Archives for posts with tag: Vegetarian

Happy New Year!  I hope that the holiday season treated you well and you have begun 2012 with peace, health, and happiness.

I had quite a whirlwind fall full of work, friends, family, and good food.

Two of my very good friends got married this fall carrying me to Missouri and Austin.  I even had the pleasure of making the wedding cake for my friend Tamara, who had a fun, outdoor, Texas-style celebration.  I wish both new couples many years of adventure and happiness.

In October, I had my one-year anniversary working at the bakery.  I have learned so much about pastry, running a food establishment, and hard work.  I cannot adequately describe how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to jump into a new career, meet the wonderful people I work with, and work for a business that may actually love food more that I do (if that is possible)!

As of December 31, I survived my second round of holidays in the food business.  I think knowing what was coming this time around was somewhat daunting and since I was given some extra responsibilities this year, I was extra busy.   I will happily boycott pies for a month or two thank-you-very-much.

Last month my beautiful, intelligent, sister graduated from the University of Houston with top honors (I’m super proud) and is now law school bound.  What better way to celebrate than with fantastic food?  Family and friends gathered at one of Houston’s best restaurants, Brennan’s, and thoroughly indulged in the best grits on the planet and, my favorite, Banana’s Foster.  Cheers to Anna!

Most profound of all, my husband and I found out we are expecting our first baby, a little boy, in May.  We went from trip planning to daycare hunting, now get really excited about things like when we learn the pediatrician we want accepts our insurance, and instead of working hard to maintain a slim figure, I have enjoyed my growing belly.  I feel extremely blessed and love the new path our lives our on.  Unfortunately, I got slammed with horrible morning sickness and just getting through work each day was a feat, but now that I am over half-way through the pregnancy, my taste for food other than crackers and the energy to cook has returned.

I have missed this space and sharing recipes and pictures.  I hope to be here more often, despite the changes in my life.  So here is to fresh starts whether it’s marriage, a new career, a new school, healthy eating, or a brand-new life.

My favorite time of day is the morning.  Talk about a fresh start! There is so much promise, your slate is clean, and best of all, you get to eat breakfast!  This healthy cereal, made from gluten-free amaranth grain, high-protein nuts, and dried fruit chalk-full of antioxidants is a nutritious way to get off to a great start.

Puffed Amaranth Breakfast Cereal

Serves 2

Inspired by an article in Fit Pregnancy (I can’t remember which issue, I just saw it at the doctor’s office)

Note:  Amaranth is an ancient grain with deep roots dating back to the Aztec empire – it was the primary crop for the civilization for thousands of years until the conquistadors destroyed the crop during their conquest of the region.  Luckily the gluten-free grain high in protein, lysine, and fiber survived so we can enjoy it today.  Amaranth is very earthy, almost grassy, and may be an acquired taste.  A touch of sweetness compliments amaranth’s bold flavor – in this application, dried cherries, almond milk, and a touch of maple syrup do just the trick.  Amaranth can be found in most specialty grocery stores, likely in the bulk foods department.

1/4 cup amaranth

1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup dried tart cherries

2 tablespoons unsweetened, shaved coconut

Fresh fruit for topping (optional)

Maple syrup for topping (optional)

1 cup almond milk

Heat a small skillet over medium heat.  Working with one tablespoon at a time, drop amaranth into hot skillet, cover with a lid, and let amaranth pop, lightly shaking pan constantly, for about 2o seconds.  Transfer to a bowl and repeat with remaining amaranth.

Mix in hazelnuts, dried cherries, and coconut.  Divide between two bowls, top with fresh fruit if desired, drizzle with maple syrup and finish with almond milk.

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Let’s get back to Italy.  After Florence and Cinque Terre, Kristy and I still had almost a week’s worth of traveling to go.  Before heading to Rome for five days, we made a pit-stop in the quaint town of Orvieto.

While it was full of beautiful architecture, art, and spectacular gelato, Florence was loud and swarming with more tourists than I have ever seen in one place in my life.  We were exhausted.

Orvieto, a labyrinthine town, perched atop a hill surrounded by rolling hills and vibrant farmland, was a peaceful retreat from the nonstop week from which we had come.  Orvieto wowed us with it’s breathtaking Duomo, opulent gelato (I tried pine nut!), pasta all carbonara made with wild boar (the local speciality), serene Umbrian countryside, and getting lectured by a quintessential Italian guy on how every word can be traced back to the Italian language, what makes a good teacher, to how microwaves travel around the Earth (?), the significance of the paintings on the Duomo (At least I think that is what he was talking about…) was the icing on the cake.

After less than 24 hours of peace, we were off to Rome.  To be honest, I had never been dying to visit Rome and after landing in it’s busy train station on a gloomy afternoon, I wasn’t overly impressed.  But, over the next five days, I fell in love.  I have been taking so long to write about Rome, because I am still very much caught up in what I experienced there and I think I love it more and more every day remembering the food, culture, and atmosphere of this great city.

So, while I continue to collect my thoughts and whip up some inspired recipes, here are some of my favorite food moments in Rome:

– Until we reached Rome, we had not experienced a meal that blew us away; it’s not that the food wasn’t good, but something was missing.  We were perplexed.  Where was all this phenomenal food we were supposed to be eating?  Rome began to make a case for itself on our first night when we randomly stumbled upon a small restaurant in a discreet ally.  First good sign – the menu was only in Italian, second – the patrons were only speaking Italian. From the pasta alla carbonara to the veal saltimbocca, everything was delightful, but the star of the show was the contorni (vegetable).  That night I was reminded just how good a simple plate of sauteed spinach can be, especially when it finished with butter…lots of butter, and my faith in Italian cooking was restored.

– Our second night in Rome, we were hoping to luck into a great restaurant again.  Based on our exuberance and lovestruck expressions by the end of the night, we were successful.  This was by far the best meal of the whole trip.  Since I plan to share more about this wonderful night in the future, I will just share the menu:  Antipasti – shaved zucchini and mozzarella salad.  Primi (my dish) – fresh fettucine pasta with a simple sauce of sauteed porcini mushrooms (each mushroom hand selected from the gorgeous window box display as the dish was ordered).  Segundi (Kristy’s dish) – roasted chicken in pan sauce (best chicken I have ever had; so simple, so good).  Contorni – sauteed chicory. Dolcitorta de miel and a flourless chocolate tort.  I wish I could eat this everyday.  For real.

-Tasting wild strawberries for the first time.  It wasn’t even my dessert, but the one bite of these floral, thimble sized, berries was truly memorable.  I wish I could get my hands on some over here.

-Sitting in a small square, people watching, reading, and eating a bag of Italian cookies for three hours was the most relaxing and uniquely entertaining afternoons of the whole trip.

– On one of our last days in Rome we rambled through the streets of Rome desperately trying to find souvenirs when we stumbled upon a cluster of small street vendors selling art, books, jewelry, and one man selling old postcards.  After debating for about thirty minutes, we each walked away with a pile of vintage postcards filled with old words dating all the way back to 1912.  Right off the square with the postcards, we found a wonderful trattoria.  After a wonderful caprese salad, I was wooed by a plate full of spaghetti in sugo rosso with radicchio.  Yet another example of simplicity at it’s best (which is what Italians do best).

Radicchio is an underutilized vegetable and unfortunately, is usually the last man standing in a salad.  Bitter, yes, but I would argue that we should all give radicchio a second chance.  In Italy, I had the pleasure of enjoying radicchio grilled and in pastas and not once did I have the urge to sneak it to the other side of my plate.  Give this lasagna, inspired by that little trattoria, a try and find out for yourself how radicchio can transform into a vegetable worthy of applause.

Lasagna di Radicchio

Serves 8 or so

Adapted from several recipes in The Silver Spoon cookbook

Note:  This isn’t the prettiest of dishes, but the flavor is great.  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  Also, I recommend using fresh lasagna noodles that can be found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  If you can’t find them, use no-boil noodles instead.

For bechamel sauce:

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cup milk

pinch of nutmeg

salt and pepper

For radicchio filling:

3 tablespoons milk

3 1/2 cups radicchio, cut into strips

2 tablespoons butter

1 clove garlic, minced

14.5 oz can diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped parsely

1/4 cup grated Parmesan plus additional for dusting

15 fresh lasagna noodles

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds.  Pour in all the milk, whisking constantly until it starts to boil.  Season with salt, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.  Remove pan from heat.  Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

In a small pan, heat the milk over low heat.  Add the radicchio and butter and cook until the radicchio is soft.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.  Stir in diced tomatoes with juice and parsley.

Combine bechamel sauce and radicchio mixture.  Stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.  Cook lasagna, a few at a time, in a large pan of salted, boiling water for 6-7 minutes until al dente, drain and place in a damp towel to cool.  Place a layer of 5 noodles on the base of the pan and top with a layer of radicchio sauce.  Continue making alternate layers until all the ingredients are used, ending with a layer of radicchio sauce.  Bake for 30 minutes, then serve with additional Parmesan.

The farmer’s market rockin’ this morning and I came home with a gorgeous haul.  My favorite farmer’s market to frequent in Houston in the Urban Harvest market, open Saturday mornings year round.  It isn’t the biggest farmer’s market, but it has become a quite well-rounded one.  You can find eggs, breads, pastries, local meats, vegetables, fruits, honey, preserves, vegan goods, flowers, coffee, and Gulf Coast shrimp.  Even in the short time I have been living in Houston, the market has expanded and if you live in the area, is quite a treasure.

Houston (and no doubt, the city where you live) has no shortage of venues for buying high quality food, just check out this recent Culture Map article.  For some people this is exciting, for others overwhelming.  I thought I would start a running “series” of sorts to highlight some of these places as well as show you how to use their products in your cooking repertoire.  My hope is to emphasize seasonality (most specifically here in Houston), support local farmers and business, continue to introduce new recipes, try new things myself, and maybe make someone out there feel more comfortable shopping at these opulent stores and markets.

This is what caught my eye this week:

– Pain au chocolat from Angela’s Oven (because who can resist?) – How to eat? ASAP

– French country bread also from Angela’s Oven

– Texas peaches – I am obsessed with poaching them at the moment

– Charoomy cheese from Pola Artisan Cheeses.  A young, soft, pungent cheese, cow’s milk cheese that makes me feel like I am in France and is great with fruit like…

-Figs!  To make an easy appetizer, just halve the figs lengthwise, caramelize cut-side down in a hot skillet with a bit of butter and oil, top with a soft cheese (in my case charoomy), and wrap in thin strips of prosciutto.  Voila!  Doesn’t get much easier.

-Tomatoes.  Our tomato season is quickly slipping away, but I plan to make the most of it.  Right now, few things make me happier than a tart, even savory tarts, so why not one topped with tomatoes?

IMG_9573

Simple Tomato Tart

Serves 8

Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

For tart shell:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons ice water

For tart filling:

1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

5 tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick

Salt

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup part-skin ricotta

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

1 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Process the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined.  Drizzle the oil over the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand, about 12 pulses.  Add the ice water and continue to process until large clumps of dough form and no powdery bits remain, about 5 seconds.

Sprinkle walnut-sized clumps of the dough evenly into a 10-inch tart pan.  Working outward from the center, press the dough into and even layer, sealing off any cracks.  Working around the edge, press the dough firmly into the corners of the pan with your fingers.  Go around the edge once more pressing the dough up the sides and into the fluted edges.  Lay plastic wrap over the dough and smooth out any bumps using the palm of your hand.  Put in freezer for 30 minutes and preheat oven to 375°F.

Set tart pan on a large baking sheet.  Remove plastic wrap and press a double layer of aluminum foil into the frozen tart shell and over the edges of the pan and fill with pie weights (or dried beans if you are like me).  Bake until the tart shell is golden brown and set, about 30 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and carefully remove weights and foil.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the Parmesan evenly over the bottom of the tart shell, return the baking sheet to the oven, and continue to bake until the cheese is golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes.  Let the tart shell cool on the baking sheet while making the filling.  Increase the oven temperature to 425°F.

Meanwhile, spread the tomatoes out over several layers of paper towels.  Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and let drain for 30 minutes; gently blot the tops of the tomatoes dry with paper towels before using.  Whisk 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the garlic together in a small bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan, ricotta, mozzarella, and remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil together and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Shingle the tomatoes attractively on the top of the ricotta in concentric circles.  Drizzle the garlic-olive oil mixture evenly over the tomatoes.  Bake the tart on the baking sheet until the cheese is bubbling and the tomatoes are slightly wilted, 20-25 minutes.

Let the tart cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with the basil.  To serve, remove the outer metal ring of the tart pan, slide a thin metal spatula between the tart and the tart pan bottom, and carefully slide the tart onto a serving platter or cutting board.  Serve warm.