Saturday, June 2, 2012

White Bean, Arugula and Tuna Salad

It was another hot, humid 90+ degree day at the lake. My husband and I were exhausted both from the heat and a full day of cleaning and putting the boat in the water. We were hungry and it was simply too hot to cook. 

Continuing our quest to abstain from animal meat, a cool, refreshing salad seemed in order. I had several recipes I was contemplating but, as usual, I didn't have all the ingredients for any one recipe. I remembered I had some wild arugula I had purchased from Trader Joe's, so I put together this salad using the base mixture from one recipe and the dressing from another. My end result was this wonderful white bean, arugula and tuna salad, that I now rank among one of my favorite summertime salads.  For some reason the blend of the lemon dressing with the tuna, the parsley (I used lots) and the arugula made for a rather refreshing, extraordinary blend of flavors. 

Arugula in this salad is a must. I tried making it with just plain romaine lettuce and it wasn't nearly as good. Also, be generous with the parsley. It too, made an important difference in the dishes overall taste. I have quantified the ingredients, but the amounts really depend on your taste preferences and the amount of beans you start with. Serve with a hearty multi-grain bread or a good pita and you have a tasty, amply nutritious meal. 

White Bean, Arugula and Tuna Salad

1- 14.5 oz. can of white cannellini beans, well drained
3-4 T. chopped or finely sliced red onions
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1- 6 oz. can white albacore tuna, packed in water, drained
2-3 large handfuls of wild arugula, cleaned and well drained
1/2 tsp. salt
1 generous Tablespoon lemon zest
juice of one lemon
2-3 T. good olive oil

Mix together in a large bowl the beans, onions, parsley. 

Season with the salt, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil.  Taste for seasoning. 

Add the arugula and mix all ingredients together. 

Add the tuna and very lightly toss together trying not to break up the tuna too much.   
Enough for 2-3 entree sized portions.  


Friday, May 25, 2012

Spinach & Ricotta Calzone

While unable to sleep one night, yet again, I did what I usually do, turn on the TV to my local PBS station. If I'm lucky, I catch an episode of Nature. Watching whales or sharks gliding through water or a pack of wolves roaming the tundra is the perfect remedy for insomnia and I quickly go back to sleep. But, as often happens, I get an episode of Frontline or their new series, America Revealed, both thought provoking series that keep me wide eyed for a couple of hours. But, this night it was Lidia Bastianich that kept me both awake and hungry.  It was an episode from her series Lidia's Italy in America. On this particular show she was honoring the art of making pizza. As part of the show she prepared a delicious looking Pizza Margherita, a simply decadent ricotta cheesecake, plus some mouth-watering calzones. Ooh, calzones. I have never made them before and these looked wonderful. They also looked surprisingly easy to make, well that is, if you buy the pizza dough instead of making it. Since then I haven't been able to get them out of my mind. So off I went to the local Italian specialty market a few blocks from my house, where I purchased a fresh pizza dough.

Now that the hard part was done, it was time to make the filling. Lidia's was simple and familiar-- some ricotta, sausage, spinach, seasoning and a little grated cheese. A mixture I've made a hundred time for dishes such as lasagna, manicotta or a savory tart.  I chose to eliminate the sausage this time (still trying to reduce our consumption of animal meats) but added a few other ingredients to help punch up the flavor. In addition to the spinach I added some turnip greens that were waiting to get used, some green onions because I can't resist that oniony flavor, and some chopped sun-dried tomatoes, for the little bits of red color they add, completing an homage to the Italian flag.

Yes, they were fairly easy to make. Yes, quite delicious, but I must admit the turnip greens added their characteristic bitter taste. A flavor you either like or dislike. I happen to like it. Next on my list is that yummy looking cheesecake she made. Can't wait! 

Spinach & Ricotta Calzones
recipe adapted from Lidia Bastianich

1 purchased pizza dough 
1 bunch spinach
1/2 bunch turnip greens or any type of greens
3-4 green onions, chopped
3 T. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, small dice
1 lb. fresh ricotta
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper 

Place a sieve over a bowl. Line with cheesecloth or several layers of paper towel. Add the ricotta, cover with plastic wrap and weight down to release liquid. Place in refrigerator and let drain for several hours. 

When ready to prepare calzones, start by heating a saute pan. When hot add a tablespoon or two of olive oil and then saute the green onions for a few minutes.  Add the spinach and turnip greens. Season with some salt and mix until wilted and the turnip greens are tender.  Remove from heat and let cool. 

Place well drained ricotta in a large bowl. Add the grated Parmesan and mozzarella cheese the sun-dried tomatoes. Season with some salt and pepper. Mix well to combine all ingredients. 

When the cooked greens have sufficiently cooled, squeeze as much liquid as you can from them and add to the ricotta mixture. 

Cut the pizza dough in half. Roll out half of the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8" thickness.  Using a bowl or plate, cut out 4 circles.

Place approximately 1-2 T. of the mixture on each round. Fold the dough over and seal with a fork. Place on a baking sheet. Brush with some egg wash and sprinkle with some grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for approximately 30-40 minutes.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Black Bean Oatmeal Burgers

My husband and I are attempting to adopt a vegetarian diet, which I am hoping will open us up to many new and interesting recipes.  We have eliminated all red and poultry meats from our diets in favor of only plant-based foods. For now, we will include seafood and some dairy. Well, at least until we have eaten all the yogurt, cheese and milk we have in the frig. We have always enjoyed a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, not to mention legumes in our diet, so the change hasn't been all that difficult.  I go to a local produce retailer where prices are very low, so I can stock up on a lot of stuff quite inexpensively.

This week's experiment is with black bean burgers. I have made many a Gardenburger or Boca burger, but I figured if I was going to be serious about going vegan, I needed a recipe where I can make them from scratch - scratch is always better in my opinion. This recipe comes from Angry Chicken -- thank you. The burgers are an absolute cinch to make and serve as a great base for lots of variations.  Just put all the ingredients in a food processor, grind into a finely combined mixture, shape and bake. I served them between whole grain hamburger buns with a dollop of mango salsa. They were delicious, moist, full of flavor and very satisfying.

Black Bean Oatmeal Burgers       
recipe from Angry Chicken

1 1/2 c. cooked black beans ( I used a 14.5 oz. can, drained)
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, very well drained
1 c. fresh chopped cilantro or parsley (I used cilantro)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
2 green onions, roughly chopped
2/3 c. shredded carrots
1 3/4 c. rolled oats

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and grind until well combined. 

Using a large ice cream scoop, portion out and place on a baking sheet lined with either parchment or a Silpat. Flatten the patties and bake in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  Gently turn the patties and bake another 15 minutes. 

Makes 8 large to 12 small patties.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mediterranean Brown Rice & Vegetable Bake

I flagged this recipe some time ago as one to try, and if good, I would add it to this blog.  In the meantime, my sister and her husband decided to become vegetarians. No meat, fish, fowl or anything that has a mother. Only plant- based foods.  Wow, as an Italian American family where food has played a very central role throughout our lives, that's hardcore.

Given the health benefits vegan-ism brings, my husband and I are contemplating doing the same - well perhaps not so drastic, but at least eliminating meat and foul flesh from our diets. As a result, this recipe jumped to the top of the pile of new recipes to try.  The fact that it contains no meat and is suitable as an entree, in my mind, made it a pretty good vegetarian option.  A closer look, however, reveals it still contains some cheese and eggs -- no no's for true vegans. 

The recipe comes from an ad in Cooking Light magazine for Mahatma brand brown rice. I liked the fact that it is chock full of vegetables, including sun-dried tomatoes, and used ricotta cheese to keep it moist and tender.  To my delight, it is simply delicious, full of flavor and retains a rather substantial texture to consider as a substitute as an entree.

The ad shows it shaped as a loaf, suggesting it could be an alternative to a meat loaf. Actually, it can.  When cold, it firms up nicely so it can be sliced and made into a delicious meat-free sandwich. 

I would definitely make it again. To satisfy my sister's vegan issues, I don't see why the ricotta and eggs couldn't be replaced with either some pureed soft tofu mixed with a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseeds; or, possibly some pureed pumpkin or sweet potatoes. Either combination would provide the moisture and binding properties the cheese and eggs provide. As for my husband and I going vegan, I'll keep you posted. 

Mediterranean Brown Rice & Vegetable Bake
from Mahatma Brown Rice

2 c. cooked brown rice
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped or 1 cup chopped fennel bulb
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups finely chopped mushrooms
1/2 c. drained sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 c. chopped almonds
1/2 c. ricotta
2 eggs, lighted beaten
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil

Prepare brown rice according to package directions.

Heat a 10-12 inch skillet, add 2 T. olive oil. Add the onions, garlic and celery (or fennel) and saute for 6 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Add the mushrooms, tomatoes and pepper flakes and saute until mushrooms have released their moisture and much of the moisture has evaporated. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs and ricotta. 

Add to the egg mixture the cooled vegetables, the salt and pepper, Parmesan cheese, the parsley and basil and the nuts. Mix well to combine all ingredients.

Add the brown rice and mix together.  Lightly oil a loaf or casserole dish. 

Pour the mixture into the dish and spread evenly. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.  Remove foil, and bake another 10-20 minutes.

To serve, sprinkle with some parsley and Parmesan.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Easy French Boule

I was watching the Cooking Channel's French Food at Home the other day. In this revisited episode, Laura Calder, the show's host, made an incredibly easy  French Boule. OMG! Four basic ingredients, a quick stir and no kneading!  I couldn't believe how simple it was.  "The closest to the real thing from France" she claimed. Needless to say, I was intrigued!

So, as part of my due diligence before drafting a post, I perused the internet to see what this was all about.  As it turns out, this recipe and its unconventional approach to baking bread, has been roaming the web for years. Okay, so I'm a little late getting to the party! In 2006, Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer, and a personal favorite of mine, wrote an article touting the very same recipe and the revolutionary method used to make this bread. The method is all part of the no-knead bread making craze, which requires time over elbow grease to produce a bakery quality bread. I am quite familiar with the method having successfully made many loaves of multi-grain bread from the Heathly Bread in 5 Minutes A Day cookbook, but this recipe was even easier. The recipe Laura Calder used is the very same one Mark Bittman wrote about in the article, which he attributes to Jim Lahey, master baker and owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City.  

Making bread in the conventional manner has always been a bit intimidating for me. I have been less than successful achieving the right bakery quality crumb, flavor and texture. Obviously, achieving that takes lots of practice and patience. But this easier, though more time consuming method, is almost foolproof. The chief difference is you need to plan ahead to allow the 12-18 hours of rising time required. I will admit my loaf needed a bit more care in terms of shape, but, the overall taste was delicious and the texture just like the real thing!

The loaf's super crispy crust and chewy center was yummy dipped in seasoned olive oil, but also great as simple toast with butter and jam. The only negative is that the loaf did not remain fresh for very long, just like the real loaves in France. 

P.S. The instructions are a bit long, but trust me, the process is super easy. 

French Boule Bread
adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery 

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 tsp. instant/quick-rise yeast
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 5/8 c. water

Requires a 6-8 qt. covered pot (cast iron, Pyrex or ceramic)
In a large bowl combine the flour, yeast and salt. Whisk to combine.  

Add the water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. 

Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. (I kept mine in my oven that had been previously warmed which worked great)

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over a few times. 

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. 

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface and your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball.  Generously coat a cotton towel placed onto a baking sheet, with a generous sprinkle of flour.  

Put the dough, seam side down, onto the towel and dust with more flour.  

Fold over the ends of the towel to completely cover and let rise another 2 hours.  When ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. 

At least a half-hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the covered pot into the oven as it heats.  When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven.  

Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. It may look like a mess, but that is OK.  Shake the pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. 

Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 20-30 minutes until it is beautifully brown. Cool on a rack.   Yields one 1 1/2 pound loaf.