Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pea Pesto Pasta (The Triple 'P')

Poor peas.  Canned, thrown into bags of mixed medleys, and sitting as side dishes in frozen dinner entrees.  No wonder some of us didn't take to peas growing up.  They conger images of nagging mothers, reminding us all to eat our vegetables. I have to admit, peas were never a favorite of mine either.  A few things changed all that recently.  First, I tasted peas from a farmers' market.  These are peas as they should be.  Fresh, bright, and green.  I started to see peas in a new light and I urge you to give them a try in this recipe.  They have a very delicate flavor and there is something so nifty about removing them from their little pods.  I fell even harder for peas this past May on a trip up to Maine.  Isn't everything better in Maine?

This mothers' day, my brother and I took our mother to chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier's Arrow's Restaurant in Ogunquit.  I have been to their sister restaurant MC Perkins Cove on special occasions with my husband. We pulled up to a beautiful farmhouse boasting it's own garden on the grounds.  Covering almost an acre of land, the restaurant grows it's own produce to create it's seasonal menu.  Lined with apple orchards, impeccable landscaping, and just-in-bloom tulips, this is spring at it's finest.  Greeted at the door by a man holding a tray of tomato crostini, already I am in love with this place.  We were seated at table by a window overlooking green grass and gardens, which certainly overcompensated for our slightly drizzly day.

The restaurant has received a plethora of well-deserved press and awards since their opening in the late eighties.  You can read more about this on their website.  As each dish arrived, I could see why.  The atmosphere was so relaxing, each course paced perfectly, and the food was elegant and delicious.  I opted for their 'seed and soil' menu.  The first course of this menu consisted of 'first of the season English peas in five preparations.'  It included: a pea terrine with parsley sauce, pea soup with creme fraiche, pea flan with bell pepper vinaigrette, peas in a tuille with yogurt and turmeric, and a pea popsicle.  And this is how I fell in love with peas.  Each of our dishes was unique, and many of the ingredients grown right outside the window I was starring out of.  Talk about 'farm to table' at it's finest. A stroll around the gardens on the way out was the perfect way to end the afternoon.  My mother seemed to think so too.  Something makes me think we will make this a new tradition.

I was reminded of this day and meal when I received peas in this week's CSA share, in addition to mint.  I immediately got to thinking of a dish I could make that would incorporate both.  I make many version of pesto at home, traditional with basil or more adventurous with kale and spinach.  I'll often use walnuts, almonds, and even sunflower seeds.  In this version, I went the more traditional route with pine nuts and used peas for my green factor.  The secret ingredient here is the mint.  If you have not cooked with mint before, you are in for a real treat.  This pesto is light, refreshing, and a nice change of pace from all that red sauce over the winter.  A little lemon to boot and you have fresh summer-style pasta on your hands.  I enjoyed this at my kitchen island on a rainy afternoon, maybe not as picturesque as the gardens, but certainly super tasty and satisfying.

~Pea Pesto Pasta Recipe (The Triple 'P')~

1 cup fresh shelled peas
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more to top the dish
5 sprigs fresh mint
1 large garlic clove
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 lb pasta

Bring a large pot of water up to a boil and cook pasta to al dente.  Bring a small pot of water up to a boil for the peas.  Remove the peas from their pods.  Cook for just a minute.  Drain and add to food processor with pine nuts, cheese, garlic, mint, lemon  juice, and zest.  Pulse to combine.  Stream in the extra virgin olive oil until it is all combined, scraping down the sides if necessary.  Toss pesto with pasta.  Serve with extra grated Pecorino Romano cheese.  Serves 4.

Also, if you are interested, Gaier and Frasier have come out with a second cookbook, Maine Classics.  Looking at the beautiful photos and locations will transport you to the Maine I love.  Having spent my summers there during my childhood, it's both a cookbook and storybook that makes me all nostalgic for smores on the beach and blueberries by the side of the road.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Purist Peanut Butter Bars

This recipe is for my good friend Cristina.  Years ago when she was living in Boston, I would often visit her apartment for dinner.  She had the most charming little kitchen; brightly decorated, whimsical, and inviting.  It seemed to just open it's arms to you as you walked in the door, as did she.  We would open a bottle of wine and chat over the stove while she chopped and sautéed.  Her boyfriend would walk down the street and join us for dinner at her little table.  Fresh out of college, we laughed at recent memories and stories, and savored a home cooked meal together, just the three of us.  She has since moved to Maryland, and although there is distance between us, I remember nights like these, when our friendship blossomed and we shared our love for food and laughter.  I had the chance to visit her this past fall.  Her charming little apartment has turned into a beautiful home, and her boyfriend has since become her fiance.  We spent the weekend driving through rural backstreets, laughing until we cried, and indulging in a few cupcakes. 

I can remember saying to Cristina years ago in her apartment one night that I was craving something sweet.  Without missing a beat, she pulled out her recipe binder and whipped up a batch of homemade peanut cookies.  We ate them straight out of the oven.  It's taken a bit of time, but a few years later I'm returning the favor.  Here is my new peanut butter treat.  Because I can't deliver these in person, the recipe will have to suffice for now.  Somehow I can picture Cristina whipping these up in her bright new kitchen, apron and all down in Maryland.  I know she is on the lookout for healthier versions of treats to bake.  This one uses brown rice syrup and whole wheat flour.

If you have not used brown rice syrup before, give it a try in this recipe.  As a natural sweetener, brown rice syrup is the perfect sugar substitute in these delicious bars.  You can find brown rice syrup in your health food stores.  I use the brand Lundberg, Sweet Dreams.  Brown rice syrup has a rich butterscotch color and a slightly sweet smooth taste.  Traditional dessert bars are often overly sugary and sweet.  Not these.  I find these bars to be just sweet enough and really showcase the peanut butter as the star ingredient.  Don't skimp on your peanut butter.  Good quality peanut butter really makes a difference in this recipe, as there are so few ingredients.  These bars are moist, just a tad bit salty, and topped with slivered almonds to pack a crunch.  Baked up to a light golden brown, these peanut butter bars will become your new favorites.  They pack well, are perfect for on the go snacking, dessert, or admittedly... even breakfast.  I brought these to a friends' house for an after dinner treat and came home with an empty plate.  Kids and adults alike love these.

~Purist Peanut Butter Bars Recipe~

1 cup organic unsalted peanut butter
1 1/4 cup brown rice syrup
6 tablespoons butter 
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 eggs
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 tablespoon butter for greasing pan

Preheat the oven to 350º.  Beat peanut butter and butter in a stand up mixer or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer.  Once combined, add in brown rice syrup.  Be sure to incorporate the brown rice syrup completely, scraping down the sides of the bowl if you need to.  Continue to beat, adding in vanilla extract, both eggs, 1 at a time, and sea salt.  Slowly add in the whole wheat flour until it is combined.

Pour mixture into a 13x9 inch pan.  Use an additional tablespoon of butter to grease pan.  Using a spatula, gently spread the mixture out to the edges of the pan to be sure it is even.  Sprinkle with almonds.

Bake for 35 minutes, until the corners begin to turn a light golden brown.  You can also insert a toothpick inside the middle of the bars to be sure they are cooked through.  Let the bars cool completely before cutting.  Serves 8.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tomato Bulgur and Wild Mushroom Saute

Sunday morning.  It has a different feel than the rest of the week...quiet, unhurried, and lackadaisical.   Always an early riser, I appreciate the quiet time I have to myself.   I'll open the windows and brew a pot of coffee.  Sunday morning 'acoustic sunrise' hums from my radio, my dog lying at my feet.   For me, it's these moments when I most enjoy my time in the kitchen.  There is no sense of urgency to get dinner on the table with my mind fluttering full of work week obligations.  It's quiet, relaxing, and allows me to be creative and experimental.  When I am fortunate enough to have a Sunday morning such as this, I can also get a jump start on my week.  By creating a dish or two, I know I'll have something to come home to amid those late night arrivals.  This past Sunday, I came up with this little number using bulgur as it's building block.

Bulgur is best known as the ingredient in tabouli salad.  Often underused and overlooked, it could certainly be substituted in many recipes that call for rice or couscous.  Bulgur has a slightly nutty flavor and like all grains, is really just a blank canvas.  My mother was the one who first turned me onto bulgur.  She makes a cold bulgur salad with tomatoes, red onion, and cucumbers that is great scooped onto crackers.  When cooking the bulgur, she uses a can of diced tomatoes.  I've borrowed this idea to create a tomato infused bulgur.  It's an ideal base to blanket the wild mushroom saute.  I've used a mix of baby bella, shitake, and oyster mushrooms here, but use what you like.  Thick portobello slices would even be great here.  The tomato bulgur soaks up the juicy mushroom and onion mixture.  Great on a Sunday, or any day.

~Tomato Bulgur and Wild Mushroom Saute Recipe~

1 cup bulgur
1 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes in their juices
2 cups vegetable stock or water (for bulgur)
1/2 cup vegetable stock (for mushroom saute)
2 onions diced
1 clove garlic diced
5 cups mixed mushrooms 
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
parsley to garnish

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.  Add first onion and cook a few minutes until translucent.  Add can of diced tomatoes and vegetable stock/water and bring to a boil.  Add in bulgur, cover, and reduce heat.  Depending on how thick your canned tomato variety is, you may need more or less cooking time.  I have made this a few times and found the cooking time to vary.  You'll want to cook the bulgur until the liquid is absorbed and the bulgur is tender.  It should take approximately 25-30  minutes.  A few tips: adjust the heat and remove the lid towards the end of cooking time to help the liquid evaporate if you need to (letting stand for about 10 min).  Alternatively, add more vegetable stock/water if the liquid has evaporated and the bulgur needs more time.

In a large saute pan, heat remaining tbsp of olive oil and butter.  Add second diced onion, garlic, and thyme, cooking a few minutes until the onion is translucent and the thyme is fragrant.  Add in in white wine, letting it come up to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer just a few minutes until the liquid has evaporated by half.  Add in mixed mushrooms and vegetable broth.  Saute until the mushrooms are tender.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve the mushroom saute over bulgur.  Garnish with parsley.  If you wanted to get all fancy, you could even drizzle a little truffle oil over the top of the dish.  I had a little bottle on hand  I splurged on for a fancy at home dinner.  Not a bad little touch.  Serves 4.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Roasted Garlic Red Lentil Hummus

Few things have a more alluring aroma in the kitchen than garlic roasting in an oven.  Maybe garlic hitting a hot pan of oil, but you can see where I'm heading with this.  I have made a few versions of hummus at home with recipes that typically call for traditional versions of chickpeas and raw garlic.  However, I've been disappointed with lackluster results and hummus that felt like it was missing something.  I played around with the idea of roasting garlic and swapped out the chickpeas for red lentils.  

Recently I have been drawn to the bulk section of my grocery store, perusing among bins of beans and legumes I have yet to try.  Red lentils caught my attention on my latest trip down this aisle.  Red lentils, really not red at all, but a bright orange hue, cook up quickly and don't require soaking time overnight.  I've enlisted the help of quite a few spices and flavors at work in this hummus version.  I've incorporated some cumin and coriander, topped it with a cilantro olive oil drizzle, and a sprinkle of pine nuts.

I used a whole head of roasted garlic in this recipe, which might seem like a lot, but really was just the thing that was missing.  Roasted garlic has a mellow, almost buttery flavor, and is not at all overpowering here.  The texture of the hummus is a bit lighter and less dense than you might be used to if you buy hummus.  Serve this up with pita chips, crackers, or crudite. 

~Roasted Garlic Red Lentil Hummus Recipe~

1 head garlic (1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for roasting)
1 cup lentils
2 cups water
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp pine nuts

Preheat oven to 400.˚  Remove the papery outer skins of the garlic heads, drizzle olive oil over top, and wrap in foil.  Bake until very soft and tender, about 45 minutes.  Once the garlic can be handled, squeeze the cloves from their skin and set aside.

Rinse and drain lentils.  Heat water in a pot over high heat.  Once it comes to a boil, add in the lentils.  Cook for about 20 minutes or until they are tender.  Drain and set aside.  First, add the roasted garlic cloves to the food processor and pulse.  Add in the lentils, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil, scraping down the sides of the food processor if necessary.  Pulse until you reach a smooth consistency.  Finally, add the cumin, coriander, and sea salt, pulsing to combine.  Transfer the ingredients to a bowl and refrigerate for a few hours.  Refrigerating the hummus will thicken the texture a bit and also allow the flavors to combine.

~Cilantro Drizzle~

small bunch of cilantro (5 oz.)
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

To make the cilantro drizzle, use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the olive oil and cilantro together.  Drizzle this mixture over the hummus.  Sprinkle with pine nuts.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Pecan Crumble

A few years ago, I read novelist Barbara Kingsolver's inspiring book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It's a story documenting the year her family spent eating home-grown, local food in southern Appalachia.  If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it.  There are few books I would consider reading more than once, but this book is one of them.  It's extremely thought provoking and will leave you questioning what you thought you knew about our how our food makes it to our plate.  This book transformed my thought process in terms of where my food comes from and how it is grown.  I began seeking out farmers markets, and in my attempt to support local farmers, I also discovered just how delicious produce can be in season at it's peak.  There is something deeply satisfying about strolling along tables overflowing with produce on a Saturday morning.  Iced tea in hand, filling my tote bag with sweet strawberries in June or bright red heirloom tomatoes in late summer, I seek out the best of what my community has to offer.

In addition to my farmers market trips, I have been wanting to join a CSA for some time.  This winter, I bought a share at  Connors Farm and have been eagerly awaiting the first pickup.  Rhubarb and strawberries are in season here in Massachusetts and I was happy to come home with both.  I began playing around with the idea of combining strawberries and rhubarb into a crisp.  I also got a beautiful jar of deep amber honey from my first pickup and wanted to incorporate this as well.  Rhubarb and strawberries are commonly paired together in desserts for their sweet and tart combination.   

In this version, I used orange juice and zest to give the fruit a little pop.  I also combined pecans to the traditional crumb topping mixture.  This is a rustic, messy, not too perfect dessert in it's own right.  The juicy strawberries and rhubarb create a sweet red syrupy liquid and that's just fine with me, because it pairs perfectly with vanilla ice cream or thick Greek yogurt.  I think this is even better the next day and actually prefer this crumble cold.  Try it this way and you'll see what I mean.  It has time in the refrigerator to thicken up a bit and the orange flavor really comes through.

~Strawberry Rhubarb Pecan Crumble Recipe~

1 quart strawberries (4 cups) cut into quarters 
1 large rhubarb stalk (1 cup) cut lengthwise and again into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp orange zest
juice from 1/2 orange (a bit shy of 1/4 cup)
1 tbsp butter for greasing pan

1/3 cup pecans
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup butter
2 tbsp natural cane sugar

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Grease an 8x8 baking dish with butter. Place strawberries and rhubarb into the pan.  Drizzle with honey, coating evenly.  To make the topping, pulse the pecans in a food processor.  You could also chop these and mix ingredients by hand. Add in the  flour, oats, sugar.  Finally, add butter in pieces, pulsing until just until it is combined.  Transfer the topping mixture evenly over the filing.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling around the edges and the topping is golden.  Let cool for a bit if you are choosing to serve it warm.  (Note-the fruit cooks off a good amount of liquid.  Refrigerating the crisp will thicken it up).  Serves 6.

"Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they're missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty scent of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven.  The choreography of many people working in one kitchen is, by itself, a certain definition of family, after people have made their separate ways home to be together."-Kingsolver

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crunchy Couscous Salad with Tahini Dressing

Tahini is fairly new for me.  As a hummus lover, I suppose I've always loved the taste of tahini.  If you are not familiar with tahini, it's a thick paste made from ground up sesame seeds and is common in Middle Eastern dishes.  It has a unique nutty flavor all it's own.  It has become a regular in my fridge.  I'll often spread tahini over toast for breakfast or an apple as a snack in place of peanut butter. I first experienced a tahini dressing in a falafel sandwich.  I wanted to create my own version of a tahini dressing and this salad is the perfect way to showcase it.  Whenever I create salads, I think about color and texture.  Layered with apple, carrot, cucumber, and topped with pine nuts, this salad has a great crunch factor and works well with the nutty components of the dressing.  It's colorful, light, and packs well for lunch.  Better yet, give the potato salad a break and bring this dish to your next cookout for something fresh and new.

~Crunchy Couscous Salad with Tahini Dressing Recipe~

1 cup couscous
1 1/4 cup water
1 medium red apple, cored and diced
1 carrot, shaved into ribbons
1 cucumber, diced
small handful parsley, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

Tahini Dressing

1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 scant cup lemon juice
1 tbsp honey

Bring water up to a boil in a saucepan.  Add in the couscous, cover, remove from heat, and let stand for 5 minutes.  Remove cover and fluff with a fork.  Let the couscous cool while you prep the other ingredients.  I start by making the dressing.  In a small bowl, whisk the tahini together with water to thin out the consistency.  Add in lemon juice, honey, and olive oil, continuing to whisk together.  Set the dressing aside.

Core and dice one red apple.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the carrot into little ribbons.  Dice cucumber and parsley.  

Over medium low heat, toast the pine nuts until they start to brown.  Keep your eye on these because the process is quick and you don't want them to burn.  

Be sure your couscous has cooled completely before adding the rest of the ingredients.  Once cooled, combine the couscous, apple, carrot, cucumber, and parsley in a large bowl.  Pour the dressing over the salad and toss all the ingredients together.  I find your hands are your best tools for this kind of mixing.  Finish the salad by topping with the toasted pine nuts.  Serves 4-6.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Grape Citrus Spritzer

Sparkling water is my go to drink of the moment.  I first fell in love with sparkling water during my college years.  I was on a summer trip in Rome, sightseeing with a few friends.  It was a July day reaching well into the and humid.  We spent the day traipsing around ancient ruins, exploring side streets, and climbing the Spanish Steps.  It was on this day, parched and tired, I was ready and willing to hand over any amount of lira (this was before the days of the euro) to the wonderful man selling cold bottled water on the street.  It was then I discovered my choice between still water, and the surprisingly delicious "with gas" option, or acqua gassata.  Since then, I find myself seeking out Pellegrino in restaurants and often pack seltzer water in my lunch bag.  There are many flavored sparkling waters I've come across since.  This recipe is my take on sparkling water with a little twist.  It couldn't be easier.  I'm sure this would be just as good with blueberry juice or any other juice of your choice.   

I make this recipe two ways.  The first way is unsweetened.  If you are used to drinking sparkling water on it's own and don't mind a bit of tartness, try it unsweetened.  If you prefer your drinks on the sweeter side, go ahead and add the sugar and adjust it to your liking.  I like to make a big pitcher of this and leave it in the fridge on warm days.  I've even made a pitcher of this for the holidays.  It has a deep purple jewel tone and looks as pretty as it does festive. 

~Grape Citrus Spritzer Recipe~
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Holiday Entertaining

2 1/2 cups unsweetened all natural grape juice
juice of 4 lemons (1/2 cup)
juice of 4 limes (1/4 cup)
1 bottle of sparkling water (1 litre)
1/2 cup sugar (if using) and 1/2 water to make a simple syrup
1 lime sliced to garnish

Fill a pitcher a quarter of the way with ice cubes.  Add in the grape, lemon, and lime juice.  If you are making the sweetened version, heat the sugar and water in a saucepan on low.  Add this simple syrup to the pitcher once it has cooled.  Mix with a large wooden spoon and a few slices of lime to garnish.   

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Roasted Asparagus and Sweet Onion Soup

My first entry.  It seems fitting to include a recipe that has both a 'green' and 'thyme' component.  It is after all, the name of my blog.  'Green' for the healthy dishes I plan to share and 'thyme' because it is the first herb I learned to cook with.  Years ago, I made a large pan of roasted vegetables with thyme and have been hooked on it ever since.  It made me realize just how important herbs can be in pulling a dish together.  This recipe incorporates some of those flavors I first fell in love with.

Vegetable soups have always been a favorite of mine, whether chunky and rustic or smooth and pureed, I can't seem to get enough.  They typically make for quick cooking time and it's a great way to use up what's in your refrigerator or freezer.  As winter gives way to spring, my soup ingredients change from heartier root vegetables to fresh green vegetables.

Two things make this soup work well.  First, roasting the asparagus and vidalia onion bring out the natural sweetness in these ingredients, layering the soup with flavor.  Second, using a potato to thicken the soup is a healthier alternative to finishing with cream or milk.  Blended together and topped with a drizzle of olive oil and shredded Parmesan, it's just the thing to kick off the spring season.

If I know I'm going to make this soup, I'll often roast the vegetables ahead of time, usually the day before or night before.  That way, my ingredients are ready to go and the soup comes together in no time, making a quick and easy lunch. 

~Roasted Asparagus and 
Sweet Onion Soup Recipe~
(Adapted from Robin Miller)

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch of asparagus (approximately 3 cups)
1/2 large vidalia onion cut into wedges (3/4 cup)
1 small potato peeled and chopped small (1 cup)
3 cups of vegetable broth
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
sea salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove the tough ends of the asparagus.  Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Using your hands, toss the asparagus, coating each spear. Spread the asparagus in a single layer on your sheet pan.  Cut the vidalia onion half into wedges, also tossing and coating with 1 tbsp of olive oil on sheet pan.  Roast the asparagus and onions for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.  The asparagus should be tender and the onions, slightly browned.  Adjust the roasting time if your asparagus spears are on the larger size.  They may need a bit more time.  Once cooled, cut the asparagus into 1 inch pieces. 

Heat the remaining tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a pot.  Add in the garlic, cooking 2 minutes, until fragrant.  Add in the cubed potato, stirring and coating with the garlic and olive oil, taking care not to let the potato stick.  Add in the thyme, asparagus, onions, and vegetable broth.  Bring the heat up just to a boil.  Place a lid on the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Continue to let the soup cook for 10 minutes more, making sure the potatoes are cooked through.  Using an immersion blender, or a traditional blender working in batches, puree the soup until it is smooth.  Season with sea salt and pepper to your liking.  Serve up with a drizzle of olive oil and shredded Parmesan.  Serves 4.