Saturday, September 18, 2010

Creamy Kale Soup with Curried Zucchini Croquettes

My garden surprised me. We had planted lots of tomatoes (which still have mostly green ones on them because of our cold summer), basil, oregano, mint (three varieties - you'd think I'd have more mint recipes on here!), and two boxes of strawberries (which did very, very well). We ended up leaving three and a half of the many, many boxes we have completely empty. To my great surprise, one day I was out picking strawberries when I noticed one of the now weed-filled boxes had not one, not two, but three! mystery zucchini/squash plants growing in them. I have no idea where they came from or why, but I sure was glad to see all the beautiful blossoms opening their shining faces to the missing sun. They were going to produce and they were working hard at it.

My roommate took one small squash out of the garden - the first - and I waited for the second to arrive. I had sort of forgotten about them when I suddenly remembered and went to check on them. (Thank goodness the boxes are on a watering system or they would have been screaming for some aqua.) To my great surprise, the tiny squash had grown to almost two feet! With a bit of concern that it wouldn't be all that flavorful because of its size, the squash has proved me wrong. It's fabulous! I've made these wonderful croquettes a couple of times (hint: they are just as awesome with Italian spices) and I still have half a squash left. I don't really know if it's a squash or a zucchini, but I don't really care all that much. I am just grateful for my mystery plants! Now, if we could only get a little more sun, my last few babies out there will grow into something bigger and better.

On top of that, my wonderful neighbor gave me a lovely bunch of curly green kale, some Italian kale and a few bunches of beet greens. I love beet greens and I even put the Italian kale into a smoothie, but what was I going to do with the green kale? To be honest, I wasn't even sure I had ever had green kale before and I had to taste it first to make sure I was going to like it. I did! It actually tasted quite a bit like broccoli, but with all sorts of leafy green benefits. I was super excited! What to do, what to do?

My first thought was to make a sauce to go over the top of the croquettes. I like to experiment with raw sauces and smoothies, so I thought, why not? I added the green kale to the Vitamix with some water and hempmilk. I wanted to see what it would come out to be and then add some spices to the mix. After pulling the kale back out and chopping it finer (let's just say, I'm getting my fiber today) and adding more water, I pureed it with success. The result was a brilliant green puree with a little bit too much of an earthy flavor for me. It needed to be cooked. 

Still bent on making a sauce (the soup idea didn't occur to me until a little later), I added some onions and oil to a pot and started the saute process. I added the kale mixture, some leftover raw sweet potato, and some hempmilk. As it cooked along, smelling like broccoli the entire time, I realized that with all the kale in there, it was either going to be a very thick sauce or I was going to have a lot of it. A lot. Somewhere about that time the soup idea hit. I tasted the beautiful green mixture and just knew it had to be soup. I was so excited! I don't know that I've ever even made my own cream of broccoli soup before, but that is pretty much what it came to be. And it warmed me, inside and out. Oh, yes. I was enchanted by my interesting experiment.

You know, sometimes experiments go terribly awry. But this one was so fantastic; I felt like I was onto some hidden discovery (not that anyone hasn't ever made cream of kale soup before. I know. That's not new. Neither is cream of broccoli. Not even remotely new!), but to me, this was a wonderful discovery and it became a very delicious meal. I hadn't even gotten to making the croquettes yet. So, to all of you kitchen experimenters, take heart. For every failure you have, there will be at least an equal amount of wonderful, surprise successes. And maybe even a mystery garden plant or two. :)

Happy eating, everybody!

P.S. I decided not to call this Cream of Kale soup because it's not. There's not cream in it at all. I only use cream sparingly, on occasion, as my body is not a huge fan, but I can guarantee you will not miss it one iota in this recipe. It's delicious, nutritious, and healthy. And sort of counteracts the partially fried croquettes. It's all about balance, right?Enjoy! 

Creamy Kale Soup

This creamy soup tastes a lot like cream of broccoli with a whole lot less fat, but so much flavor! The kale in this can be substituted with broccoli in equal portions, if you prefer, or even try beet greens or Italian kale.

Serves 2 - 4

1 bunch green kale (curly kale)

½ raw sweet potato

1 cup water

¼ onion, diced

2 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil

4 cups hempmilk or milk of choice, divided

2 tsp dried basil

½ tsp salt, or to taste

¼ tsp paprika

2 bay leaves

¼ tsp garlic powder

6 tbsp millet flour

Clean kale and chop into large pieces, including stems. Chop sweet potato into large pieces, as well, leaving on skin. In a powerful blender, Vitamix or food processor, puree kale and sweet potato with the water using some of the milk, if necessary. Puree to desired consistency. I like to leave some chunks for texture, but puree smooth if you prefer that.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add onion and a small pinch of salt and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add kale puree, 2 cups of the milk, basil, salt, paprika, bay leaves, and garlic powder. Mix to combine and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until kale and potato have softened, stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl, mix the remainder of the milk and the millet flour together until fully combined. Once kale and sweet potato are fully cooked and liquid has reduced some, remove bay leaves. Add the millet flour/milk mixture and stir until the soup has thickened. Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes. Soup will thicken a little more. Serve warm with bread, crostini or Curried Zucchini Croquettes.

Curried Zucchini Croquettes

These croquettes are soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. They are best made with a large or extra-large zucchini or summer squash, around 3 inches or more in diameter. If you can’t find any that big, buy smaller ones and make smaller croquettes. They’ll be just as good. These are great served with a little marinara sauce or alongside a bowl of Creamy Kale Soup.

Makes 20 or more

1 extra-large zucchini or squash with a diameter of 3 inches or more

1 cup millet flour or brown rice flour

2 eggs

½ cup quinoa flakes

½ cup rice breadcrumbs (Orgran) or any gluten-free breadcrumbs of choice

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp dried chives

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp dried basil

Pinch of sea salt

Dash of cayenne pepper

Grapeseed oil for pan-frying

Slice zucchini or squash into ½-inch rounds and toss with a little bit of sea salt (degorging) to remove any potential bitterness. Let sit for 10 – 20 minutes, then rinse and pat dry.

Place three shallow medium bowls on the counter. In one bowl, place the millet or brown rice flour. In another, whisk the two eggs with a small amount of water until fully combined. In the third bowl, mix together the quinoa flakes, breadcrumbs, curry, chives, ginger, basil, sea salt and cayenne.

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add 2 – 3 tbsp of grapeseed oil. While the oil is heating, dredge a slice of the zucchini or squash in the flour, then the eggs, then the breadcrumb mixture. Place in the hot oil and repeating dredging with one or two more slices, filling the pan, but not crowding the croquettes. Cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes, then flip, cooking remaining side, another two or more minutes. Adjust heat, if necessary. Remove from the pan and place on a wire rack or paper towel-lined plate. Keep warm until ready to serve. Repeat dredging steps with remaining zucchini, adding more oil to the pan as necessary.

Serve warm with sauce, alongside a soup, or as they are!

Croquettes with Italian Seasonings

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pear Pancakes

Sweet, golden pears. A perfect fruit to begin fall. I know, it's really a summer fruit, but for some reason, pears remind me of fall, just like apples. I love the texture of a firm, but ripe, pear - softer than an apple, but with a warm and sensuous flavor that wraps around your insides as it slides down. I love it! Why don't we cook with them more often? They seem to be relegated to crisps and crumbles and the occasional salad.

But, no! Pears are great for breakfast too! In a pancake. Not on the pancake (although that is good too) or around the pancake (also good), but cooked inside like it was always meant to be there. And it is. These pancakes are beautiful displays of pancake perfection.

Cooking pear pancakes
I had been planning on creating this recipe sometime this week, and when I woke up this morning, I was just thinking eggs and brown rice grits (that's for another post. They are too good not to talk about!). But when I saw the pear sitting there looking beautiful and smelling so ripe, I had to get into this fast.

And so I did.

The pancakes came out soft and tender, slightly different than my usual pancake, but so good. I added extra sweetener because I just thought they needed them and - wow! - I really love this recipe. I love the texture of the pear (and a pluot because I only bought one pear for this and realized later I would need two), slightly caramelized and snugly tucked into the top of the pancake, all soft and tender. These pancakes are sweet and delicious and even though I did have them with syrup this morning, they didn't really require it. They would be great with a little bit of honey-butter, some fresh fruit compote (I am thinking a ginger-raspberry!), a dollop of whipped cream or some frozen yogurt. They don't really require much. I would eat them plain too. They are really yum and I can't wait for you to try them or one of the variations!

Happy eating, everybody!

Pear (or Pluot!) Pancakes

Pluot Pancakes on the griddle

These soft and delicious pancakes with a thinly sliced piece of warm pan-fried fresh fruit in the top, offers a warm and decadent start to any morning. With a little bit more sweetener in the batter than regular pancakes, these griddlers are just as delicious without any syrup on top. Use fresh fruit that’s in season for an extra special treat and top with honey-butter, fresh fruit compote, frozen yogurt or a dollop of whipped cream.

Makes 12 medium pancakes

1 cup millet flour

½ cup almond flour

½ cup quinoa flour

1 tsp xanthan, guar or karaya gum

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ cup water

¼ cup milk of choice

½ tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar

½ tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs, room temperature

½ cup agave nectar, honey or maple syrup

2 ripe pears or pluots

Oil for spraying pan

Bring flours to room temperature. If stored in fridge, place in glass or ceramic bowl and microwave for 30 seconds to warm. In a large bowl, mix flours, gum, salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and cardamom. Whisk to combine thoroughly. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, whisk water, milk, lemon juice, vanilla extract, eggs, and sweetener of choice. Whisk until mixture is slightly frothy, about 30 seconds. Mix wet ingredients into dry and whisk just until combined. Set aside and let rest for 5 -10 minutes. This will allow the flours to absorb the wet ingredients and the lemon juice to react with the baking soda and baking powder. It’s an important step; don’t skip it.

On a cutting board, and using a sharp knife, slice ¼-inch slices down the side of the pear, removing the smallest pieces (feel free to munch on these; that’s what I do!) and continuing to slice until you reach the core. Flip pear around and slice the other side in the same manner. You should have about 3-4 full size pieces from each side. Repeat with remaining pear. (I don’t throw away the pieces that have the core inside them. Some people cook with these, removing the seeds first. I don’t like the texture of the core, so I just cut it out and eat the pieces on the side of it. You could also use these pieces in the pancakes, if you want.)

Heat a cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium to low heat. When pan sizzles immediately after dropping a bit of water on it, spray a small amount of oil into the pan or place 1 tsp of butter, letting it melt. Place 2 or 3 slices of pear onto the pan and let cook for 1 minute, or until slightly softened and beginning to become translucent and caramelized. Flip and add more oil, if necessary. Place ¼ - 1/3 cup of the batter, depending on size of the pear slices, on top of the pear slices (batter will be thick), letting it fall around the edges until the pear slice is completely covered. Let cook until edges look golden-brown and slightly dry, about 2 – 4 minutes. Flip and cook the other side, about two more minutes, or until center is fully cooked.

Remove from pan and repeat with remaining pear slices and batter. Place hot pancakes onto a plate and cover with a tea towel until ready to serve. Enjoy!

Pear and Pluot Pancakes

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cumin-Spiced Quinoa and Millet with Flaked Wild Sockeye Salmon

A friend of mine hosts a class every month and because we all love every aspect of sharing, we all get together for a potluck an half-hour before the class. It's always a good time and most of the time, we don't bother coordinating who brings what. We just bring whatever. Sometimes, this turns out comical - as in the time everybody brought bread - but mostly, there is a nice variety of foods to go around.

Being gluten-free presents a challenge at potlucks when the rest of the potluckers aren't gluten-free. They can all eat what I bring, if they want to, but I cannot always eat their delicious offerings. That's really okay, because I don't expect them to cater to my preferential needs. But it's always nice when they do! And often times, they work really hard to make sure I have plenty to choose from. It's very sweet and a wonderful way to share.

Well, our monthly get-together coalesced last night and I didn't have time to go to the store, so around 3 p.m., I started digging through my cabinets. I pulled out a can of wild sockeye salmon and of course, my favorite staples, quinoa and millet. I threw together this rustic herbed dish and it came out pleasingly good!

It's a great homestyle dish with lots of potential for variation. The salmon could be substituted with chicken, turkey, beef or tuna, or completely left out all-together for vegetarian fare. The grains could be any combination of rice, millet, or quinoa. And the warmth of the cumin and paprika leads to a nice, hearty side dish or main course. Experimentation and necessity really do lead to grand things in the kitchen!

Happy eating, everybody!

Cumin-Spiced Quinoa and Millet with Flaked Wild Sockeye Salmon

Serves 2 - 4

¼ cup millet

¼ cup quinoa

2 tbsp butter or oil

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp paprika

¼ tsp dried cilantro

1 ¼ cup water

½ cup fresh or frozen peas

1 - 7 ounce can of Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, pre-cooked (or one pre-cooked filet)

Sea salt, to taste

Using a fine-mesh sieve, wash quinoa and millet in cold water until water runs clear. Place grains in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add butter or oil. Add cumin and paprika and a generous pinch of sea salt. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until spices are fragrant and grains are toasted. Add cilantro, water and peas.

Let the grain mixture simmer over medium heat, uncovered, for 18 – 20 minutes, until water is fully absorbed, stirring only occasionally. When water is fully absorbed, remove from heat and cover with a lid for 5 minutes.

Remove lid and using a fork, fluff grains gently. Set aside.

Drain canned salmon and rinse gently with water, if desired, to remove any excess oils that may add a fishy flavor. Fresh salmon should not have this. Flake using a fork and add to grain mixture. If using fresh salmon, once fully cooked, flake salmon using a fork, making sure to remove any bones. Add to grain mixture.

Using the fork, fluff the quinoa, millet, peas and salmon together. Serve warm with a salad, on a bed of greens, or cold as a side salad.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Easy Creamy Pesto Pilaf

Dinner! It should be easy, shouldn't it? Well, that's what I am all about lately. E-Z! Well, simple can be just as delicious as anything else and as you read on, I will show you a little restaurant tip to make food look fabulous.

But food first.

Cooked quinoa
I always have quinoa on-hand for just about any time of day. I like it for breakfast sometimes, as a great start to my day. And sometimes, for lunch, it's quick and simple too. Plus, it stores easily on the shelf and in the fridge for a long period of time, so it's great for re-heating and eating a quick bite. I love quinoa! It's healthy, filling, full of all sorts of beneficial nutrients and it's relatively cheap. I buy mine at Costco in a big bag for $10 and it lasts me forever. Really. Now, a family of four...maybe less than forever, but still - for ten bucks? How can you say no?

And next to my quinoa in the pantry is my millet. I love millet. I've written a recipe or two on here with millet included, mostly in flour form, but I love the grain. Some people like to make fun of it because in this country our idea of millet is the little yellow grain in bird seed. It's true. That is millet. But we are missing out on a powerhouse of nutrition here. And I just love the flavor and texture it brings to dishes - a sweet, nutty, crunchiness that is different than other grains. I love it. Not only is it gluten-free, like quinoa, it's hearty, filling, eco-friendly, highly sustainable, cheap (seriously cheap! No pun intended.) and getting easier to find in health food stores.

Toasting millet
This recipe came about because I was in the mood for something simple, fast and didn't require me to go to the store for anything. I just wasn't in the mood. We all have days like that, right? Well, I happened to have some thawed pesto on hand (I keep mine frozen after making several batches all at once to save time - a trick I learned from a good friend!) and something creamy sounded too good to pass up. I pulled out the quinoa and the millet and - wala! - dinner was served. So easy. This is a quick night yummy for any household. And if you don't have quinoa or millet or both on hand, just use rice. Use whatever you've got. Sometimes, I like to mix and match - a little quinoa, a little millet, a little rice. Whatever. It's all good!

Note: if you decide to mix and match your grains, just make sure you add enough water to the pot to make sure all of the different grains cook evenly. 2 cups of water : 1 cup of quinoa, 3:1 for millet, and 2:1 for rice. And the same goes for the veggies I included. I had squash on this particular day, but the Creamy Pesto Pilaf would be just as good with asparagus, greens, peas, eggplant, mushrooms - whatever you've got. This is a mix and match, what-you've-got kind of recipe. Experiment and have fun! That's half the fun of cooking!

Fun serving suggestion: This recipe, although delicious, is not the prettiest to put on a plate. It's thick and green, but the flavor is fabulous. So, I did what restaurants and chefs do to make something that isn't exactly pretty into something gorgeous and upscale. I used a cookie cutter. That's right. A heart-shaped cookie cutter. You can use any style - round, square, diamond, oval, whatever. I would avoid too many nooks and crannies, but whatever suits your fancy will work! The cookie cutter/biscuit cutter is what gourmet chefs do to polenta, rice dishes and even oatmeal to make it ten times more appealing on a plate. You'll see what I mean. You don't have to do this, but it's fun and elegant and you  know what? You're worth it! Place a medium or large cookie or biscuit cutter on a plate. Fill the center with the Creamy Pesto Pilaf, pressing everything down gently. Slide the cutter slowly up, holding the pilaf down with a finger or spoon and - presto! - you have restaurant-beautiful pilaf. Repeat for more than one serving or depending on size of cutter. Top with fish or beef and enjoy!

Happy eating!

Creamy Pesto Pilaf

Serves: 4 – 6
Cook time: 30 - 45 minutes

½ cup quinoa, rinsed

½ cup millet, rinsed

1 tbsp butter or olive oil

2 ½ cups water

1 – 2 tbsp olive oil

½ onion, chopped

2 cups squash or zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch half-moons or rounds (about 1 large squash or two small)

½ - ¾ cup pesto of choice (see optional recipe below)

3 tbsp cream cheese, Neufchatel cheese, or non-dairy cream cheese substitute

Sea salt

*Degorge squash, if necessary, by placing rounds in a shallow bowl and tossing with a pinch or two of sea salt. Allow to sit for 20 minutes, then rinse and drain. Set aside.

Rinse quinoa and millet in a fine-mesh strainer until the water runs clear. In a medium saucepan, heat quinoa, millet and butter over medium heat, allowing the butter to melt fully and gently toast and brown the grains, about 2 minutes. Add water and a generous pinch of salt. Allow mixture to boil gently, stirring occasionally, until all the water is absorbed. During last five minutes, place cover on pan and allow to finish cooking. Remove from heat.

Heat a skillet over medium heat, then add olive oil and onions with a small pinch of sea salt. Mix and let brown gently for 1 - 2 minutes. Add drained squash and continue to sauté, adding more olive oil, if necessary. Brown pieces gently on both sides, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Remove cover from cooked grains and fluff with a fork. Add the pesto and cream cheese and place the cover back on top for 30 seconds to a minute. Remove the cover and using the fork, gently combine the grains with the pesto and cheese. In a separate large bowl, place the pesto pilaf, sautéed onions and squash, Mix gently with fork to combine.

*Tip: if degorging squash due to bitterness, do not add any salt to squash during cooking. The salt that remains on the squash after rinsing is plenty unless you like things really salty!

Easy Homemade Pesto

2 cups fresh basil, washed and de-stemmed (or use another herb of choice: cilantro, parsley, mint)

¼ - ½ cup pecans, walnuts, almonds or pine nuts

2 cloves fresh garlic or 1 tsp garlic powder

¼ to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (or more as needed)

¼ cup grated Parmesan or Parmesan-substitute (optional)

Sea salt, to taste

In a food processor (or if you’re brave – a mortar), combine herbs, nuts and garlic until finely ground. While machine is running, slowly drizzle olive oil into the mixture until a smooth paste forms. Add cheese, if using, and sea salt to taste.

Cover and place in the fridge for one hour to let flavors mingle. Makes about one cup. Freeze remainder or keep in fridge for a week or two. It's great on bread, pastas, chicken, fish or eggs.

Optional tasty variation: Decrease amount of herbs by one cup and add one cup of sautéed swiss chard, raw or sautéed spinach, or raw or sautéed broccoli. This will add an extra amount of flavor and nutrition! Experiment and enjoy!