Monday, July 25, 2011

Mango-Avocado Salad

This salad is super easy to make and easy to eat. While I can't imagine eating a whole one nowadays for lunch, given my much-lighter exercise regime, it's a perfect thing to have when you're craving something tropical in a far-from-tropical locale.

Don't like almonds or blue cheese? Try using macadamia nuts, toasted walnuts, or even pistachios or peanuts. Substitute blue for Manchego - or go without it and add a garnish of poached or barbecue chicken.

1 mango, peeled and sliced
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
1 handful baby spinach
Dressing, to taste
Handful of almonds, for garnish
Handful of blue cheese, for garnish

Lamb Stir-Fry

My mom’s stir-fries were a family staple growing up. They were simple for her to make, healthy, and they appealed to my sisters and I because we could add a little more flavor with extra cheese or soy sauce (even coconut milk, on occasion) to the mix. Today, her stir-fries still reign supreme, with the help of some sliced garlic and ginger. But I still revert to my favorite combination when making them at home: pan-seared bits of lamb loin chops atop a bed of brown rice and sautéed or broiled broccoli. Plus, it’s dairy-, wheat-, and corn-free.

Don’t like brown rice? You can substitute whatever you like. I’ve made brown rice with coconut oil for extra fluffiness and a creamy bite, and added coconut milk to short grain white rice for something exotic. And don't feel like you only have to use broccoli! Bell peppers, sliced carrot, zucchini, snap peas, and bean sprouts also work well. Starting with bits of chopped garlic and ginger before adding the vegetables makes for a delicious depth of flavor, while if you don’t like lamb, you can choose something else. But for the tenderest result, I swear by removing the meat from loin chops. It’s worth the labor. And if you have dogs at home, they’ll love you if you give them the bones (just supervise to ensure they don’t break pieces off).

Easy Lamb and Broccoli Stir-Fry

1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water, plus more if needed
Salt, to taste
1 head broccoli, leaves trimmed, head cut into florets and stem peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil, for sautéing
6 loin chops, fat trimmed, meat removed, and cubed to 1/2-3/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2-1 3/4 pounds), preferably grass fed
Paprika, to taste
Soy sauce, for serving (optional)
Grated Gruyère cheese, for serving (optional)

In a large saucepan, heat the coconut oil over high heat. Once melted, add the rice and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook the rice until tender, about 45 minutes, checking water levels and stirring every so often so rice doesn't stick.

Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over high heat and add the olive oil. Add the broccoli and sauté until it is bright green and tender (you might need to add a bit of water if your broccoli is not super-fresh). Set aside.

In the same pan, add a bit more olive oil and then the lamb. Season lightly and sauté until just cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Season to taste with paprika, if desired.

Serve a large spoonful of rice on each plate and add the broccoli on top. Garnish with the lamb and serve with soy sauce and/or cheese, if desired.

Serves 4
Wheat-free, dairy-free, and corn-free.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Simple Egg Salad

Over a weekend in late May, I spent Saturday frolicking around Long Island with friends to celebrate a dear girlfriend's 29th birthday. After PRing on that morning's 10k, my (real) day started treats from Amy's Bread (my favorite? A almond and dried fruit-studded granola scone) and Bailey's spiked-coffees. But having already been up for hours, my appetite quickly came back and left me famished merely two hours later (thinking bubbly en route didn't help). Picnic-time yet?

At our first vineyard, after a couple glasses of vino (and two bottles of my favorite, a lightly sweet, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon Rose), an elaborate picnic lunch was pulled out, featuring two favorites I'd been craving all week -- and another favorite I haven't thought about since Easter. Clearly, the stars were aligned in my favor.

What may you ask had my mouth watering? Pickles, first of all (hey, the girl had run 6.2 miles at a 9-minute mile clip that am... and walked a mile or two). I'll blame my imbalanced electrolytes (pickle juice does wonders for that. A friend referred me to the wonders of pickles, and I haven't looked back yet. Not sure of the actual chemistry there, but Bubbies' bread and butter chips do wonders for me). Next up, deli-style cole slaw (my great grandmother made the most amazing cole slaw, and I've been craving it now for a week. Sadly, we don't have the real recipe, but a couple of palates determined to re-create it. A family member has made a good attempt, I just need to give it a whirl myself, now).

Then, the icing on the cake: Egg salad sandwiches on croissants. Not necessarily something I'd eat on a daily basis, but when I feel I deserve something a bit special and indulgent, it's just the thing. This classic favorite is perfect for making the night before and sandwiching it between two slices of country white bread before sending it off with your young kids in their lunchbox. Watching your waist? Skip the bread and serve it open-faced or atop a bed of greens. Feeling adventurous? Try making the egg salad with lemon and hummus or miso and toasted sesame seeds for something Asian-inspired.

Egg Salad

Whether you’re three or 30, there is something comforting about a cool and creamy egg salad sandwich. Making egg salad is simple to do if you’ve got eggs and mayonnaise around the house. It’s also supremely versatile.

This is a recipe for a plain-Jane version. I like to add finely chopped celery and jalapeño for a kick (and green tint). Others will add mustard or pickles — even truffle oil! There is no right or wrong addition — well, bacon would be good, though peanut butter… OK, maybe there are some additions that just don’t work.

What’s your favorite way to dress up egg salad?

2 hard-boiled eggs
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeño
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (you can cut it with half Greek yogurt for a lighter, tangy salad)
Salt, to taste
Salad greens (optional)
2 slices whole wheat bread (optional)

In a medium bowl, lightly mash the egg until in ½-inch chunks. Add the celery and jalapeño and mix well. Add the mayonnaise to taste and mash well. Season to taste. Serve alone, atop a salad, or between two slices of bread

Serves 1

The Best Picnic-Perfect Pasta Salad

I can't remember when I first discovered the combination of fresh peas, lots of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and toasted pine nuts. But I definitely have to credit my youngest sister with my obsession. She would mix the three ingredients together, often when leftover from dinner preparations, and eating them out of a big bowl with a spoon. The sweet peas with the creamy pine nuts, paired with the salty feathers of grated cheese? Heavenly.

While it took me a couple of years of simply enjoying the combination until I began to crave it come spring, I’m now a convert. However, my favorite combination has two added ingredients — fresh basil pesto — and sometimes cooked pasta, taking this from a post-school or work snack to nearly a complete meal.

I love to make a big batch of this pasta salad on the weekends to have for a nutritious dinner during the week. It's also a great dish to make and pack for a summer picnic. I find the flavors are best when I use fresh spring peas and basil from the farmers market.

Salt, to taste
2 cups pasta, such as fusilli or gobbetti (I like to use whole wheat pasta for a nuttier flavor)
2 cups peas, preferably fresh sugar snap peas (you can also use frozen peas)
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted, plus more for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season well (until salty like seawater). Add the pasta and cook as instructed on the package.
Meanwhile, trim the peas to remove the strings.
In a separate bowl, combine the pesto and cheese. Add the cooked and drained pasta, but reserve the pasta water.

Bring the pasta water to a boil again. Add the peas and cook until brightly green and just barely tender. Drain and quickly shock in ice water. Cut each pea into thirds and add to pasta. Toss to combine. Serve in a bowl garnished with more Parmigiano and pine nuts, if you wish.

Serves 4 as a side, 2 as an entrée

Monday, July 11, 2011

Stewed Rhubarb

For some, the first harbinger of spring is the ramp. For me? Rhubarb.

Alone, this stalks of this fruit (yes, it's been one since 1947) are super sour. Instead, I slice them up into thick coins...

Add the slices to the pot

Add a bit of sugar (about 2 tablespoons for 10 stalks) and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and gently cook until it turns into a mush that looks like this.

I'll eat this alone, atop Greek yogurt, spread on almond butter on toast, or atop goat cheese on a crostini. It's also a fun alternative to applesauce (albeit a bit more tart). Oh, and it's great for making strawberry-rhubarb pies and crisps!

What do you like to do with rhubarb?

A Sweet Potato Salad for a Picnic

I'm not a huge fan of potato salads, or potatoes really, for that matter. But what I do love is the combination of roasted sweet potatoes, caramelized onions, and tangy blue cheese. I'll use this combination in a frittata or omelette, in a salad, and of course alone, tossed with some oil and a drizzle of good vinegar, for a hearty alternative to tradtional picnic potato salads. In this recipe, I've lightened things up by adding halved fresh bing cherries for a juicier flavor.

2 yellow onions, peeled and sliced thinly
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 small sweet potatoes, washed and chopped into 1/4-1/2-inch chunks
Sea salt
1-2 cups bing cherries, halved and pitted
4-6 ounces gorgonzola cheese
Balsamic vinegar, preferably a syrupy consistency, for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss sliced onions together with a bit of oil and spread on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Place on the top rack of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then toss around, and bake for about 25 minutes more, until the onions are tender and some are browned. 

In the same bowl, toss the potato chunks with a bit more oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and place on a second baking sheet, this time on the second rack. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until fork-tender.

While the vegetables roast, place cherries in a clean bowl. Crumble the cheese into a separate bowl and set aside. Once the vegetables have cooled slightly, combine them with the cherries. Add a touch of olive oil and toss. Season with salt and a drizzle of balsamic, if you wish. Add the gorgonzola and gently toss to combine.

Serves 4-6
Total Time: 1 ½ hours

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Swiss Chard Custard Tart with Currant-Pine Nut Relish

And it's both delicious and gluten-free!

Over Easter, my mom had flagged this chard tart in one of the family’s favorite cookbooks, Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques (image, above). The goal was to make it gluten-free, as some family members are now avoiding it, yet the recipe called for this so-called tart to be constructed atop puff pastry. “Mom, you know we’ve made this, remember?” I cautioned. She had forgotten, and thinking back to the deliciousness that was that tart, I expressed some concern. We needed a bit more of a frittata-like tart, a la Once Upon a Tart. In a moment of brilliance (after much deliberating over recipes), Mom whipped out a Donna Hay cookbook, and one of my favorites, her spinach custard.

Now for the fun part – my adaptation, taking the best (well, what we wanted) of both recipes and then developing something hopefully successful – and delicious. I kept the chard and the pine nut relish from Goin’s recipe, and upped the egg-ricotta-crème Frâiche portion a la Hay’s recipe.

And the result? Unbelievable. It’s savory enough to act as a hearty vegetable side dish for dinner (as we served it), but being a combination of my favorite flavors – chard, mint, currants, pine nuts, onions – I, of course, had to have it for breakfast the next day, too. It would also make for a great brunch dish to serve to guests over the weekend.

Now, only if I had a picture of our updated version go along with this... 

Swiss Chard Custard Tart

For the tart:
2 pounds fresh Swiss chard
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced shallots
5 eggs
1 pound ricotta
1/2 pound goat cheese
1/2 pound crème Frâiche
Salt, to taste

For the relish:
2 tablespoons cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced red onion
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
2/3 cup currants, soaked in hot water for at least 10 minutes
1/2 cup good-quality balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
Freshly ground pepper to taste

For the tart:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash the chard and remove the just the leaves. Finely chiffonade/chop. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the shallots and sauté until translucent. Add the chard and sauté until all greens are wilted. Set aside.

In a food processor, mixer, or bowl with an immersion blender (as I did for a super-smooth consistency), combine the eggs until just mixed. Add the chesses and puree until smooth. Season to taste. Add the chard to the custard and combine. Pour into greased 9x13-inch pan and bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until the center is just set and the edges are beginning to turn golden.

For the relish:
While the tart bakes, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and sauté the onions first on high then turn to low until they’re lightly caramelized (more confited), about 10 minutes In a bowl, combine the onions, pine nuts, and currants and mix. In the same pan you cooked the onions, add the balsamic vinegar to deglaze then reduce the vinegar to a syrup over low heat, about 8-10 minutes. Pour over the relish mixture and stir. Add the mint and then season to taste (this is best made a day in advance so the flavors have a chance to meld, but hold off on some of the mint otherwise it will all wilt).

Serve the tart warm or at room temperature with the room-temperature relish.

What to Cook When It's Too Hot to Cook: Tuna Seviche

When the weather gets warm, nothing quite beats a cool and refreshing seviche (also known at ceviche). In this recipe, cubed fresh sushi-grade tuna is tossed with lime zest and juice to gently “cook” a portion of the fish (the beauty of tuna – especially sushi-grade – is that it is so good eaten raw). Finely chopped jalapenos give the mixture a kick, while cubed avocado offers a creaminess that cools the heat of the pepper.

For a dinner party, serve the seviche in a martini glass for a decorative look. At cocktails, fry up wonton or plaintain cups and add a tablespoon of seviche on top. Dining a deux? Seviche atop a bed of greens, coupled with a warm flatbread or toasted crostini, is a light and healthy meal that is great for those nights when it’s too hot to cook. That's my favorite preparation. What's yours?

1/4 pound sushi-grade tuna, cut into 1/4 inch chunks
Zest and juice of 2 limes
2 small jalapenos, finely chopped
2 avocadoes, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Toss together tuna and limes. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. Add jalapenos, avocadoes, and cilantro and season to taste. Add sesame seeds, stir. Serve.

Serves 4 as an entrée, 8-10 as an appetizer.
Total time: 20 minutes