Friday, September 11, 2015

Cauliflower "Fried Rice"

In my last post I mentioned (again) that there were not enough picnics in my life. I'm happy to report that with a bit of focus, determination and seized opportunities, that has changed! Since writing that, I've had three pretty fantastic picnics. One was at Halibut Point in Rockport, one of my favorite spots in Massachusetts. We had the sun setting on the water on one side of us, and the full Blue Moon rising on the other. We had some wine and ukulele playing along with our food. The menu consisted of caprese salad, bread, cheese, crunchy veggie salad and a Thai noodle salad. It was a perfect setting despite a fairly short-lived mosquito frenzy. The second picnic took place on a log to the side of a hiking trail in Parc de la Jacques-Cartier outside of Quebec City. We stopped in a market in Quebec City to purchase some fantastic local cheeses, a baguette, truffle chips, tomatoes and strawberries. After a short kayak in the park, we hiked up a trail until we found a suitable spot to enjoy our wares.

 The third picnic took place on Georges Island on Labor Day weekend. A quick stop at Whole Foods on the way to the ferry yielded some more tasty cheese, a mix of heirloom tomatoes, a baguette, and apple and some soba noodle salad. What I've taken away from these experiences is that all you need is a nice spot and some good bread & cheese and tomato and you've got yourself a great picnic. It's the simplicity of it that I enjoy. A nice well thought out picnic with elaborate dishes and one of those lovely picnic baskets is nice too, but a baguette, some fresh goat cheese and a farm fresh tomato provide a tasty meal.
As the blur of summer winds to a close, I feel pretty good about my picnicking status. I also had a chance to make this dish, which I had learned about from one of my British colleagues earlier in the summer. Apparently, both this and zucchini "spaghetti" are all the rage over there. I made some of that too, which I will post later.

When I made the cauliflower "rice", I didn't get at all fussy about it. I'm sure you could get tastier results with some sesame oil, scallions and other veggies, like asparagus, but, I just wanted it as a quick side dish. Shop around on the internet for different variations of this recipe if you're in the mood for something a bit fancier.

Cauliflower "Fried Rice"
1 head of cauliflower, grated with the large holes on a cheese grater
1 egg
1 cup of peas
1 large carrot, diced small
1/4 inch piece of ginger, grated or 1/2 tspn dried
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
soy sauce or Bragg's liquid aminos, to taste

1.  In a large skillet, heat some canola oil on medium high heat.
2. Crack egg into the skillet. Let it fry for a minute or so, then scramble it up, breaking it into small pieces. Then keeping it in the pan, just push it to the side.
3. Add carrots and peas, sautee those for a few minutes, until the carrots begin to soften. Add ginger and garlic to them and stir.
4. Add cauliflower. Let that cook for 3-5 minutes, until soften. Then add soy sauce/ Bragg's. I probably used a few teaspoons or maybe up to a tablespoon. Add some then do a taste and adjust.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chopped Crunchy Veggie Salad

I've probably said this before, but I'll say it again - there are just not enough picnics in my life. I very much enjoy having a meal on a blanket in a nice patch of grass or at picnic table in a lovely outdoor setting. Somehow I don't seem to find the opportunity to make this type of thing happen more often. Tomorrow night is the Blue Moon full moon and I am coordinating plans to watch the moon rise with some friends. I have put out 3 possible options for moon viewing and 2 of them include picnics. So, I am making a valiant effort here. If we do picnic, I will likely make this salad. I pulled it together several weeks ago when I had a bunch of mint and some limes that I needed to use up.

I liked several things about this salad. First of all it's chopped. There is something very satisfying about a salad with finely chopped ingredients. I appreciate that it's versatile in the veggies that can be used and what can be added together so you can use up some things in your fridge. It doesn't include lettuce, so it's a good variation on a salad and probably a safe option to bring to a cookout where there will likely already be a lettuce-based salad. Also, it kept it's crunch for several days. I thought it might get soggy, but it didn't. I deem this salad picnic friendly.

I didn't measure anything and sort of figured things out as I went along, so my amounts not be just how I made it the first time, but I'll do my best...

Chopped Crunchy Veggie Salad
4-5 cups chopped vegetables (I used: red cabbage; sugar snap peas; green beans; cucumber; carrots; celery; corn; red bell pepper. Other options to consider: radishes; fennel; other color peppers; yellow beans.)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1 cup of black beans (optional, use if you want to bulk up the salad. You could also add quinoa for this purpose)

2 tblsp olive oil
juice from 2 limes (I like lime so added a lot)
3 scallions, chopped
3 tblspn fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 tspn chili powder
1/4 tspn cumin
black pepper and salt to taste

1. Chop veggies.
2. Lightly steam any veggies that you think might benefit from softening slightly. I did the corn, carrots, green beans and sugar snap peas. Let cool.
3. Make dressing. 
3. Mix veggies, feta and sunflower seeds. Add dressing and toss to coat veggies with dressing.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Quinoa Bowl

One career dream I have is to be a salad consultant to restaurants. There's probably a fancier name I could come up with. Greens Adviser? Salad Improver? This job doesn't exist as far as I know and I don't think I could do it as a full time gig, but I think I could provide something very important to the world: satisfying meal salads. Don't get me wrong - things have come a LONG way over recent years and at least more places offer salads that are interesting and more than just a first course. But there is still lots of room for improvement. Often, a salad will be almost there, but fall down on one or two aspects.

There is a restaurant near work that I used to go to regularly and they didn't have lots of veg stuff on the menu. They did have a dinner salad that was almost great. It's what I ordered every time I went. It had some nice mixed greens, lentils (yeay!), roasted red peppers, hummus, a nice vinaigrette (lemon?), pita bread and I think some roasted portabellas. All good things, but do you see the problem? Everything in it is mushy. Some texture please! It took everything I had in me to not walk back into the kitchen and beg the chef, for the love of God, to add some toasted walnuts.

Another mistake, in my humble opinion, is putting too much sweet stuff in. I am SO over dried cranberries. And then sometimes, the salad will contain nuts, so you get the texture aspect, but then they are candied! Gross! Or it will be dressed in some sickly sweet raspberry vinaigrette. I am also tired of balsamic vinaigrette for this very reason. They are often too sweet. One sweet thing in a salad is enough. Some pear or apples, or maybe some golden raisins. This can be nice, but it often goes overboard. I dunno, maybe some people like to pretend they're eating dessert while they are eating salad, but I really do enjoy a well constructed salad more than I enjoy dessert.

Toasted sunflower seeds, pepitas, pistachios, almonds are all great ways to add some crunch and nutrition. The other night I had a kale salad at a local spot. It looked fairly promising on the menu since it had some crunchy chickpeas on it. It only had a few ingredients on it, so was less exciting as a meal, and it had an apple vinaigrette that I was a bit afraid of. But, you could add several different proteins to it, including crunchy tofu, so I went for it. The dressing turned out to be nice, not too sweet. But the chickpeas had the life cooked right out of them. I've made crunchy chickpeas before and there is a fine line between them being crunchy or completely dried out. These crossed that line. This salad also had zero color. It had some feta or goat cheese as the third ingredient. A little carrot or tomato could have brought things to life.

Also, add something interesting, like a grain, an egg or some baked tofu. This also makes it more substantial. A little quinoa, barley or brown rice on a salad works really well.

So, I won't blather on anymore, though I could. But, the bottom line is balance in texture, color and flavor and nutritional value. The recipe for this post isn't even going to be for a salad, but instead for the quinoa bowls I've been making a lot lately. The same guidelines apply to make a good bowl. These, of course, could also be made with brown rice, but I've been favoring them with quinoa. I'll make some up and keep it on hand to make for a quick dinner assembly.

Quinoa bowl
You can have fun with what you put in here, but here are a list of ingredients I most often choose from, because it's often what I have on hand. I usually put the quinoa in first and then everything else on top, and give it a couple of good stirs to mix things up.

1/2 to 1 cup of warm quinoa*, depending on how hungry you are
baby spinach or arugula, chopped
1 egg, hard boiled (chopped), fried or poached
carrot, sliced
tomato, chopped
avocado, chopped
pistachios or toasted sunflower seeds
sesame seed/seaweed mixture (gomasio)
walnut or olive oil
hot sauce
a little sea salt
garlic powder
cider vinegar ( a little, don't drown it)

 *cooking quinoa: Rinse 1 cup of quinoa in a sieve (very important to remove the bitter taste) .Place in a pan with 1 3/4 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Let stand covered for at least a few more minutes, then fluff with a fork.