11 July 2012


Hello, friends and followers! I know it's been a while. We've had a crazy "summer" around here! Between the rain that was fairly constant until July 4th, and catching up on lots of projects around home, my theatre group and much more, I haven't had a moment to provide you all with a new, fabulous post. For that, I do apologize! I'm hoping to get back on schedule with weekly posts, especially because Summer is such an amazing season for all things food, bountiful and rich with fresh and local ingredients, and my favorite sunny weather activity, outdoor cooking!

This post I want to concentrate on our scrumptious, delightful friends (with benefits!), fresh vegetables! We try to eat a vegetarian, if not completely vegan, meal in our home a few times a week. Why? Well, why not! We love veggies around our house, and to create a hearty, flavorful meal for my family that focuses on veggies, beans, grains is a great adventure. It can be challenging to find something that will satisfy the average meat and potatoes people in our lives, but as long as you can encourage everyone at your table to have an open mind, and be thankful that you are working so hard to create a wonderful, healthful meal to share with your loved ones, it's definitely worth the time and energy. We'll get to a couple of recipes in a moment, but first, some general notes on veggie preparation.

For the side...
My absolute favorite ways to prepare vegetables, if we're not just chowing down on them in the raw, are roasting and grilling. A few days ago I decided I finally need to try roasted cauliflower, and at the same time, realizes my son hadn't tried brussell sprouts yet, so I threw those in too! While summer isn't normally the optimal time of year for having the oven on to roast its contents as well as the entire house, the flavors that roasting can bring out are incredible, sweet, rich and come with great depth. As Washington didn't see a summer until last week, as previously mentioned, warm comfort food was in order, and in my eyes, that equals roasting. You can roast any and all veggies and as far as seasoning, I have found, the simpler the better.

My roasting method (may have already shared, so this can serve as a little refresher!)
1. Start by preheating your oven to 400, and get out a sheet pan or two, depending on how many veggies you're working with. You want to have a nice even layer and don't want to crowd the pan
2. Cube your veggies into about 1" cubes. With sprouts, I cut them in half, beets I usually quarter, or cut into 6 if they're a little bigger.
3. Drizzle your veggies with a light coating of olive oil, and then add whatever seasoning you would prefer. I always use fine sea salt and cracked black pepper, but also love to add smoked paprika, dry mustard, dill, lemon pepper, parsley, basil, etc. After the s&p go on, customize your seasonings however you'd like.
4. After drizzled and seasoned, toss with your most perfect kitchen tools, your hands, to make sure everything is coated, then make sure you have a nice even layer, and again, make sure you don't overcrowd your pan.
5.Roast for 20 minutes, take out pan and toss with tongs or a metal utensil of some kind, and return to the over for another 10-15 minuted depending on what you are roasting. Cauliflower, zucchini, sprouts, anything that has a softer texture, a higher water content will take less time. Carrots, beets, etc. might take closer to 40 minutes, but I like them with a bit of a bite, a little crunch left so 30-35 might do it. If you are roasting veggies for the first time, just take your time, watch the clock and experiment to find out what works for you for your desired texture and doneness level.

For another meal made with roasted veggies, great for cooler weather, put your cooled previously roasted veggies and some warm (not hot) vegetable stock, add until your desired soup consistency is reached, and always use low-sodium stock so you can more easily control the flavor and salt content) in a blender or food processor, and heat in a sauce pan for a few minutes to warm it through. As you can see, it's a beautiful soup, and perfect company to nice grilled sharp cheddar or mozzarella sandwich on some locally made, crusty sourdough bread! I reserved about a cup of my roasted veggies to add into the pureed mixture for some nice texture.

And now for the main event!
Here are two fantastic vegetarian recipes that can be entire meals on their own, or sit proudly beside a nice main dish of your favorite meat or seafood! I have been making the enchiladas for years and just love them, as do my husband, son and everyone else who's had them, thankfully! As for the corn salad/relish, in the past I've made a different version of this, made heartier or more meal-like with the addition of black beans, but as you'll se it here, it's a fantastic, light, refreshing side dish and would actually pair very nicely with the enchiladas! Enjoy!

Black Bean Enchiladas
Preheat oven to 350º
1 pkg of your favorite flour-based tortillas ( I use whole wheat soft taco size)
1 can (about 14 oz) favorite enchilada sauce (if you want them a little more wet, get 2 cans and use as much as you'd like)
3-4 cups Mexican cheese blend (cheddar, colby jack, or your favorite other cheese, finely grated)
1 sliced scallion (not included in what's listed below)
1 small can sliced olives, drained

Mix together:
2 cans low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn, drained (or 1 cob roasted and cut off the core) 
1/3 red bell pepper, diced small
2 scallions finely sliced
1 big clove garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
A few dashes of each: Hot Sauce (your favorite brand), Smoked Paprika, Cumin, Fenugreek (if you have it) 
Pinch of each: Sea Salt and Pepper

In a 9x13 pan that you have greased with butter:
Pour just enough sauce on the bottom of the pan to coat it evenly, a thin coating. 
Start building your enchiladas by filling each tortilla with a couple tablespoons of the bean mixture, the a hearty sprinkling of the cheese. Roll and place seam side down in the pan and keep repeating that process until all are done. Once the pan is full, pour the remaining sauce over the entire pan of enchiladas, sprinkle more cheese all over the top along with the sliced scallions and olives. 

Cover pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes covered. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly. Makes about 10 good sized enchiladas! 

Cilantro Corn Salad (pictured on the side of my cilantro citrus chicken, recipe to come in another post!)
3 ears roasted corn (*see below my indoor method when the grill isn't a possibility)
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced small 
3 scallions sliced thin
1/3 cup crumbled queso fresco (if you can't find this in your local market, you can use Feta) 
Juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp olive oil (or grapeseed)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried cilantro (can use fresh if you have it, but I always keep dry around, too!) 
1 tsp fine sea salt 
pinch of smoked lava salt (if you have it, adds a wonderful smokey flavor!)

Cut corn off the cobs into a medium bowl, discard cobs.
Add all other ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving, if possible, so all the flavors have time to marry and develop. Makes 6-8 servings! To make this a meal in and of itself, add a drained can of your favorite beans (or about 2 cups cooked), an handful grape tomatoes cut in half and serve with some crostini with roasted garlic and maybe a nice creamy brie! It's a perfect lunch on a warm, summer day!

(*To roast corn in your oven, shuck the husk and silks off the cobs, place cobs on 2 layers of foil big enough to wrap and seal around completely. Sprinkle with pinch of dried cilantro, pinch of sea salt and fold up the sides of the foil, then pour about 2 tablespoons water over the cobs. Wrap the foil around completely and seal up tight. Roast in a 400º oven for 15-20 minutes) 

We are so lucky to live in a land where the possibilities for veggies and alternative protiens are endless with the variety available in stores, open farmers markets and our own backyards. From simply grilling and roasting with simple seasonings, to putting any veggies you love into your slow cooker with some low-sodium vegetable stock, a lot of seasonings, maybe some beans for protein, or making some amazing "burgers" with quinoa, tofu, beans, nuts and mushrooms, the possibilities to get your family eating flavorful, hearty meat-free meals once or twice a week are endless. I will be doing a lot more experimenting with MFM (Meat Free Monday) meals this summer, and will post more recipes for you to share with your families.

A tip for your veggie, seafood and meat dishes alike: If you feel like your meal is lacking a little freshness, take a wedge of lemon or lime and squeeze a little fresh juice onto whatever you're serving. The little bit of acid will give a great lightness to just about any dish, and will brighten up the other flavors in your food!

If you have any questions about veggie prep, how to buy, where to buy, etc. please feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll get right back to you!

Now... go get your VEG on!
See you next time!

26 May 2012

Adventures in flavor!

Happy Springtime, Friends! I hope our sunnier days and blooming blossoms find you well!

Like many of your children, my son is wrapping his school year (Pre-K) and we've been so fortunate to spend this time at an amazing cooperative preschool. What an adventurous experience it has been for our entire family! We have made some life long friends and gotten to know some truly sensational children. Among other fascinating things the class got to do, Miss Marilyn, our lovely and incredibly dedicated teacher, conducted imaginary trips to far off lands! We traveled to Australia, Asia, Mexico, Arabia, England and France (my favorites!) and most recently South America.

Not only did these wonderful adventure-and activity-filled days make a huge impression on all the great kids in our class while we learned about the cultures of these beautiful places, we had a very special snack time where we explored the "local" cuisine! By doing so, these kids have been so lucky to be exposed to some very interesting and unusual (at least for 4-5 year olds) foods!

Most recently on our trip to South America I signed up to bring something made with Rice, Quinoa or another type of grain. I decided to look for a dessert recipe authentic to Columbia, Brazil or thereabouts. Soon after my search began, I discovered Arroz con Leche! It is basically a very sweet version of Rice Pudding made with milk, sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon. I decided to mix it up a bit and add extra cinnamon and orange zest for some freshness, and also chose to cut a lot of the sweetness. I was really happy with my changes, and it was a hit on our South American adventure, along with papaya and mango (both fresh and dried), jicama, Brigadeiro (Brazilian chocolate bon bons rolled in sprinkles!). By presenting these kids with such a great variety of treats and eats, they have all become more open minded and have, at the very least, tasted, and in some cases really enjoyed, a few new foods that we are so lucky find in our wide array of local cultural market places.

These trips and experiences made our Pre-K school time so much more full and educational, but there is no reason we can't continue these special days at home for years to come! There is a whole wide world to explore, not only through food, but through clothing, climate, ecology and beyond! Take time with your family, whether you have young children, teens, or are kid-free to explore our world. There's no better place to start than your own keen kitchen! And in the meantime, while you are playing travel agent, give this recipe a try! Enjoy your explorations, and don't be afraid to try something new yourself! You just might find a new favorite food...

Courtney’s Coconut Cinnamon Rice Pudding
1 1/4 cup long-grain white rice, washed 
4 cinnamon sticks
2  cups water
2 1/2 cups milk
Pinch salt
2 tablespoon butter
1 1⁄2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 (about 13.5-14 oz) can coconut milk
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons orange zest
1. In a large saucepan, add water and cinnamon sticks, bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks.
2. Add the rice and to the water and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. 
3. Add salt, butter, vanilla extract, 2  1/2 cups milk. Stir well to mix and cook uncovered for approximately 15 minutes.
4. Reduce heat to medium low. Add the coconut milk and condensed milk. Stir frequently while cooking for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the rice pudding thickens to desire consistency and rice is cooked completely. If the pudding seems to be too thick before the rice is fully cooked through to your desired consistency, add another 1/2 to 1 cup milk or coconut milk until desired texture and thickness is reached. 
5. Stir in the ground cinnamon and orange zest, and let it cool at room temperature. The consistency should be very creamy. Refrigerate for a least 2 hours or overnight. If you wish the pudding a bit sweeter, add 1/4 cup of honey or agave nectar. Serve cold or at room temp. 

28 February 2012

Soup-er Simple!

Had to post this before I forget the recipe, as I'm terrible about writing down my recipes as I go!

I was given a wonderful 7 quart slow cooker for Christmas and am LOVING using it! I usually end up making a soup or stew in there, and often times it's the basic mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot) with some potatoes and beef or chicken, and lots of seasonings and spices. Those are things I always have, you know that if you've seen my pantry and fridge check lists :) and along with Chili/bean soups, they're the most simple hearty meals I can provide often with very little time to prep, and soup is pretty much always in budget. And who doesn't love soup/stew on a cold Washington evening, with lots of leftovers!

Well, lately I've had a hankering for a mexican soup, something with a little heat, lots of shredded chicken, something I can make unique and really delicious without spending hours in the kitchen. Mexican Chicken Soup with Avocado Lime cream was created! It's similar to a chicken tortilla soup, but without the soggy tortilla strips :) Instead we used our favorite tortilla chips crumbled on top, and getting to crumble his own chips was my son's favorite part! This soup was fast to prep, can be garnished in a number of ways, and is extremely hearty, comforting and flavorful. 

Here's is the wonderfully simple, yet elegant-enough-to-be-served-in-the-good-china, recipe! f you don't want to make a giant batch, though I can't think of any reason not to as leftovers are the easiest meals of all, you can halve the recipe.

Mexican Chicken Soup (in 7qt. Slow Cooker) 
1 large yellow onion, sliced thin
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large can of your favorite Enchilada Sauce (around 28oz)
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock or broth
1 small bag frozen corn
2 cans low-sodium pinto beans (drained)
3 carrots, sliced

Spices: I started with about 2 teaspoons of each and when the slow cooker has about an hour left, taste and add more if needed...
Ground Cumin
Ground Coriander
Smoked Paprika
Dried Mexican Oregano
Worchestire sauce
Sea Salt
White Pepper (Start with 1 tsp of this since it can pack a lot of heat)

Layer in the cooker with half the sliced onion, half the carrot and half the garlic on the bottom, pour in about a third of the chicken stock and half of the enchilada sauce. Put the chicken breasts on top, then add your remaining ingredients, give a little stir and pop the lid on. Cook on low for 8 hours, or high for 4-5. Again, when you have a hour left taste to see if you need to season more. YOu'll also want to take your next step at this point. Take out the chicken breasts and shred them in a large bowl, I find using two forks works best, and then put the chicken back in, lid on and let it cook that last hour. 

Avocado Lime cream
1/2 cup low fat sour cream
1 medium avocado
1 lime's worth of juice
dash of garlic powder and onion powder, salt and pepper to taste
Mash everything together until fairly smooth and serve soup with a dollop of this cream on top. It's a wonderful contrast to have the acid from the lime juice with all the rich flavors from the soup, and adds a lot of freshness. 

You can really customize what you'd like to add at this point. Other ideas are:
Grated cheese or Queso Fresco
Chopped Scallions
Minced Red Onion
Fresh Tomato
Tortilla Chips
Jalepeño Peppers or other favorite peppers
or whatever mexican flavors you enjoy! 

Share, enjoy, savor, eat, love!

I have another couple of posts in the works and will get them up soon.
Thanks for reading, friends!