Monday, June 20, 2011

Garlic Scape and Spinach Pesto

Recently a coworker brought in a huge bag of garlic scapes from his garden to share, and I was happy to accept a few handfuls, as I've never had them before and I rarely turn down an opportunity to try a new vegetable.


They look kind of alien-ish, I think. The tops will (I believe) bloom into flowers if not trimmed at this stage.

I always love to try new kinds of pesto, so I whizzed these guys together with some spinach (the garlicky flavor of the scapes by themselves was almost overwhelming), parmesan cheese and nuts, and a drizzle of olive oil of course. Tossed with some whole wheat rotini and some fresh mozzarella, and dinner was a snap.

I cooked 1 lb of pasta and used the entire batch of pesto in the recipe below, along with 8 oz fresh mozzarella chopped into bite sized pieces. Some chicken, sausage or tofu would be a nice addition, or some additional veggies like zucchini and mushrooms. I added a few leftover roasted cherry tomatoes, which added a nice contrast to the rich pesto and mozz.

Garlic Scape and Spinach Pesto
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8-10 garlic scapes, chopped in 1" pieces
4 ounces spinach leaves
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup toasted almonds and/or walnuts (I used 1/4 cup of each)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
about 1/4 cup olive oil (or more to taste)

In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients except the olive oil. Process/blend for 20-30 seconds, then drizzle in the olive oil and continue to process until smooth. Can be made a few days ahead of time (cover with olive oil and store in the refrigerator) and can even be frozen (ditto on the covering with olive oil).


Friday, June 17, 2011

Weekly Lunch: Quinoa with Black Bean Hummus

Are you familiar with jicama? I have enjoyed this vegetable in restaurant salads for a few years now, but have never purchased one or cooked one myself. Actually, I don't know if anyone ever cooks them, or if they are only eaten raw.

Jicamas are kind of gnarly looking on the outside, but the flesh is crunchy, mild and slightly sweet - kind of like a cross between an apple and a potato. Jicama is a great addition to veggie trays, too, it is a sturdy vegetable and will stand up to a variety of different kinds of dips.

On Sunday I cooked up some plain quinoa, and I made a batch of black bean hummus (slightly spicy, with cilantro and lime). So, packing my lunch this week was a snap - couple handfuls of baby spinach, pile of quinoa, big scoop of black bean hummus, and some crunchy jicama and bell peppers (which I sliced ahead of time) on top. When I remembered, I drizzled some extra lime juice on top right before serving. Very refreshing.

I had extra black bean hummus, so I added it to some breakfast burritos I made for dinner one night, with scrambled eggs, bacon and leftover roasted potatoes. I love multitasking meals like this!

Black Bean Hummus
Makes about 2 cups

1 15-ounce can of cooked black beans, drained but not rinsed

Big handful of cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons tahini paste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Juice of one lime
3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Directions: Put all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor or blender. Process/blend for about 10 seconds, then pour in the olive oil and continue processing until smooth.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Banana Walnut Bread

I don't buy bananas very often. I prefer apples for my everyday fruit, supplemented with berries and stone fruits in the summertime of course. When I do buy bananas, I tend to forget about them for a week and then find this:

 Which is probably the best reason to buy bananas in the first place. (I know you're all jealous of my amazing 1960s formica countertops, by the way. Oh, the joys of renting...) These bananas are way beyond eating territory for me, and the bottom ends are practically rotten. But they are perfect for baking.

I considered making banana pancakes, or perhaps some banana oat muffins. In the end, though, it was a classic recipe for banana bread, made a little healthier (and a little easier) that won my heart. The sugar is reduced from the original recipe, and I used a combo of all purpose and whole wheat pastry flour. Last month I picked up a bag of hazelnut meal/flour on a whim, and I thought it would make a great addition too. I'm not sure what else to do with the hazelnut meal though, so if you have any ideas let me know!! Also, please share any favorite recipes or ideas you have for overripe bananas! I'm sure this won't be the last time I have a few forgotten bananas laying around.

Banana Walnut Bread
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking, via The Fresh Loaf
Makes one 9x5x4" loaf

3 very very ripe bananas
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup hazelnut meal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, divided

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9x5x4" loaf pan with buttered parchment paper.
Toast the walnuts in the oven (or in a pan on the stove) for 8-10 minutes until golden. Chop the walnuts, and set aside 2 tablespoons of the smallest pieces to put on top of the loaf.
In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a spoon or fork (or a potato masher, if you have one). A few small lumps are okay. Stir in the softened butter, sugar, and eggs.
In a small bowl, combine the hazelnut meal, flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until combined (do not overmix). Fold in 1/2 cup of the toasted walnuts.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining walnuts on top, pressing slightly to make them stick. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for just a couple of minutes, then transfer the bread to a cooling rack.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Gluten Free Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

No weekly lunch post this week - I've taken the week off to host some visiting family members. It's always fun to see my city through the eyes of tourists, and we're enjoying all that my (rainy and gray) city has to offer. It's always nice to have some fresh-baked cookies when guests come to town, and these lemon poppy seed cookies are great for this - they can be made a couple of days ahead of time and baked whenever you want.

One of the few sunny moments I enjoyed this week.

One flavor combination that I love is lemon and poppy seeds, the tiny nutty crunch against a fresh tart flavor. If almonds are also involved, I am almost guaranteed to like it. Here are a few lemon poppy seed recipes I've been looking at lately:

Poppy Seed and Almond Cake from Nettle and Quince - this recipe has the most poppy seeds of any I've seen (and the least lemon of the ones listed here)

Vegan Lemon Poppy Seed Coconut Muffins from Healthy Exposures - coconut sounds like a tasty addition

These Mini Blueberry Tarts with Lemon Poppy Seed Crust are just adorable! From Happy Sugar Fun Time

I was inspired to make some lemon poppy seed cookies after seeing these incredibly buttery-looking Lemon Poppy Seed Shortbread on Lottie and Doof. The challenge was to make them gluten free. I am far from a gluten free baking expert, so the cookies did not turn out like shortbread and instead were thin and crisp, with slightly pillowy centers. Delightful, but not shortbread at all.

I also made some lemon sugar, which was a great idea and I highly recommend it:

Lemon Sugar
In a jar or other container with a lid, combine the zest of one lemon with 1/2 to 1 cup sugar. I used 3/4 cup sugar, all of which I used in the cookie recipe below. The lemon sugar can be stored for up to 2 weeks.


Another nice thing about this recipe is that it makes quite a bit of dough, and you can save some or all of it in the refrigerator or freezer for future use. I rolled the dough into a log and chilled it for a few hours before cutting half of it into slices and baking. I saved the rest of the log in the refrigerator and baked more cookies a couple of days later. Very convenient when you have house guests.

So I present to you:

Gluten Free Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies (Not Shortbread)
Makes about 30 cookies

8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup lemon sugar (or 3/4 cup sugar plus the zest of one lemon)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup almond meal
3/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup sweet white rice flour
1 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, whisk together the almond meal, flours, poppy seeds and salt.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until fluffy, then add the lemon sugar and beat an additional minute. Add the almond extract, then stir in the dry ingredients.

Spoon the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, then pat the dough into a log. Wrap up with the plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to 3 days. The wrapped dough log can also be frozen for a couple of months.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut 1/4" slices of dough and lay them 1-2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake until the edges are golden, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, then place on a cooling rack.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Rhubarb Shortcake Ice Pops

As the days are growing sunnier and warmer, I decided to break out my ice pop molds over the weekend - I haven't used them since last summer. I am excited to make more healthy frozen treats this year!

I saw a fun idea to make strawberry shortcake ice pops using layers of strawberry puree and vanilla yogurt mixed with crushed vanilla sandwich cookies. I don't usually buy packaged cookies (I prefer to make my own) but these ice pops looked so fun that I wanted to give it a try. I'm sure any crunchy cookie would work. Also, I decided to swirl rather than layer these ice pops, mostly because the shape of my molds makes it rather difficult to pour anything into them so I can't achieve neat layers.

Regardless, these were a fun and delicious treat on a hot day. The rhubarb swirl was still perfectly tart, balancing the sweet and creamy yogurt very nicely.

Rhubarb Shortcake Ice Pops
Adapted from Baker's Royale

Makes 6-8 ice pops, depending on the size of your molds

3-4 stalks rhubarb (about 3/4 pound, or 12 oz), cut in 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 1/4 cups plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt for a protein boost)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 vanilla-flavored sandwich cookies

Place the sandwich cookies in a plastic zip-top bag and crush them into small bits with a rolling pin or other heavy object. Set aside.
In a small saucepan (with the heat off), combine the rhubarb with 1/4 cup of the sugar and let sit for about 10 minutes to get the rhubarb juices flowing, then turn the heat on to medium low and simmer for about 20 minutes until the rhubarb is very soft. Use a stick blender or regular blender to puree the rhubarb.
In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, vanilla and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir in the cookie crumbs.
Fill your ice pop molds about 2/3 full with the yogurt mixture, then fill the rest of the way with rhubarb puree. Use a skewer or a knife to swirl the two components together and to get out any air bubbles.
Freeze for at least 6 hours before serving. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Weekly Lunch: Farro and Feta Salad with Spring Veggies

I scored big in the bulk section last weekend: 3 pounds of almonds, 2 pounds of oats, a pound of dried chickpeas and another 3 pounds of farro. I haven't had farro in months since it's harder to find than wheat berries and quinoa, but I am happy to be back in stock.

This week we have a quick and easy salad that takes advantage of quick-cooking spring vegetables, English peas and broccolini. Regular broccoli would also be delicious, as would broccoli rabe or kale rabe. I am also happy to start using fresh thyme from my new thyme plant!

From left, we have flat-leaf parsley, oregano, and thyme. I need to repot these guys! I wish I had room for a full garden, but I have a small, east-facing balcony that doesn't get a ton of light. Good for herbs (and maybe lettuce?) but not much else. I have a great book called The Bountiful Container, which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to grow edible plants in containers. The authors go over a ton of different veggies, herbs and even fruits that can be grown in pots - what varieties to look for, what kind of soil and sunshine they need, when they can be harvested, etc. I am not great with plants but I keep trying!!

Farro and Feta Salad with Spring Veggies
Makes 4 main dish servings

1 1/3 cups dried farro
4 hard boiled eggs
1 bunch broccolini, about 1/2 pound
1 pound English peas, shelled (about 1 1/2 cups of peas)
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2-3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
Pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Rinse farro well, then place in a pot (with a lid) with about 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 25-30 minutes until farro is tender and fully cooked but still chewy. Drain any excess water and set aside to cool.

Bring another pot of lightly-salted water to a boil. Chop broccolini in half or thirds. Add the stem ends of the broccolini to the boiling water, and after thirty seconds, add the rest of the broccolini. After 20 seconds, add the peas. Boil for another 60 seconds (no longer!) then drain and place the veggies in a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Make the dressing: Combine lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir in about 1/2 ounce of crumbled feta. Drizzle in the olive oil and whisk or shake to combine. Pour half of the dressing over the farro and stir well. Save the rest of the dressing in a sealable container or jar.

Lunch assembly: In your lunch container, combine 1/4 of the farro and 1/4 of the veggies. Add one of the hard boiled eggs, sliced, and 2 tablespoons of the pepitas and a handful of crumbled feta. Drizzle with a little extra dressing right before serving.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Weekly Lunch: Lemon-Tahini Lentil Salad

I learned something about myself this week: I do not like roasted turnips. Admitting I don't like a certain food, especially a healthy vegetable, is not something I do very often, but I just don't see any way around it.

Poor turnips, object of so many childrens' hatred, and now mine too. At least the full-grown turnips. Baby turnips, on the other hand, can be quite tasty. I've made this recipe for Orechiette with Baby Turnips and their Greens (from In Praise of Sardines) several times, and it is a wonderful combination of the earthy (yet mild!) baby turnips, the slightly bitter greens, a touch of salt from some pecorino cheese, and heat from red chili flakes.

So, if you ever see baby turnips (about 1" in diameter), I do recommend them. Full-sized turnips, however, well, I'll have to try them again sometime. But not for a while.

Before I knew my true feelings for (full-sized) turnips, my big plan for this week's salad was to roast some turnips and carrots, and mix them with some lentils that I tossed with a simple lemon-tahini dressing. I used a base of baby spinach and topped the salad with a few salted pistachio nuts and a hard boiled egg. But the turnips were so gross (sorry to offend anyone who likes turnips - maybe you could share a recipe you like?) that after Monday's lunch I knew I had to come up with something else.

The roasted turnips looked so promising...

Even the carrots were contaminated with the taste of turnips. I felt bad, but I had to throw them out. Fortunately the lentils were good, so for the next few days' lunches, I added more spinach, more pistachios, and I chopped up a few dried apricots. The extra pistachios and the sweetness from the apricots really helped balance the earthy lentils, and I definitely wasn't missing the turnips.

This version was definitely tastier.

So there we have it. A gross lunch turned into a tasty one. And please, if you like turnips, I would love to hear how you cook them!

Lemon-Tahini Lentil Salad
Makes 4 main-dish servings

1 to 1 1/3 cups dried lentils, picked though and rinsed (I used French green lentils, but regular brown ones will work)
4 hard-boiled eggs
4-6 ounces baby spinach, washed and dried
Several dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup salted pistachio nuts

Juice of one lemon, about 3 tablespoons
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tahini paste
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Simmer the lentils in lightly salted water until tender, drain any excess water and set aside to cool.

Mix all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Toss half of the dressing with the lentils and save the rest in a small container.

In the morning (or the night before), place a few handfuls of baby spinach in your lunch container. Add 1/4 of the lentils. Top with pistachios, diced apricots, and a sliced hard boiled egg. Drizzle with a bit of extra dressing right before serving.

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