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Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Warm-Up




Who says it can only come once a year?

Thanksgiving! It is the holiday that all foodies (and really any food-lovin' people) await with great anticipation. It also happens to be the holiday that vegetarians and health-conscious individuals find the hardest to navigate. Stuffing soaked in chicken broth, greens cooked with ham, pies galore, and of course, the centerpiece of it all - a huge roasted turkey served with gravy made from its own juices.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

mmm......Miso Soup


It's been too long, amigos.

October was a busy month. A half marathon, my first catering gig, 2 new classes - all good things, but they ate up my time.

So, in order to make up for my lengthy absence from the blogosphere, I am posting twice. In one day. Look out!!!

I have been reading a new book - The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. I know what you are thinking. A book. By Cher. Well, I understand. I too was a little skeptical about a vegan cookbook by yet another celebrity. What does she know, right? Yet, as I was standing in the cookbook section of the library the other day, I found myself grabbing 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, yes 10 books. My recent self-imposed ban on cookbook purchases has left my addiction a little starved, and a wall full of free books was just overwhelming. They are free, people! Free!

Roasted Pears


I listen to NPR religiously. Fresh Air, This American Life, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me - but my favorite is the all-food talk show, The Splendid Table. Each week, I tune in to hear one of my idols, Lynn Rosetto-Casper, discuss yummy recipes, new techniques, and great restaurant finds. As a tip: never listen to this show while hungry, because she and her guests have a habit of describing the flavor of food in such a way to your mouth water instantly. Hunger ensues.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beets: 2 ways.


Hello, autumn.

It was cold this morning. I don't know about you, but the first morning with a bite in the air is the best day of the year. Suddenly, everything changes. Your mood, your outlook on life, your energy level - all are instantly lifted. Today was that day, and with my autumn euphoria came a craving for all the tastes the season has to offer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Banh Mi Chay (Vietnamese Tofu Sandwiches)


I love sandwiches.

Who doesn't, right? They are the a perfect combination of taste and texture, and are often bookended by God's greatest creation: bread. I remember going on the Atkins diet in college to try to lose my freshman 15 (more like freshman 20). Breadless for 4 months. That was a dark, dark time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sweet & Spicy Red Pepper Hummus


Hummus: a beautiful, beautiful food. So easy to make, so deliciously satisfying. In the past decade, it has it become a staple in the grocery aisle, but only in the past 3 years has in been offered in a crazy array of flavors.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thai Basil Stir-Fry

Heading out of town, a fridge full of leftovers from this week. Any rational individual would heat up some veggie lasagna and hit the road. I, however, am rarely rational when it comes to food.

In the mood to cook, I wandered out to my little herb garden to see what was happening. Some of them have been looking a little worse for ware lately (so sorry, dear mint), but my Thai basil is looking absolutely beautiful.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Classic Balsamic Vinaigrette

Some people are intimidated by the idea of making their own salad dressings, but it is so simple, and so very worth it. Store-bought dressings are full of sugar, preservatives, and all types of crazy stuff. When you have a beautiful, locally gown, bright green head of buttery lettuce, you don't want to drown it in chemicals. To let it shine, dress it in a light sweet vinaigrette. A vinaigrette is a simple dressing based on a 1:3 proportion of vinegar to oil, and has endless flavor possibilities.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ra-ta-touille!


I just got this month's issue of Vegetarian Times in the mail. The cover features autumn produce. Not so fast,my friends.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes. Awesome movie. Delicious dish.

My favorite foods are those that balance opposing flavors and textures, and these fried green tomatoes are a beautiful combination. A cold, tart, juicy tomato is hidden in a hot, salty, crispy exterior - then topped with sweet balsamic and creamy goat cheese. A perfect appetizer for a modern southern dinner that will leave your guests impressed, nostalgic, and extremely satisfied.

Even though this is a fried dish, and quite the indulgent, I always strive to use healthier ingredients. Most recipes for this dish call for buttermilk, but I have chosen to use kefir: a cultured milk product that is super nutritious and often organic. I find that it has a similar "sour" quality that the buttermilk traditionally brings.

Just one of many updated southern dishes to come!



Fried Green Tomatoes
Breading
1/2 cup corn meal
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Batter
1 cup kefir
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Tabasco to taste

Tomatoes
3-5 green tomatoes, firm
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup canola oil

Slice the tomatoes 1/4" inch thick. Season one side with salt & pepper. Let sit.

Heat the oil on medium/high in a large, deep, flat-bottom skillet. Oil is hot when a drop of water sizzles in the pan. Blot the tomatoes dry with a paper towel. Take one slice of tomato, dip it in the keffir mixture, making sure it is completely coated. Dredge in the cornmeal mixture, gently. Place in the skillet carefully. Repeat with the other slices, cooking only 4-5 at a time. Crowding the pan will lower the temp.

After 1-2 minutes, turn the tomatoes. They are ready when golden brown on each side. Transfer to plate topped with 3-4 paper towels.

Serve 2-3 per plate, topped with spring mix, crumbled goat cheese, and a simple balsamic vinaigrette.

Enjoy!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Zucchini Salad - Simplicity at it's Best

Sometimes I want to cook a big, crazy, messy, complicated, multi-step concoction - and sometimes I want to feel like I am eating as mother nature intended.

This dish was born on a day I was craving a salad, but had only a zucchini and some other miscellaneous veggies on hand. Who said a salad needs to have lettuce, anyway?

For those of you that have run out of things to do with your abundance of summer zucchini, this one's for you!


Simple Zucchini Salad for 1
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp greek yogurt
pinch of salt (more if you are not using feta)
pinch of fresh ground pepper
1 large zucchini, shredded*
2-3 green onions, sliced thinly on a bias
1 small handful chopped fresh basil, italian parsley, or mint(I used all three)
feta and roasted almonds to garnish** (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients.

Add the zucchini, onions, herbs, and toss with your hands gently until veggies are coated. "But Ashley," you say, "Why do you measure stuff in handfulls?" Well, because I am allergic to measuring, and because I have never in my life said "This food has too many fresh herbs in it." CRAZY TALK.

Serve in a bowl, and top with feta and chopped roasted almonds.

That's all! Simple, delicious, healthy, and a perfect afternoon snack or side dish to a lovely dinner.

*For the zucchini, I like to use the biggest setting on my box grater. Cut off the ends, and grate the zucchini on each side until you hit seeds, and then move on to another side. Seeds tend to get mushy, so keep them out.

**I like to roast my own nuts (giggle). Buy some raw almonds, place them on an ungreased baking sheet, and bake in the oven on 400 for 10-12 minutes. You will know they are done when they start to fill your kitchen with a lovely smell.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Hand Roll Experiment & Other Pretty Pictures

Oh how I missed you, dear kitchen.

There was a turning point in my life recently: the day I started traveling with my chef's knife. Whether it is a trip home or to a friend's house, I don't dare to leave my baby at home in case the opportunity to chop an onion presents itself and I find myself without the proper tools. So, last week, while out of town for quite a while and in need of a soothing activity, a vegetable to dice would have been lovely. However, on this particular trip, there was no kitchen to be found, and therefore, no knife needed.

It was precisely this lack of creative outlet that became catalyst for my most recent cooking spasm. While away, I spent a long period of time thinking about all the things I was going to cook when I got back - asian, indian, thai, italian, greek, etc. So, when I returned, I hit the store, and like a shopoholic in Gucci for the first time in a month, I went nuts. Without plan or purpose, I bought everything in sight. This spree continued as I got home and cooked roughly 5-7 disjointed, unrelated meals.

Therefore, for this post, I give you:

The Hand Roll Experiment and Other Pretty Pictures.



I have been craving the clean, fresh simplicity of sushi for quite a while now. A friend of mine was recently telling me how she and her family would always snack on nori rolls when she was a kid. Hence, it was immediately added to my ongoing "things to cook" list.

You should know, before we begin, that I acquired a new kitchen gadget this week. Although I have enacted a strict "no purchase" policy in the kitchen due to my upcoming wedding and therefore possible wedding gifts - I simply cracked. I was trying to make a good baba ganoush last week, and I remembered the "smoked eggplant dip" that was made in Philly vegan kitchen I worked in - that was all it took. 5 minutes later, there was a smoker box on the way to Daytona from Cheboygan, Michigan via Ebay. DONE!!!

So, when the nori roll craving hit me, my first thought was - SMOKED TOFU. Now most of you probably don't have a smoker, especially if you are vegetarian. People smoke ribs and pork all the time, but not everyone is sitting home smoking strips of eggplant, tofu and tomatoes. It's cool. Baked tofu will do just fine. You don't all have to be crazy like me.

There are a number of things you can put in sushi and hand rolls, so I will just give you the recipes of some of my fillings. They are clean and simple. For a tutorial in making your own hand rolls, watch this video.


Carrot & Daikon Salad
1 carrot, grated or julienned*
1/2 daikon radish, grated or julienned
2 green onions,sliced thinly on a bias
1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon agave nectar or sugar

Spicy Tofu
1 block smoked tofu or baked tofu, diced
2 tablespoons vegan mayo
4 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce or Sambal (add more for a little kick!)
pinch salt
2 green onions, finely chopped

My Favorite Sushi Stuffin's
Sushi rice**
Avocado
Cucumber
Bell Pepper
Wasabi
Cilantro
Panko bread crumbs

*A mandolin is ideal for this, but I don't have one. So, I like to use the biggest holes on my box grater. Perfect.

**Traditionally, a short-grained white rice is used in sushi. It is essential to create that sweet "sticky rice" that is so yummy. However, I prefer brown rice, and since I am not making something traditional, brown works. If you can find it, short-grained brown rice is ideal. You can choose any kind you would like (you can even go crazy and use millet or quinoa if you are feeling feisty) - just cook 1 cup rice according to the directions, then spread it out in a baking dish, and sprinkle with a mixture of 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar mixed with a little sugar. This will give even brown rice that sweet subtle sushi flavor.

This was my first attempt at a hand roll, and I have to agree with the video, they are much easier than inside-out sushi rolls. It took me a couple tries, and they were not perfect by any means, but they are a GREAT snack or light lunch. Use any of these fillings for traditional sushi as well.

Enjoy.

Before I move on to the "random photo" section of this post I would like to add one final note. My beautiful, loving uncle, Kevin Martin, passed away last week. While it feels silly mentioning this in my blog about food, it would feel sillier not doing so. Kevin was a huge foodie, and especially loved a big plate of sushi. So, I would like to dedicate this rough-looking, half-thought-out plate of sushi to him. He would have eaten it up gladly and asked for more.

And now, as promised, some random pretty pictures:

Curried Sweet Potato & Spinach Soup


Lemoney Hummus with Kalamatas

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Farmer's Market & Impromptu Tacos!

My, I love Thursday mornings! The farmer's market in Ormond Beach boasts my favorite produce guy, the super-secret Thai shitake grower, and the organic baker who speaks mostly German. I can barely contain myself!


My return to the market this morning after a summer away was delightful. My farmer guy, Mike, was there with some exciting new items. I found plump white eggplant, okra, yellow squash, and a bundle of basil as big as a cabbage. What do I love best about this Mike? Aside from his kids, who entertain me with their latest school lessons while I shop, the produce is incredibly cheap. I bought all of those items for $8. The basil alone would have cost that much at Publix. Anyway, a successful produce purchase - one that will surely spark a pesto post dish of some kind later in the week.

Sidenote: my mushroom lady was happy to see me, and informed me that she will start bringing shitakes to the market again now that I am back. Am I the only person who appreciates a $4/lb bag of the freshest, most meaty shitakes I have ever seen? Jeez!

While I was finishing my stroll, I passed the seafood guy, who convinced me to buy some local sea bass. It was super expensive, but I decided to support local and buy enough for a small lunch for 1.

Which leads me to the food for today....

Impromptu Fish Tacos!

Why the exclamation point? Because fish tacos are the bees knees! If you haven't ever had a true fish taco - put on your shoes, go to the closest seafood shack, and dig in.

Because this was an impromptu lunch, and I am making an effort to use what I have rather than hitting the store every time I have an idea, this one is not my super ideal taco - but it was a damn fine stand-in.

I had some compari tomatoes and greek yogurt*, so I decided to throw together some salsa, and top with lime creme.

Impromptu Fish Tacos
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/4 jalapeno, finely chopped
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 lime, juiced (roll the lime before you cut it to release the juices)
1/4 cup greek yoghurt (I like full-fat for this)
pinch cumin
pinch chile powder
pinch garlic powder
sea salt & fresh ground pepper
1/4 lb sea bass (mahi-mahi would be great here too)
1 TB olive oil
small handful fresh cilantro
2 corn tortillas**

In a bowl, combine tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, half the lime juice, and salt to taste. Set aside.



In a small bowl, or ramekin, combine yoghurt, the rest of the lime juice, and a pinch of cumin.

In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. In the meantime, heat another small skillet to medium hot. When hot, place corn tortilla in the dry pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side to warm/toast the tortilla. This will prevent it from falling apart when you eat it.

Season fish with cumin, chile powder, garlic powder & salt. I am not big on measurements, but a light dusting of each works well. When the oil is hot, add to pan and shake once. Cook 2-3 minutes, being careful not to move the fish (you want to let it get a golden crust). Turn and cook for 2-3 minutes on the other side. Test the fish with a fork - if it is flaky and falls apart easily, it is done. Immediately move to a plate.


Now all you have to do is assemble your tacos! Throw on some pieces of flaky fish, salsa, and top with your lime creme and some fresh cilantro.

I hope you enjoy!

*I use Greek yoghurt in place of sour cream, cream cheese, or mayo in a lot of my food. Yoghurt, even made from whole milk, is much healthier, and I never miss out on the taste. Try it!
** Some people prefer flour tortillas, but corn are traditional for fish tacos. Flour overpowers the delicate taste of the fish - so if you haven't tried it yet, give it a go.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Spicy Shrimp and Collard Greens over Creamy Polenta

I have this habit of trying a dish once and then moving on.

So, in the spirit of change, I decided to focus on once recipe this week. For some reason, I have been craving shrimp and polenta for quite a while now. I am not sure if I have ever eaten this dish, but the idea of sweet juicy shrimp in olive oil over creamy polenta has been taunting me. I did a little recipe research to get some ideas, and dove in earlier this week for my first attempt.

This is such a simple dish, so my first try surprisingly successful. However, the greens weren't cooked as well as I would like, and I felt like there was a depth missing in the shrimp.

So, on my second attempt, I came a little closer to perfection. Here it is...


1 cup polenta
3 cups vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb medium/large wild shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on (why? it's prettier)
4-5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cayenne or jalepeno peppers, minced
2 TB tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1 TB butter*
handful chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley
4 cups chopped fresh collard greens or spinach
Sea salt & pepper

In a saucepan, bring vegetable broth to boil. Slowly whisk in polenta (whisking prevents clumping), add bay leaf, and a couple pinches of salt. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat the 1/4 cup olive oil over med heat in a large skillet. Add garlic and chiles, saute for 3-4 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. When the garlic begins to brown, add wine and tomato paste, whisk, and cook for another 3-5 minutes.

Add shrimp, and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. This step is important. Overcooking shrimp is a very common mistake, and can make the difference between juicy and fishy.

While the shrimp is cooking, heat up a small amount of oil in a deep skillet, and add turnip greens and a pinch of salt. Cook them for a minute or two, adding a little water as needed to steam. They should only need a couple of minutes, then transfer them to a mesh strainer to drain the water. Try not to squeeze them too hard, or they will loose their form and look like a mess.

Ok, back to the shrimp - When the shrimp is almost opaque, it is time to add the next ingredients. Add lemon juice**, butter, and parsley, and remove from heat immediately.

Test polenta, and add salt if needed. If it is too thick, whisk in more broth or water to desired consistency. Add 1-2 TB of butter for extra goodness.

In a shallow bowl, spoon polenta in the bottom, Place a mound of greens on top, and, then pour shrimp and pan sauce over top. Garnish with a sprig of parsley.

Voila! A delicious dish that is both simple and impressive. This recipe can be little tricky on timing, because there are a number of things that need to happen at once. Don't get overwhelmed by it - just try it a couple times to get your rhythm.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and as Julia would say, "Bon Appetit!"

*For butter, I use Earth Balance, a vegan butter alternative. I am not vegan (hence the shrimp recipe), but I find it yummy and it is made from mostly expeller-pressed oil, so I feel it is healthy. However, if you would like to use real butter, I suggest getting some farm fresh butter from a farmer's market in your area, preferably from a grass-fed cow farmer. The taste difference will blow you away.

**If you don't have a juicer (like me), squeeze your lemons over a mesh strainer to eliminate seeds.

Welcome.

Helllllooooooo!!!!! Welcome to my blog. I thought this might be a perfect time to start documenting my culinary experiences. I am currently working toward starting my own catering business (the tentative plan), and have decided to devote this year to perfecting my food. As I do so, I will share with you all what works, what doesn't, what I discover, and what tastes good!

Why write it all down? Well, as my fiance will attest to, I don't have the best memory. So, it's best to keep track and take some pretty photos along the way.

I am a pescatarian (fancy word for "I don't eat meat but I do eat fish"), so my posts will reflect my lifestyle. I love to cook whole, natural foods, so most of my will be healthy, while some will be a little more decadent. Either way, I strive to use local, seasonal produce whenever possible, and avoid packaged food. Real food!!!!! That is what we need. As Michael Pollan (food hero) says "Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables." Amen, brother!

That is enough of my mission for now, but I am sure I will continue to spout warm-fuzzy "your body is a temple" verbiage throughout the blog process.

Feel free to add comments or questions any time, and I hope you enjoy this experience as much as I do.

Love, Ash