Saturday, May 31, 2014

Hot and Sour Bok Choy

A couple weeks ago, when the local farmer’s market opened for the season, it was pretty easy to get excited by anything green that presented itself for my cooking pleasure. It’s even more exciting to find out that growers have become rather spectacular at producing vegetables in hot houses long before the rest of us are even getting brave enough to set foot in the frozen mess that will eventually be our gardens.

Among the earliest offerings of the green and growing were some beautiful baby bok choy. This variety, which my fabulous husband managed to score for me when I had to work during farmer’s market hours, had dark green leaves with a tinge of purple, and pretty, light green stems. (I think it’s known as “red” bok choy.) It was almost too beautiful to cut up and cook, but I’d been looking for fresh green things to test out a hot and sour sauce recipe, and showed no mercy!

This is a relatively simple side dish with a sauce made up of some basic Asian flavors. Try not to turn your nose up at the ketchup. It adds a bit of extra tang and body to the sauce. Don’t turn your nose up at any other greens besides bok choy that you might find fresh and ready to use here either. It’s the sauce that’s most important, and could probably go with anything.

Which is good, since by the time I’m getting this to you, spring is gone and summer is well settled in. While there aren’t great bunches of other vegetables available here yet, they’re coming soon and many of them could benefit from this sweet, spicy, tangy treatment. I know some local folks who just got chard in their CSA box, and, since the original recipe from which I started called for chard, that would do just fine. I love this sauce so much, I’m planning on trying it on just about veggie I can get my hands on!

Hot and Sour Bok Choy
Adapted from Clean Eating magazine

You could use other greens with this sauce recipe.

3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
2 small to medium heads bok choy, stems and leaves separated and chopped
½ cup sliced onion

1. To make the sauce, combine the rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce, ketchup, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Whisk together to combine well. Set aside.

2. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook about 3 minutes or until soft and beginning to brown, stirring frequently. Add the bok choy stems. Cook and stir 3-5 minutes more or until soft and beginning to brown. Stir in the bok choy leaves and cook until wilted.

3. Pour sauce mixture over the bok choy mixture. Cook 1-2 minutes or until the sauce is slightly reduced and thickened.

Makes 2-3 side dish servings.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pea and Almond Pesto

I’ve been struggling to put together a post featuring this simple and delicious recipe for a pea and almond sauce on pasta with extra peas. I just couldn’t think of anything extraordinary to say about it. I didn’t grow the peas. In fact, I just put my pea seeds in the ground and it will be weeks before I have any peas at all. And if I did have home-grown peas I’d probably just eat them somewhere on the very short walk from the garden to the house. They’d never make it into a pasta sauce.

Of course you don’t need fresh peas at all for this recipe. A bag of frozen peas is significantly less expensive and more convenient and taste just fine, too. Pea and Almond Pesto isn’t necessarily a seasonal recipe, then, since you can get frozen peas any time. The flavors are so deliciously sweet and light, however, that this dish volunteers to be served in the spring.

This whole dish takes just about the amount of time to make as it takes to cook a pot of pasta. It’s also easily doubled, so you could feed a crowd with it if you need to. The little bit of sweetness in the almonds is a good compliment to the sweet peas and, in turn, the little bit of nutty flavor in the peas serves as a bridge to the almonds. Overall, this dish is so easy and so delicious, I want to make it all the time! If that’s not enough to say about a recipe, then, too bad. It’s what I have to say about this one.

Pea and Almond Pesto with Pasta and Peas
Adapted from Everyday Food Magazine

8 ounces uncooked pasta, preferably a short pasta
10 ounces frozen peas
½ cup chopped almonds
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¾ teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions and until it is as done as you like it. During the last three minutes of cooking, add half (5 ounces) of the peas. Drain the pasta and peas reserving a cup of cooking liquid. Set aside and keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, place the almonds in the bowl of a food processer. Process until finely ground. Add the remaining half of the peas, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. Process to a thick paste, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl as needed.

3. With the machine running, slowly add 2 tablespoons olive oil through the opening at the top of the food processor. Check the sauce for consistency, adding additional olive oil if needed. Toss the pesto with the hot cooked pasta and peas, adding some of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin the sauce if needed.

Makes 3-4 servings. This recipe is easily doubled.

Monday, May 12, 2014

List of Loving: Simple Stand-bys

My most recent work week was a whirlwind of wonder and delight consisting of six days of institutional food gymnastics complete with a sprained wrist (not mine), a broken hand (not mine) and a fired employee (again, not me…and he totally deserved it) that led to what might be classified as staffing challenges, during – surprise! – a state health department inspection with a brand new cook floundering around at the helm (that was me). Of course it all ended in Mother’s Day, which, as anyone in food service knows, requires a crew to step things up a bit.

We pulled through, of course, actually shining quite brightly, but everything went into the work day and suppers at home had to be simple. I relied on one or two (I can’t really remember) of my simple favorites from the archives that I’ve listed as loveable below. The rest I intend to rely upon in the days and weeks to come. (Looks like I better stock up on pasta!). Those days and weeks promise to be better…but I’ve learned to never trust such promises.

Happy Loving!

Simple favorites (especially for spring):

**Italian Chickpeas (from my very first post just over 5 years ago!)

**Soup Beans and…

**Refried Bean Tacos made from the leftovers

**…and Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Energy Bars to keep me going!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Olive and Green Peppercorn Flatbread

I tried this recipe to accomplish a few things. For one, I wanted to finally get to a recipe in a magazine clipping that I’ve been dragging through my life for many years. This happens a lot. Too much. For another, I wanted to find other good ways to use the brined green peppercorns I buy every spring to make this stew. I can always toss them into various dishes in place of black pepper, but I like their flavor enough to want to feature them.

The third reason I tried this recipe was to make what I hoped would be really good food, and, as happens more in my kitchen than just about anywhere else I roam, my hopes were happily realized. Olives are great in bread, which isn’t a surprise, but it’s lovely to be reminded of that once in a while. And the green peppercorns, with their ever-so-slight touch of clinging briny flavor, worked well with the green olives I used. They also contribute their own unique peppery deliciousness.

This flatbread, which I made into two circles, takes a bit of time to prepare, but most of it is hands-off waiting time. There is less yeast and a longer first rise (aka bulk rise) than in something like this sandwich bread, but a second rise isn’t needed as the breads go right into a very hot oven just after being rolled out. I used a pizza peel to transfer the dough into a pizza stone in the oven, but you could use a couple of cookie sheets if you don’t have such pizza-making equipment. Put one cookie sheet upside down in the oven and use the other, preferably one without a rim, to transfer the dough.

I really was quite excited about the taste and the texture of this flatbread. The green olives and peppercorns add a lot, of course, but the bread itself has good flavor and a pleasant chewiness all on its own. The long rising time no doubt contributes some extra flavor as the dough ferments a bit longer, developing some complexity. If you bake it just until a brown spot or two appears, it is soft and flexible enough to fold around some kind of sandwich filling, or it’s great served alongside a perky salad or a hearty soup. And, of course, it’s a delicious way to use up some of a jar of brined green peppercorns.

Olive and Green Peppercorn Flatbread
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

1/3 cup warm water (about 100 F)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup pitted, chopped green olives
1 teaspoon brined green peppercorns, finely chopped

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or another large bowl if you will be mixing by hand, combine the water and yeast. Let stand about 5 minutes or until the yeast appears foamy.

2. Add ½ cup flour. Stir to form a loose batter. Cover and let stand 20 minutes.

3. Add the olive oil, salt and about half of the remaining flour. Knead the dough using the hook attachment for the stand mixer (or knead by hand on a lightly floured surface), adding as much of the rest of the flour as possible without making the dough too dry. Continue kneading until the dough is very smooth and stretchy, about 10 minutes.

4. On a lightly floured surface, stretch or roll the dough out into a thin layer. It does not have to be a regular shape. Distribute the olives and peppercorns over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up to enclose them. Knead the dough a few more times to distribute the olives and peppercorns.

5. Shape the dough into a round ball. Grease a large bowl or spray it with cooking spray. Place the dough ball in the bowl and spray or grease the top of the dough. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the sprayed dough surface. Cover with a towel and let stand for about 2 hours, or until roughly doubled in size.

6. Place a pizza stone or an inverted cookie sheet on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 F. Lightly dust a pizza peel (or a rimless baking sheet) with cornmeal. Set aside.

7. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Let stand about 5 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll one dough ball into an 8-inch circle. Place the dough circle onto the cornmeal-coated peel (or baking sheet). Transfer the dough to the preheated pizza stone by sliding it off the peel.

8. Bake at 500 F for 6-7 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Repeat the rolling and baking process with the remaining dough.

Makes 2 8-inch flatbreads.