we flew out of bed early in the morning, running to the windows to gaze at our own minute winter wonderland...







Ruby, the most adventuresome of our 3 kitties, was even allowed to play in the snow...



Because of the coziness of the weather, we were especially glad that we decided to spend Valentine's Day at home this year.

My Valentine, trying to look fierce...



being silly...



and just being his wonderful self! :-)



Zach surprised me by making a little booklet with the story of how we met... Of course, mushy as I always am, I cried while I read it... :-) My surprise for Zach was a romantic Valentine's Day dinner complete with all of Zach's favorite cuisines and flavors! The savory menu had a Mediterranean theme, including Zach's most-requested main course dish, Eggplant Shepherd's Pie, along with steamed broccoli with a butter-paprika sauce, and homemade spinach bourekas!

Then, for dessert... Amidst the holiday of chocolate, Zach requested vanilla!



Over Christmas Zach and his brother Scott carried on a lengthy, multi-day debate on chocolate vs. vanilla, and while I confess I usually land on the chocolate side of the battle I had to admire Zach's dedication to the pureness and tranquility of vanilla.





And so, while I briefly flirted with the idea of preparing a Valentine's classic, chocolate mousse, when Zach oh so subtly hinted that he was longing for a vanilla cake, I was oh so delighted to oblige...





A Classic Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Glaze

*Note: This recipe makes a single layer - for a two-layer cake, the recipe doubles marvelously!

1/2 cup plus 1/8 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup light, nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
1 cup raw turbinado sugar
1/2 cup skim milk
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup 1% milk
5 T flour
1/2 cup light, olive-oil blend butter, at room temp
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper, and coat the paper with cooking spray.
~ Stir together the whole wheat flour and self-rising flour, and set aside.
~ Cream together the vegan marg and the turbinado sugar until fluffy.
~ Stir in the flours in 3 batches, alternating with the milk and vanilla, until all the ingredients are just incorporated.
~ Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, and bake for 40 minutes - until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
~ Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan, then transfer the cake to a plate, peel off the parchment paper, and coat the cake with the glaze... Decorated with sprinkles or colored sugar, too, if you fancy!
~ To make the glaze: Whisk the milk and flour constantly in a small saucepan over medium heat until a thick paste forms. Remove the paste from the heat, and beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon until the paste has cooled. Beat together the olive-oil blend butter and the sugar until creamy. Beat in the flour and milk paste along with the vanilla until a smooth glaze forms, then spread the glaze atop the cake, and transfer the cake to the fridge until the glaze is set!


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Pickled Red Onions





Having just been contemplating how far removed we seemed from the northern snows, winter weather was the last topic on my mind as I drove to work in the 6AM bleakness yesterday morning. As I'm now working in the OR, which is located in a central and windowless section of the hospital, throughout the afternoon I continued thinking solely of the stats I was entering into a spreadsheet - well, OK, maybe that plus wondering what I should fix for supper, but I certainly wasn't thinking about snow - until 2 of my co-workers returned to the OR from their lunch break, joyously singing "it's snowing, it's snowing!"

"It's what-ing?" I asked, momentarily wondering if my new friends had temporarily taken leave of their senses.

"It's snowing! It's really snowing!"

Sure enough, when I left work that afternoon, real, accumulated snow rose up to great me outside the hospital door, and had arrived in even greater quantities over our house and lawn!







Thankfully, at work our last case of the afternoon had been canceled, as the patient had arrived at the hospital so high on an alarming combination of narcotics and street drugs that she was in no condition to undergo surgery, so we were dispatched home post haste to avoid the majority of the snow on the roads... While I freely admit that our snow is nothing like the two to four feet of snow our friends up north have been shoveling, I will say that even with my snow driving skills acquired during my college days in a snow-filled land my car still slipped and skidded a bit during the journey home, but Zach and I both arrived safely to settle in cozily, open a a lovely Chianti, watch the flurries surround our world, and make grilled cheese sandwiches with pickled red onions... I honestly couldn't imagine a more perfect Friday night!







Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Pickled Red Onions

*This recipe makes two sandwiches - feel free to change the quantities as needed...

2 red onions, thinly sliced
1 T light vegan margarine or butter
5 T red wine vinegar
2 T raw turbinado sugar
4 slices rustic whole grain bread
2 tsp light vegan margarine or butter
2 oz sliced Monterey Jack Cheese
1 handful baby spinach leaves
1 handful baby arugula

~ To make the pickled onions: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sprinkle the red onions with salt to taste and saute them in the vegan marg or butter, stirring frequently, for approx 10 to 15 minutes - until they're very limp and beginning to brown. Stir in the vinegar and turbinado sugar and simmer, stirring constantly, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the onions to a storage container, season to taste with salt and pepper, and set them aside to cool. (You'll have some leftover onions for making extra sandwiches, topping salads, etc!)



~ To assemble the sandwiches, spread each slice of bread with 1/2 tsp vegan marg or butter. Place 1 oz cheese on each of two bread, topped with 1/4 cup of pickled onions, 1/2 handful of baby spinach, 1/2 handful of baby arugula, and the remaining two bread slices.
~ Coat a large skillet or grill pan with olive oil cooking spray. Over medium heat, cook the sandwiches until the bread is golden brown and the cheese melts - approx 3 to 5 minutes per side. Slice the sandwiches in half, serve, and savor... :-)