Category Archives: Food

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Summer perfection ratatouille

It’s August!  And apparently one full month since I last updated.  July was kind of a hectic month.  And a hot month.  But the few degrees cooler it has been so far in August seem to be making all the difference.  I actually voluntarily went outside today to garden!

And in spite of the heat, it is a grand time of year as all the summer veggies are in their prime.  When I made this the first time this summer, Mr. R, who in addition to the heat has been in the throes of studying for the bar exam, said to me, “now I remember why the summer is not awful!

There really is nothing better than a perfectly summery ratatouille for dinner.  I am not lying when I say I eat some version of this almost every single night all summer long.  Sometimes more than once a day.  Even though my garden has not worked out so well this summer — I have gotten just a handful of peppers, tomatoes and one eggplant (two if you count the baby one my dog ate off the plant) — there is luckily a farmer’s market a block away every Saturday and the Glut Food Coop down the street that sells local produce so I can stock up on all the ingredients for the week!

There is some debate over what constitutes a “traditional” ratatouille.  Some like to cook the vegetables separately, some just throw it all together in one pot.  The version I will write below is a more laborious one, but please do not let this deter you from whipping up a delicious summer stew of veggies any night of the week.  If I’m short on time or just being lazy, I’ll just throw everything I have together and saute in one pot.  Sometimes I’ll add chickpeas  for protein, mushrooms or greens or other things I have on hand that may not normally go in a ratatouille.  But it’s the same general concept so, whatever.  Another interesting alternative would be to grill the squash/peppers/eggplant.  I think I might try that tonight!

You’ll also note I’m rather sparse on details and measurements.  I know I usually am.  But ratatouille in particular is one that is better when just thrown together haphazardly.

Ratatouille

Ingredients
4-5 fresh local tomatoes (if you’re gonna buy these from the grocery store in August, I mean, just don’t even bother!)
1 eggplant or two small eggplants, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
3-4 zucchini and/or yellow squash, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled but not chopped
1-2 bell peppers, julienned
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (OK to substitute Italian seasoning or something similar)
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
Preheat oven to 450°.
Gently saute an onion in a large pot in olive oil with the herbes de Provence and a few grinds of black pepper.  In the meantime, peel and de-seed the tomatoes:  score the bottoms and dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds each.  Immediately move to ice water.  The peels should come off easily with a little prodding.  Scoop/squeeze as many seeds out as you can.

Deglaze the pot with about a quarter cup of wine (or a splash if vinegar in a pinch)  Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add to the pot.  Allow to simmer and cook down until nice and saucy.

Roast the remaining vegetables in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the garlic is nice and fragrant.  You can smash it up or chop it at this point.  Once the tomatoes are cooked down nicely, throw in the remaining vegetables.  Cook in the pot until it is nice and stew-like.  Or, to your preferred consistency.

Serve over pasta.  Or rice.  Or couscous.  As always — there are no rules.  It’s summer — go wild!

 

-R

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Grilled pizza with cilantro pesto, cotija and veggies

 

Happy Fourth of July!  Kinda lame having this holiday on a Wednesday, but whatever, I’ll take it!  I’ve had a leisurely morning sleeping in, running around the lake with my dog, and enjoying a sublime breakfast and coffee.  Ahhh.

It’s too hot too cook much in my kitchen so we’ve been taking the cooking outdoors.  I’m sure by now you’re familiar with the amazingness of grilled pizza.  It’s been a trend for a few years now and I don’t see it going away any time soon — it really allows you to achieve the texture and flavor of a brick oven pizza without the brick oven!  It is a treat we look forward to every summer.

The inspiration for this pizza was from a restaurant outside of Charlottesville, the Blue Mountain Brewery, where I was visiting a couple weekends ago with some friends.  Cilantro pesto pizza.  WHY hadn’t I thought of this before?!  Cilantro is my favorite thing ever.  This pizza was pretty awesome, but this is Bounteous after all, and you know I think homemade is always better  :).  Not that I am claiming any special talent, but just because I can make it how I like it, use high-quality ingredients and not cut any corners.  So here is my version:

Cilantro pesto pizza with queso blanco, cotija, and veggies

The dough
I love this neo-neopolitan pizza dough, but when grilling pizza we’ve always used this method from the Washington PostHere is the direct link to the recipe that accompanies the article.  The dough is so chewy and delicious.

The sauce
I’ve made this cilantro pesto before, which is why I am surprised I never thought to put it on pizza!  It is super easy and quick.  I doubled this recipe to make enough to generously top four pizzas:

Cilantro Pesto
1 cup packed chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup safflower oil, or other mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Toast the pine nuts on a dry skillet and remove when browned and fragrant.  Puree all ingredients together.  Voilà.

The toppings

Cheese — the pizza I had at Blue Mountain Brewery was topped with an inordinate amount of cheap mozzarella and goat cheese.  I thought it would balance the cilantro well to stick with a Central American flavor profile and went instead with a mixture of cotija and queso blanco.  Similar texture…but better.
Veggies — do whatever you’d like, but we went with red onion, cherry tomato and jalapeno.  It was perfect.  Grill the veggies beforehand if you want them cooked more thoroughly on your pizza — otherwise they’re only on the grill for a couple minutes.

Method
I’m not the grilling expert in my family, so reference the Washington Post article for the specific details — but in a nutshell, the grill will get very hot and the dough will cook very quickly.  The idea is to sear the dough on one side, with the grill covered.  Flip, add your toppings, close the cover again and let that side cook for another minute or two.  Again, since the time on the grill is so brief, pre-cook your toppings if you want them more done.

This was one of my favorite pizzas we’ve ever made and it’s definitely going into the regular rotation.  Grilled pizza is the perfect addition to your holiday barbeque today!

Happy 4th,

R.

It’s too hot!

Okay, I shouldn’t be complaining, because I am by some miracle one of the few people in the DMV who hasn’t lost power…not sure how that happened, as it tends to go out at the first sign of drizzle.  But while I am enjoying the luxury of the internet on my computer and a functioning freezer, in terms of escaping the heat, I can still commiserate with those without electricity.  Damnit, it’s hot!

I have but one AC unit cranking in the bedroom, which seems to make the rest of the house just barely tolerable, as long as I don’t move around too much.  It’s hard to be motivated to do much of anything in these conditions.  Laundry gets done out of necessity, but vacuuming might have to wait till August or September.  Eating is a challenge.  It may be December before I am cool enough to turn on my oven again.

So I’m scouring the archives for some frosty inspiration…

Green monster smoothie anyone?  This has become my go-to breakfast — who wants hot oatmeal in this weather?

For some frozen treats try fresh peach ice cream, Aztec chocolate ice cream.  Top with a kumquat sauce!  Or try some homemade popsicles.

Don’t feel like turning on the oven or stove?  For a light and refreshing salad, try one with watermelon, feta and basil or perhaps this colorful salad with Asian sesame dressing.   Or whip up some fresh Thai spring rolls.

Refresh your body with a spa day at home using homemade ingredients…like this mermaid skin scrub or avocado hair treatment.  Scour pinterest for hundreds more ideas!

How do you stay cool in the heat?  I have a feeling it’s going to be a long month…

Visualize

-R

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Garlic Scape Pesto

I have long heard about the wonder of garlic scapes, but had never actually seen them before.  Not usually sold in grocery stores, nor in the big but run-of-the-mill farmer’s market of my rather provincial hometown, scapes are the green tops of garlic.  They are harvested once a year to give the bulb of the garlic a chance to develop, and contain the flavor of garlic without the extreme bite.  So of course, when I saw some at my local market in my new city, I had to buy some.

 

But what to do with scapes?  I did not have a recipe or even a vague idea in mind, I just knew I had to have them.

Turns out, there is one clear answer:  make pesto.

Basil pesto is, to me, the quintessential summer dish.  Nothing else conjures the sensation of summer quite like it.  I’d never really ventured out into other forms of this classic sauce, because I love it so much.  But after all, the word pesto simply means to pound or to crush, and can describe any kind of sauce made in the same manner.  And I have to say this one really does rival basil pesto in deliciousness.

Please feel free to experiment with the amounts!  If you really like cheese…by all means add more!

Ingredients

2 cups chopped garlic scapes
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino or both
1 Tablespoon sunflower seeds or pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
A Lot of olive oil

Blend the seeds/nuts in a food processor.  Add the scapes and blend.  Begin gradually adding olive oil until you like the consistency.  Blend in the cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Voilà.

-R

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Popsicles!

90 degree days have arrived and it has been MISERABLE in my house.  We have a window AC unit but need to repair the broken, lead-paint covered windows in the bedroom and dining room before we can use it.  The window has been ordered and deposit paid to the contractor.  Until it is installed, however, we are getting creative on ways to keep cool!

Some friends of ours who somehow survived living in Arizona without air conditioning had a genius suggestion:  homemade popsicles!  What can be better than frozen fruit juice on a hot day?  I’ve seen a lot of recipes popping up on the internet too that look delicious.  Here are three I’ve tried.

 

Strawberry-Kiwi
Courtesy of Fine Cooking’s amazing make-your-own-ice pop recipe generator
Makes 8-10 popsicles

1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt
About 10 kiwis (or 1.5 pounds)
1 cup strawberries, sliced or quartered or whatever

Make a simple syrup:  mix the sugar, salt and a half cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  When sugar is totally dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool.

While simple syrup is cooling, peel kiwis and puree flesh with a food processor.  Slice strawberries.

Combine kiwi puree, strawberries and simple syrup.  Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
Makes 3-5 popsicles (can be doubled)

1 large stalk rhubarb, sliced
1.5 cups sliced strawberries
Peel of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
Teaspoon pectin

Peel the lemon with a vegetable peeler, carefully avoiding the pith.  Combine the sugar with 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil to dissolve.  Add the lemon peels and continue to boil for 2-3 minutes.  Remove and discard.

Add the rhubarb and cook for a few more minutes, until it starts to break down.  Add the strawberries and cook down some more, stirring and mashing with a fork as necessary.  Add a teaspoon of pectin.  This helps it congeal and will make the popsicles less hard and icy.

Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.

Creamy Honey-Lavender
Adapted from here
Makes 8-10 pops (can be halved, which I did)

I came across this recipe while searching for inspiration for strawberry-rhubarb popsicles.  I had just picked some lavender from the garden and was intrigued.  I am not convinced that lavender makes a good culinary herb — seems better suited to soap to me — but seeing as I had lavender right on hand I had to give it a try!

3 cups whole milk (I actually used hemp milk)
Buds of 6 fresh lavender flowers, or tablespoon of dried lavender flowers
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
teaspoon vanilla

Bring all the ingredients together in a saucepan and bring to a boil until sugar is completely dissolved.  Allow to cool, removing the lavender flowers after no more than 30 minutes.  Pour into popsicle molds.

My favorite is definitely the strawberry rhubarb, followed by the strawberry kiwi.  Would definitely make those again!  The honey lavender was interesting, but I’m not sure I’m dying to make it again.

Stay cool!

-R

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A tropical barbeque

Welcome summer!  It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to update.  What can I say…it’s wedding season!  But finally, a free weekend, and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

The summer season began with a HOT Memorial day weekend, and while it has cooled off temporarily it’s looking to reach into the 90s again soon.  It’s been…an adjustment.  But I’m trying to embrace summers in Washington with no AC, and what better way than to bring a taste of the Caribbean to you?  After all, it’s too hot to turn the oven on, and we had to inaugurate this shiny new addition to our backyard:

Thus we came up with a menu inspired by the tropics:  Chicken/tempeh with a jerk marinade, golden steamed cabbage, coconut rice, and fried plantains!

To make the Jerk marinade:

These traditional Jamaican flavors are SPICY and not for the faint of heart!  I rather naively slathered it onto my tempeh, but please, go easy on it if you can’t handle extreme heat.

This can obviously be used for any kind of meat, but tempeh, a cultured soy product, is a great vegetarian alternative for the grill.  It is easy to work with and soaks up flavors fast!

I believe Mr. R adapted his recipe from this one.  Scotch bonnet (habanero) peppers are key, as is allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, sugar…  stay with me here, I know these sound like the ingredients for Christmas cookies, but the flavors meld together perfectly.  Thyme is also important, and sometimes you’ll see various aromatics like onions, garlic, scallions, and ginger thrown in too.  I am by no means an expert so please feel free to weigh in if you are.  Compare and contrast different recipes and see what looks good to you!

Do not try to replace the scotch bonnet peppers, however.  It just won’t be quite the same.  Check out a Latin grocer if you can’t find them at your regular grocery store.

Blend up all the ingredients and rub onto the protein and let sit, in a container or bag, for 30 minutes or so in the fridge.  I will say it again — go easy!  It will be SPICY!

Simply grill the tempeh over direct heat for about 5 minutes on each side. And now your vegetarian friends can join in the joy that is grilling during the summer!

Coconut rice

This recipe is DEFINITELY one I am working into my regular meal rotation — it was fantastic!  Not to mention it smelled amazing during the preparation as well.  It also made a freaking ton of rice and we had leftovers all week.  With black eyed peas worked in — it’s a complete protein!

Ingredients
Adapted from here
2.5 cups long grain basmati rice
1 can coconut milk
1 cup dried black eyed peas
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
4-6 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3 teaspoons salt
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or a dash of dried thyme if unavailable
1 scotch bonnet/habanero pepper, minced

Cook the beans as you normally would — soak for several hours or overnight and then simmer for an hour.

Add the coconut milk to the beans cooking in their pot, then bring to a boil with the salt and seasonings, plus the scallions, garlic and pepper.

Stir in the rice and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook for 20-30 minutes, until rice is done, liquid is absorbed, and your kitchen smells like heaven.

Golden steamed cabbage
Adapted from this website.

I love all brassicas — they are my favorite vegetables — and cabbage is no exception.  This adds a pretty note of color to your plate!

Ingredients
1 head cabbage
Assortment of 2-4 sweet and hot peppers, including scotch bonnet
1 medium onion
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or dash of dried)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste

Thinly slice the cabbage, removing the center core.
Heat a large pan with a generous amount of olive oil or butter and saute the peppers and  onions with salt, black pepper and turmeric briefly, until translucent.  Add about 1/4 cup of water, adjusting as necessary, and then add the sliced cabbage to the pan.  Cover and allow to steam until cabbage is translucent, tender and reduced in size.  Remove cover and allow excess water to steam off if necessary.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Savor.

Fried Plantains

 

A tropical dinner is just incomplete without fried plantains.  They are simple but taste great with accompaniments such as guacamole.  We followed Alton Brown’s method.  They came out great!

This meal was something new and different for us and such a fantastic way to welcome summer with friends.  I can’t wait to make it again!

-R

It’s strawberry season!

That’s right — a little early this year, so get thee to your nearest strawberry patch!

I am usually not expecting strawberry season to be in full swing until later in May/early June, but the news that berries are approaching their peak this week means it’s time to cancel all plans and make room for strawberries.  I went by myself on my day off and picked as many as I could carry in my two arms!

Luckily it could not have been a more beautiful day.

I plan to make strawberry jam, as I do every year, but strawberry shortcake is always good too!

Then, as though I still haven’t had enough of strawberries…I went and picked myself up one of those strawberry grow bags for my backyard.

I was so intrigued by the idea of growing strawberries in containers as seen here at Garden Therapy.  I just had to try.  I thought it would be impossible to grow strawberries in my little yard with an even littler patch of full sunlight.  But this might be POSSIBLE.

I picked up 5 plants before I knew how many holes my bag would have…need to go get some more!  They were 10 for $10 at my nursery!

I chose an everbearing variety that should produce gradually all summer long and possibly even into the fall.  June bearing is more common, however, and necessary if your goal is to grow lots of strawberries at once to use in recipes.  They produce in one prolific burst this time of year.

Strawberries are perennials, for a few years at least, and will overwinter.  My dad, who taught me everything I know about vegetable gardening, always instructed me to pull the blossoms off the first year.  This obviously prevents berry formation the first year, and requires delayed satisfaction.  Hard, I know.  But if you’re growing in a garden bed and ultimately want lots of berries, it is better to do this as it promotes the growth and health of the foliage.

For container gardening, there is obviously no point to this, so I think I will forgo this little piece of advice this year.

I am not totally convinced I get adequate sunlight in my backyard now that the trees have fully leafed out.  So we’ll see how well these do.  If strawberries don’t work out, these bags can be used for growing all kinds of things in small spaces, so I’ll just have to learn and adapt.  Such is gardening.  Such is life.

-R