Farm Weekend ends with Irish Nachos

We lucked out into some great Lowcountry weather this weekend after an usually long spring of rain and clouds, and D and I took full advantage of it. Out of respect for some amazing food, here’s a minimalist post where the pictures do the talking, followed by tonight’s fantastic impromptu Irish Nachos:

9 pounds of blueberries from Ambrose Farm

9 pounds of blueberries from Ambrose Farm

fresh mozzarella and orange cherry tomatos from Ambrose

fresh mozzarella and orange cherry tomatoes from Ambrose

Panzanella-- toss fresh basil with crusty bread, tomatoes, and mozzarella (and an olive oil/garlic/balsamic dressing)

Panzanella– toss fresh basil with crusty bread, tomatoes, and mozzarella (and an olive oil/garlic/balsamic dressing)

Irish Nachos 

1.5 large Russet potatos (cut into 1/4 inch slices)

Soy Chorizo (we like Trader Joes’ Soyrizo)

Red bell pepper

red onion

1 Poblano pepper

Chili powder, cumin, oregano, smoked paprika

1 can black beans

Mexican-style shredded cheese

Dice up all peppers and onion – set aside. Saute up the chorizo in some olive oil (will add flavor to your oil) in a large skillet for about a minute, then add the peppers and onions. Season to taste, then cook down until soft. Add the black beans and stir to combine, then let sit to enable flavors to come together.

Spread the slices of potatoes on a cookie sheet with light oil, salt, and pepper. Cook at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes on each side until lightly brown and slightly crisp. Let cool slightly, then layer (see below) in an oven-proof skillet or casserole pan. Spread the topping over the potatoes, top with cheese, and broil for about 2-3 minutes. You could top with sour cream or guacamole, but these are so perfect as-is I wouldn’t even bother!! D and I came very close to polishing polished off this whole thing 😉 The beans and potatoes make it filling, the chorizo and spices give it some umph, and the cheese is melted and stringy. Plus, you sneak in 2 whole peppers for anyone who is veggie-phobic!

The finished product...

The finished product…

Sliced and browned potatoes arranged in the skillet before broiling

Sliced and browned potatoes arranged in the skillet before broiling

Nacho topping

Nacho topping

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Unlikely Marriage: Veggie Dumplings and Green Beans with Pesto

One of D’s biggest annoyances is when we eat foods that don’t “match”. It drives him crazy to mix cuisines together in one meal, but considering the fact that I planned the happy marriage between Chinese and Italian 4 days in advance and D not only went along with it, but happily ate dinner without comment, he may have gotten over it 😉

Chinese Dumplings:

We loosely follow Alton Brown’s recipe for dumplings–you can approximate your seasoning and veggies as desired for your flavor level and spice- for example, we use green cabbage instead of Napa because we can get it locally.  We also press the tofu using a tofu press and boil them in water instead of steaming them–just add about 5 dumplings to the water at a time and boil until the wonton wrappers get transparent and the dumplings float.

These freeze REALLY well—just freeze (uncooked) on a cookie sheet until completely frozen. Pop them off and stick in a bag or tupperware until you’re ready to cook, then cook the same way.

Our dipping sauce is soy sauce with some fresh ginger and garlic added, a little bit of mirin, and a squeeze of Siracha. Dunk the dumplings to your delight!

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Green Beans with Pesto

Using about a handful of greenbeans per person, cut off the ends and cut in half. Cook using a vegetable steamer (get them cheap online) — add about 1 inch of water to a medium pot and add the steamer to the pot. Put the beans in the steamer and cook for about 2-3 minutes until the beans are soft but still have some crunch. You could put the beans straight into boiling water if you don’t have a steamer, but the steamers are so cheap and help retain nutrients AND flavor, so they’re totally worth it. Regardless of cooking method, strain the water and toss with the pesto of your choice (I like basil and pine nuts for these, but the scallion pesto would be good too!) and add in some grated Parmesan cheese.

I honestly like green beans with pesto more than pasta— the beans give it a little bit of sweetness and the lack of guilt makes them even better!! Yeah, I’m pretty sure I won D over tonight…this time!

The new pasta??

The new pasta??

Grilled Tofu and Veggies (in the rain)

Weather in the Lowcountry is temperamental in the summer, and unfortunately it reared its ugly head on Tuesday. We planned for grilled tofu and veggies and really try to stick to our plans, so we went ahead with dinner despite the blackening skies and rolling thunder.

About 3 minutes after starting the grill a typical summer downpour began— hard and without much warning. We made it through grilling the tofu and veggies with a photo to prove it (much to D’s chagrin).


Grilled Tofu and Veggies

Marinade:

soy
ginger
mirin
rice wine vinegar
sesame oil
sambal
 
Dipping Sauce
hoisin
sambal
ginger
lime juice and zest
 
-1 block pressed tofu, cut into 2 pieces lengthwise
-1 medium zucchini, cut in circles about 1/4 inch thick
-1 onion, cut into 4 pieces so that each piece still has part of the root attached -necessary to keep it together on the grill (slice in half from end-to-end, then slice the pieces in half length-wise)
-cooked brown rice
 
Combine all ingredients for the marinade (you’ll need about 3/4 of a cup total) and add to a ziploc bag or tupperware container. Add your pressed tofu to the marinade–don’t cut up into smaller pieces or they’ll fall through the grill! Let it sit for 6-48 hours. About an hour before you’re ready to grill, add the zucchini and onion to the marinade. 
 
For the dipping sauce, put about 1/4 of a cup of hoisin in a bowl and add about a 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger, juice of half a lime, and the zest of about 1/4 a lime. Add sambal to taste–the flavors should be noticed but not overpower the sweetness of the hoisin. Set aside near the grill.
 
Heat the grill or a grill pan to medium-high. Grill the tofu, onions, and zucchini for about 5 minutes on each side until slightly crispy. Brush on a small amount of the dipping sauce to the tofu and let each side touch the grill until the sugar in the sauce can caramelize, adding more crunch. Take the veggies off the grill when they have grill marks and are cooked throughout, and remove the tofu when both sides have some crunch. Dice the tofu into 1/2 inch pieces and serve with the veggies and brown rice. 
 
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Spinach salad with quinoa and a fun treat!

Another busy weekend here by the beach, and once again the week has snuck up on us all-too-quickly! Here’s what the week has in store for us:

Monday: Spinach Salad with quinoa
Tuesday: grilled hoisin-lime tofu and zucchini with brown rice
Wednesday: Asian dumplings with pesto green beans
Thursday: FFY (fend for yourself– a night when our schedules don’t allow for dinner together)
Friday: dinner at our synagogue

What to do ahead (necessary): press and marinate tofu for Tuesday
What to do ahead (Optional–will save you time during the week): make quinoa and brown rice

Tonight was a perfect, quick dinner for a hot summer day! Ironically we used a lot of fall flavors, but you can alter to suit your tastes and the time of year–I definitely foresee us adding this as a go-to meal, because of its versatility. The contrasting textures are amazing, which I think is important if you eat salad frequently so that things don’t get too boring. I hadn’t thought to add quinoa or another protein like this to a green salad until I had it at a local restaurant, but the possibilities are endless! Spinach lends itself well since the flavor is mild and the texture of the leaves is simple. I try to eat a lot of spinach to keep my iron up, since the lack of red meat in my diet can impact my iron pretty drastically.

Spinach Salad with Quinoa

  • Orange-Mint Vinaigrette
    • juice of 1/2 an orange
    • zest of 1/2 an orange
    • 1 clove of roasted garlic (pop it in the oven or toaster oven on bake at 350 for a few minutes until soft and mushy)
    • ~15-20 leaves of fresh mint
    • dash of sherry vinegar
    • drizzle of honey
    • dijon mustard to taste–not too much, but will help the emulsification process of the vinaigrette
    • olive oil
    • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 handfuls of fresh spinach leaves per person
  •  sprinkle of walnuts per person
  • 1/2 pear per person– cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup cooked quinoa per person
  • handful of dried cranberries

Combine all vinaigrette ingredients except olive oil/salt/pepper in a food processor or tall cup (if you have an immersion blender) and blend, then stream in olive oil until it has the texture of a salad dressing. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Set aside– you’ll only need about 1-2 tablespoons of it for the salad, and the rest can be used later as a dressing for lentils, green salads, or to dip veggies in 😉

In a large mixing bowl, combine your spinach, walnuts, cranberries, pear, and quinoa–trust your eyes for the ratios. Drizzle your dressing over the salad– go slowly because you don’t want the salad to get soggy– start with about a tablespoon of dressing and mix, then add in a teaspoon at a time.

You could shake this up with pecans and dried blueberries, pine nuts and strawberries, or any combination you like! Toasting the nuts briefly would really enhance their flavors and add another dimension too! I plan on using this year-round based on what’s in season– you can even prepare it in advance for hosting guests, just don’t dress it until you’re ready to serve.

So many textures, don't know where to start!

So many textures, don’t know where to start!

 

D enjoys periodically surprising me with his abundance of spare time, and tonight’s surprise was a GREAT one. We had purchased mint for the orange-mint vinaigrette and had a ton leftover– I hate letting herbs go to waste and haven’t gotten mint started in our garden yet. He made up some mint simple syrup during the day and when combined with his mom’s amazing ginger vodka* it was a great way to finish a Monday!

Ginger vodka spritzer

  • Mint simple syrup  (just steps 1 and 2– skip the lemon juice step. Use as much mint as you have–1-2 bunches is fine)
  • Ginger vodka*
  • seltzer water
  • fresh lime juice

Squeeze 1/2 lime’s worth of juice into a tall glass. Add a shot of ginger vodka and about a teaspoon of the mint simple syrup. Fill the cup with ice, then finish with seltzer water. Add a wedge of lime to make it pretty if desired—so fresh and refreshing and many elements of flavor. This may be my new favorite cocktail!!

All the ingredients for a great summer night!!

All the ingredients for a great summer night!!

*you’ll find a ton of ginger vodka recipes online, but basically use a ratio of 3 cups (unflavored) vodka to 1 large gingerroot (found in the produce section of your local store, in case you’re new to fresh ginger.) Wash the ginger well, dry, and cut into strips or a large dice. Add the ginger (should be close to a cup) to a large mason jar and top with vodka. Let it sit for 4 weeks then strain out the ginger and discard. MMM

Pan-fried Tofu over Quinoa

Thursday was my favorite kind of night– I got home ON TIME from work and was able to spend time with D in the kitchen making dinner. While not as elaborate or time-consuming as some of our meals, Thursday was the perfect example of when menu-planning comes in handy for a busy lifestyle.

On Sunday afternoon we had friends over for dinner and made some amazing roasted potatoes with a balsamic dipping sauce. With the leftover sauce, we marinated our tofu to sit until Thursday’s dinner–by pressing tofu properly (I don’t want to remember life before my tofu press!) and giving it ample time to marinate, you can achieve tofu flavors that most people don’t believe are possible. Tofu has the wonderful ability to take on any flavors you pair with it, and doesn’t just have to be blandly flash fried like in Chinese restaurants!

We paired our tofu with quinoa and a green salad, using our scallion pesto as a salad dressing. From start to finish, dinner took about 30 minutes to make (including the quinoa, which you CAN make in advance and store in the fridge throughout the week to use as needed).

Pan-fried Tofu over Quinoa

-Balsamic marinade

  • balsamic vinegar
  • yellow mustard
  • honey
  • rosemary (fresh is best, but dried is fine)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

-firm tofu, pressed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

-quinoa (we like Nature’s Earthly Choice)

-lettuce and veggies of your choice

-scallion pesto

Combine all marinade ingredients in a small bowl, making about 1/2 cup of marinade for every package of tofu you’re making. Toss your tofu with the marinade, reserving about 1/3 of the marinade for serving. Let it sit in a container in the fridge for at least 6 hours, but the longer the better (we had it sitting for about 4 days which is admittedly longer than needed).

When ready to make dinner, cook quinoa according to package directions. Use a large saucepan and heat a very small amount of vegetable oil (or PAM) in it—you’ll want to use a pan larger than you’d think to give the tofu space to cook. When the pan is hot, drop in your tofu and let one side crisp up. Continue moving the tofu around your pan until all the sides are toasted and brown.

Top your cooked quinoa with the tofu and drizzle over some of the extra marinade. Serve with a dressed green salad for a tasty, healthy, and quick dinner.

tofuinpan

the desired crispness on the tofu– lightly brown and a definite ‘skin’ when you cut through

balsamic tofu

Bon Appetite!

Making Vegetarian Work

To a new vegetarian or just someone new to organizing their meals in advance, menu-planning can be daunting. I tend to find it reassuring– that I know exactly how I’m going to use the food in my fridge and pantry each week and I can ensure things don’t go to waste due to being forgotten in the back of the fridge (the type A in me comes out!). D is very helpful, but when he’s on grocery duty, he tends to buy things out of excitement and then we’re left to incorporate them into our meals! That isn’t to say we aren’t impulsive at times, but it’s harder to slip in some things than others before they go bad….trust me.

As I’ve said, being vegetarian isn’t usually a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants lifestyle. It necessitates planning and careful thought putting together a balanced meal that will be satisfying, filling, and taste DELICIOUS– being vegetarian doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor, and in fact, I think I enjoy eating more now that meat is out of my diet than I did when I was a carnivore because I pay attention to the ingredients and where my food comes from!

Starting your weekly planning necessitates looking at the days to come and what your schedule looks like. For us, that’s taking into consideration which days we have night events (meetings for work, D’s comedy shows, or just time with friends) and which nights we’re home to eat. Time to eat doesn’t always mean time to COOK though, especially if we want to eat before 9pm, so we plan our menu in advance to ensure things are as easy as possible midweek.

Once you know what your week looks like, think about some recipes in your repertoire and plug them into your week. (If you are a beginning home-cook, find some recipes that entice you in a cookbook or online and pay attention to the prep time— it’s put on there for a reason!) You’ll want to consider different cuisines, protein sources, and how much time you have that day— here’s what we did for this week (the summer is unique because D is home most of the day, but the general concept applies):

June 10-14 calendar:

Monday: S gets home around 5:30pm

Tuesday: S gets home around 5, D helps a friend move at 6pm

Wednesday: S gets home at 6:15pm, D leaves at 6:45pm for comedy show

Thursday: S home around 5:30pm

Friday: S and D have dinner at a friend’s home– it’s a potluck and we’re bringing a Mediterranean side dish!

food options:

Gnocchi with marinara (our marinara has tempeh in it)

Quinoa with balsalmic tofu and a green salad with pesto

Tofu stir-fry with vegetables and rice noodles

We had Italian for dinner on Sunday night out at a local restaurant, so we wanted to do the gnocchi later in the week to spread out how frequently we were having pasta. Homemade gnocchi is quick and easy to throw together (stick with me to the end for our recipe) so we put that on Tuesday’s menu, enabling D to work on making fresh sauce throughout the day and then putting together the dish quickly before he had to leave. Since we had the most time to cook on Monday of this week, we decided on the tofu stir-fry, since there’s a good amount of prep-work involved in chopping vegetables and I didn’t want to leave all of that to D (and I secretly love chopping veggies–the monotony is therapeutic)! Wednesday we’re planning to fend for ourselves since it’ll be a revolving door, and Thursday will be a delicious balsamic marinated tofu over quinoa with a fresh green salad. With this basic menu, we can then make a grocery list to head to the store prepared and less influenced by enticements and things we don’t need right now. Since tofu needs time to marinate, it’s also important to think ahead actually take advantage of your newly planned menu! Don’t worry about things not always working as planned– life happens.

Excuse the half-empty bowl--I wasn't patient enough to take a photo before I dug in!

Excuse the half-empty bowl–I wasn’t patient enough to take a photo before I dug in!

Gnocchi with Tempeh Marinara

1 onion, diced

2 large cloves garlic

Italian seasoning (dry oregano, basil, red pepper flakes)

4-6 oz of tempeh (we buy ours at Trader Joes)

28 oz of San Marzano crushed tomatoes (Costco in SC carries them periodically but so does Harris Teeter—they’re more expensive than the national brands but totally worth it)

fresh basil– easy to grow at home or buy fresh in a package from the grocery store or a local garden store

Parmesan rind–available in the fresh cheese section of the grocery store–it’s literally the rind they cut away from the cheese when selling chunks of Parm and you can get it for cheap to enhance your sauces)

Sweat the onions and garlic in a saute pan with dried basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes. Grate in the tempeh and add another round of the same seasonings–combine and cook for about 5 minutes . Pour in the tomatoes and some basil, then Parmesan rind. Cook for as long as possible— at least 20 minutes– but sitting on the stove on low for hours is best. Remove the Parmesan rind before serving–it’ll be flexible and gummy—just throw away.

We make our homemade gnocchi as needed, because it’s incredibly easy to make one weekend or even a weeknight and then freeze until needed. We follow Michael Symon’s recipe but just make the gnocchi and add it to our own sauces— put them on a cookie sheet and stick in the freezer until they’re not soft anymore, then transfer to a plastic bag or plastic container until you’re ready to cook. To prepare, boil water like for pasta and drop in the frozen gnocchi– when they float (3-5 minutes) they’re ready! Fish them out with a slotted spoon or spider and toss with the marinara– then grate fresh Parmesan over the top.

I promise you won’t miss the ground beef in this sauce and it’ll keep you full and satiated without being too heavy like potato gnocchi can be! The gnocchi are creamy, soft, and literally little pillows of flavor cradling the sweet and tart marinara, as well as the spicy and nutty basil. MMMMMM–what do YOU think?

Scallion Pesto Salad with Broiled Tempeh

Dinner tonight was made in just under half an hour, but that doesn’t mean we sacrificed quality or taste. Our backyard garden is exploding with herbs, vegetables, and flowers, and I was at my wits end of how else to use the bountiful crop of scallions that have taken over 3 separate containers across the yard. If you’re a beginner gardener, a scallion aficionado, or just interested in cutting your grocery bills, scallions are incredibly easy to grow and can actually be propagated from the scraps of a bunch you purchase from the grocery store or local farmer’s market. Once you’re growing your own, just keep replanting the bottoms in a cup of water or directly in good soil. You’ll be able to constantly harvest scallions all year–this works with onions, garlic, and a bunch of other veggies! Our scallions are growing tall and we wanted to put them to good use before the heat damages them. We whipped up a batch of scallion pesto and can now use it on pasta, salads, and anything else throughout the rest of the summer!

Just 1 pot of scallions that are taking over the yard

Just 1 of 3 pots of scallions that are taking over the yard

Scallion Pesto

4-5 scallions, both the green and white parts (cut off the roots, leaving about 1-2 centimeters for regrowing)

handful of basil and/or parsley (you want about a 60:40 ratio of scallions to herbs)

handful of walnuts or pine nuts

1 medium clove of garlic

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil

Using the herbs and nuts of your choice, throw everything EXCEPT the olive oil into a food processor and pulse a few times until chopped and combined. Stream in the olive oil slowly to create a paste. Taste and adjust seasonings and proportions as necessary, then put in a small container to be kept in the fridge.

Tonight, we chopped up a bunch of romaine lettuce and dressed it liberally with some of our scallion pesto. We then thinly sliced some tempeh (1/8 of an inch thick) and broiled it with herbs and some oil until it’s evenly brown and it develops a crust. Flip and broil the alternate side until the same light brown color develops. Use whichever flavors lend well to your specific pesto combination—we used salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning with a light mist of PAM both before and after adding seasoning.

Tempeh slices before broiling-- use 5-6 per serving

Tempeh slices before broiling– use 5-6 per serving

Top the salad with your slices of tempeh and enjoy— the flavors can be adjusted seasonally and to suit whichever produce you have readily available. The tempeh is crunchy, the salad is crisp and cool against the warm tempeh, and the flavors of the pesto are amazing on lettuce that’s otherwise relatively bland. Enjoy!

Scallion Pesto Salad with Broiled Tempeh

Scallion Pesto Salad with Broiled Tempeh