Friday, September 30, 2011

Lauren Lately: Veggies with Goat Cheese, Lemon or in Pasta Sauce

Most of my meals are not documentation worthy, however I still enjoy preparing and eating them. "Lauren Lately" is a series that will feature a few go-to items in my dinner rotation on those nights when I want to cook, but don't have the gumption to create a blog-worthy meal.

1) Roasted Veggies with Chili Oil & Goat Cheese  
  • Sturdy vegetables, i.e. turnips, beets, carrots, butternut squash, peppers, onions, potatoes and/or parsnips
  • Chili Oil
  • Goat Cheese
  • Salt, Pepper and an Herb (dried or fresh thyme, sage or rosemary)
  • Preheat oven to 375. 
  • Peel, clean and chop vegetables into 1-inch cubes. If squash or potato heavy, consider smaller cubes or 3 minutes in the microwave to speed cooking time.
  • Toss cubes with salt, pepper, chili oil to coat and a few dashes of herbs. Personally, I'm in a dried thyme phase.
  • In a roasting pan or tinfoil boat (much less clean up!), roast the vegetable for 35-45 minutes, tasting for readiness.
  • Remove from the oven.  While piping hot, mix in a bowl with a tablespoon or two of goat cheese which will melt into a tangy and perfect coating.
2) Steamed Veggies with Lemon Olive Oil
  • Green vegetables, e.g. Pole beans, string beans, broccoli, chard, kale, snap peas and/or brussel sprouts
  • Lemon Olive Oil
  • Clean, trim and chop green vegetables into bite sized pieces.
  • Lightly steam (3-4 minutes for the soft greens, a minute + for the beans, a bit longer for broccoli or brussels). Steam in a glass dish with water in the microwave, stove top in a steamer basket or in a set like ours. Just avoid steaming in plastic, a no-no according to my dietitian friend, because of possible chemical transfer (phthalates and BPA, eek!).
  • Toss the veggies with a few glugs of artisanal lemon flavored olive oil* and serve along side grilled chicken or fish. 
  • If you don't have lemon olive oil on hand, combine a few healthy squirts of fresh lemon juice with regular olive oil, (then read the note below and contemplate an order!)
*Nudo Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Lemon has been a secret obsession of mine since reading about it in this newsletter.  Simple salad dressing or on veggies as above it is delish. Its so NOT LOCAL, I almost didn't fess up. However the eco-friendly merits slightly cleared my conscious since: a) Nudo farms organically, b) They market a lovely adopt an olive tree program and c) They employ a policy to ship by sea and land wherever possible. The chili oil in the roasted veg recipe above is also Nudo, and a part of their "Three Tenors" trio (Hello holiday or housewarming gift!)

3) Pasta with A Quick Homemade Sauce
When I first went "public" with this blog, a dear friend jokingly remarked she enjoyed it even though heating up pasta sauce was daunting to her.  I laughed... then started obsessing about quick homemade sauce recipes for her.  Below are my general guidelines.  Is the end result fine-dining? Probably not. Is it an easy and enjoyable homemade supper? You betcha.

Ingredients (must have and totally 100% optional)
  • A large white onion
  • Herbs of some sort (basil, thyme, oregano)
  • 4-6 fresh tomatoes or a a can of whole tomatoes
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Pasta
  • 100% totally optional ingredients: Protein (ground chicken, sausage, lamb etc.), Fennel, Carrot, Celery, Garlic, Hot Pepper Flakes or Cayenne
  • Meat base: Over medium heat, break up and begin to brown the ground or chopped protein of your choosing (turkey, chicken, beef, lamb, veal, sausage). About 1/4th a pound per person, though the end result will easily freeze if you have left overs. I love meat combination's here (lamb and veal, chicken and sausage) and just as often stick with straight veggies. 
  • Veggie base: Add a few glugs of olive oil to a saute pan and continue.  
  • Add one half a chopped onion to the meat or olive oil (or a full onion if serving more than 4 people), and saute over medium heat until glistening.  If you have it on hand, this is where you can add chopped fennel, carrots or celery sauteing it all for 5-7 minutes.
  • Add freshly chopped tomatoes (4 for two people, more for additional eaters), or a can of tomatoes to the pan, and lower heat to medium low. 
  • Add in the chopped or dried herbs (a pinch of dried oregano, a few full basil leaves...its not scientific), and a few cranks of salt and pepper. 
  • Optional: Add 1-2 cloves of chopped garlic, and/or a dash of cayenne or a dash of hot pepper flakes to kick it up notch.
  • Cook for 15-20 minutes, mixing every 5 minutes or so to break down the tomatoes.
  • Meanwhile, bring pasta to a boil on the neighboring burner. When it's done, add 1/2 cup of starchy water from boiling the pasta to the sauce pan to loosen it up. 
  • Pasta + sauce + grated cheese = dinner in about an 35 minutes including chopping.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Homemade Tapas: Baked Goat Cheese in Peppers, Onions & Tomato

Tapas always reminds me of the Cafe Babareeba in Chicago. You'd think it would remind me of my honeymoon in Spain, or one of the fantastic restaurants here in my adopted hometown of NYC.  Instead, say the word tapas, and I am fondly recalling my first memories of dining without parents with my high school girlfriends.  When asked for restaurants in Chicago, some two!?! decades later, I am still sending people to Babareeba on Lincoln and hoping they enjoy it as much as I have.

One of my first go-to items is actually still on the menu, "Goat Cheese baked in Tomato Sauce." A simple, yet perfectly delicious appetizer.  When our local farmer's market cheese monger suggested a bright and creamy goat cheese last weekend, in a flash I was back at Babareeba, sopping up that perfect little appetizer with good crusty bread, talking about boys, sneaking in the occasional sangria and laughing with my oldest friends.

I've recreated a slightly more filling version below, bulking up the sauce with some gorgeous CSA mini bell peppers and optional sausage.  We plopped the entire pan on a hot plate directly on the table, ripped off hunks of crusty bread and gorged straight from the source. Deliciso!

Goat Cheese Baked in Peppers, Onion & Tomato Sauce
  • 12-15 mini bell peppers OR 3 - 4 large bell peppers all red, yellow or orange
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 a large white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 log of goat cheese
  • Olive oil, plus more for the table
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Optional: 1 link of sweet or spicy sausage of your liking, sliced thinly
  • Large loaf of your favorite crunchy bread or baguette
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 
  • Dice the onions and peppers into bite size pieces
  • Swirl olive oil twice around a cast iron or oven-proof saute pan.  Add the peppers and onions, and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes.
  • If using sausage, add sliced sausage and cook for 4-6 minutes until done, stirring frequently. 
  • Add chopped garlic, salt & pepper, and cook for 1 minute stirring until fragrant.
  • Lower heat to low-medium, pour tomato sauce over and cook for a few minutes until the sauce is warmed. 
  • Slice goat cheese into 6-8 pieces and place on top of the tomato pepper base. 
  • Add the entire pan to the oven, and cook at 325 for 8-10 minutes until cheese starts to melt but doesn't fall apart.  Optional: Turn on the broiler, and broil for another 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese. 
  • Remove from the oven.  Divvy onto plates or serve straight from the pan on the table along side a baguette, olive oil and salt for dipping.
Without Sausage                                      With Sausage

Monday, September 19, 2011

Zucchini & Walnut Muffins

When I first moved to New York City seven years ago, I had a bit of a muffin problem.  Actually, I had more of a "I can not find a job, I just got my MBA, I am starting to panic about student loan debt, so I will obsessively bake muffins" problem. It was a much needed distraction from the daily job hunting grind. 

Looking back, I was not very inventive or fun with my muffining.  I just kept baking them, a WHOLE lot of them, on repeat.  When I started working, I stopped baking, and my household not-so-secretly welcomed the hiatus. 

It was a few years before I was back in safe muffining territory.  When Fitsugar tweeted this recipe last week, I pounced, very excited to use one of many (too many?) CSA zucchinis in a non-savory way. 

While these muffins are certainly on the healthier side with skim milk and a veggie base, served warm or toasted with a slab of butter I promise you will not care.  Plus, I added chopped walnuts.  Have you ever eaten a walnut-specked baked good you didn't like?  I didn't think so.  Next time around, I am turning these sweet treats into cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting.  Now THAT will be some good muffining!

Zucchini & Walnut Muffins
Modified courtesy of of FitSugar and DietsinReview 
  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or 3/4 cup white flour & 3/4 cup brown whole wheat flour)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Egg-whites from 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup (or 3/4 cup sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup skim milk (or 1 cup if you used sugar instead of agave)
  • 1 1/2 cups grated zucchini (one large zucchini in my case)
  • 5 tablespoons roughly chopped walnuts
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (or 400 if you used sugar instead of agave). Spray muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices.
  • In a second bowl, beat egg whites slightly and stir in the agave, milk, oil and zucchini. Add to flour mixture stirring until just combined. Mix in the walnuts.
  • Fill muffin cups to the line**.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes. 
  • Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes and then remove from pan. Serve warm or refrigerate for later use, heating up to enjoy.
**The original directions, and most muffin recipes, suggest filling the tins 2/3 full.  I did one batch 2/3rds full, and a second batch with a few filled to the top.  See the obvious winner below. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cheesy Braised Kale

Seriously, if you want to skip straight to the recipe, I will not be offended.  Cheesy: Best food adjective ever.  Braised: YUM.  Kale: Most underrated scrumptious vegetable on the planet.  Go for it, scroll away.  All I am going to do is sing cheese and kale's praises, and then you'll be at the recipe anyway.

I really have a real thing about cheese, a.k.a. my favorite food group.  When my now husband first told me he wasn't crazy about cheese, I seriously contemplated our future.  I am joking... I think.  It's a family trait.  You've never seen anything like a bunch of Locke's around a cheese plate.  It's a race to the finish with commentary and audible sighs of enjoyment throughout.  My dad regularly sneaks in some of my favorite Oka from Quebec when flying down to visit me here in NYC.  It's the only time he has ever broken a law, and I adore it every time.

And kale, well forget about it. Earthy, versatile, easy to prepare, SUPER nutritious--I.LOVE.KALE.  With fall here, there are many kale posts in our future.  Kale chips, kale soup, kale salads... I cannot wait!  For now, run to the farmer's market and scoop up the following ingredients for a perfect side dish.  It could almost be a Thanksgiving side, its that juicy and tasty.  I could have eaten a whole pan with a side of crusty bread, and did reheat leftovers for breakfast with a poached egg on top.

Cheesy Braised Kale
  • 1 bunch of kale, rinsed and chopped into ribbons
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup warmed veggie or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup thinly diced alpine cheese or Gruyere, (I used this AMAZING local sigit from Mecox Bay Dairy)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Optional: 1 pinch red pepper flakes 
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 
  • Swirl 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat and once hot, add the chopped onion. Saute for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add a dash of salt, pepper, and, if using, the red pepper flakes. Toss in the kale, and another tablespoon of olive oil.  Stir to coat, and saute for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Transfer to glass bake ware.  Add in 3/4 of the cheese and toss well to distribute throughout.  
  • Pour the stock over the entire mixture, and top the kale off with the remaining cheese. 
  • Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and cook for 25 minutes.  Remove the aluminum foil, and cook for another 10-15 minutes until bubbly.
  • Remove from the oven and ENJOY!
(Ugly) Pre-Oven Photo
(Uglier) Post-Oven Photo
About Kale
Kale is tremendously good for you.  Rich in vitamins like beta carotene, vitamin c and k, and calcium, it also has anti-cancer properties. Kale is grown for both edible and decorative enjoyment.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Vacation Post & Roasted Radishes

We enjoyed a week holiday.  First in lovely Maine gorging on lobsters and potatoes, and then in Montauk reading, relaxing and doing some serious rain-induced puzzling.  The lobster eggs benedict at this restaurant in Portland and the lobster roll at Calder's Clam Shack on Chebeague Island were major food highlights of our trip up north, should you find yourself in the neighborhood.  

With the travel, I gave our weekly CSA to good friends down the street.  I delighted in their reviews, "The veggies are AWESOME. Simply Amazing," and experienced a hint of jealousy when hearing about sauteed garlic in radish greens.  Farm fresh radishes are an absolute favorite of mine.  When I first had a farmers market radish, the pungent, crisp morsel so out-shined the supermarket's watery variety that I knew local and in season eating was a must. 

On Thursday, I attended the Montauk Farmer's Market and inspired my radish envy, picked up this gorgeous bunch.

My farm share's weekly email shared a quick recipe for roasted radishes.  While others at my table loved them, I found them just so-so.  The roasting cut out much of that bright spicy flavor, and they almost tasted like slightly spicy small turnips. Not bad, just not as expected.  Since half my table enjoyed them (and shared that sentiment unsolicited!), I share the recipe below.  I'd love to hear your comments if any of you give this easy recipe a go.
Roasted Radishes
  • 1 bunch of radishes
  • 1 tablespoon of melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Thyme or other herbs as desired
  • Preheat the oven to 250°c.
  • Trim the radishes well (saving the green tops for a salad or saute if you are so inclined!), leaving about 1/2 inch of stem. 
  • Rinse the radishes well. For me, this involves a brush or a good finger nail over the particularly earthy spots.
  • Place the radishes on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with melted butter and olive oil, and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, and herbs.  Toss to coat.
  • Roast for 12 to 15 minutes, until the radishes are tender but still slightly crunchy (red radishes will turn pale pink in color, lighter radishes may turn a pale gold). Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tomatillo Salsa, a.k.a. Scrumptious Green Sauce

When it comes to vegetables, Alice Waters is my goddess.  Her culinary point of view, that cooking should be focused on the finest and freshest local ingredients, is what I strive for and her refined yet approachable take has been inspiring cooks for decades.

While I am offering you nothing unique by professing my love, her Chez Panisse Vegetables is the perfect encyclopedia of vegetable recipes if you are in the market for one.  I read it cover-to-cover as bedside reading.

When these funky little corn husked green tomatillo fruits arrived I knew she'd have the perfect preparation.  I, unsurprisingly, obsessed over her version.  Home made tacos with tomatillo salsa verde: check.  Broiled fluke with the same green deliciousness: check.  Grilled chicken and rice topped with this sauce: check.  A second batch frozen in two separate baggies for enjoyment this winter: double check.  You get the picture!  Make it, enjoy it on just about anything, and see for yourself why Alice is a goddess.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde
Courtesy of Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Foods 

  • 1 pound tomatillos (about 12) 
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 cup washed and chopped cilantro
  • 2 garlic cloves sliced (I doubled the originally here)
  • Salt
  • Peel and rinse the tomatillos. Add them to a sauce pan, cover just with water, add salt and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer for four to five minutes then drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.  The tomatillos will have lost their brightness. 

  • Blend the tomatillos with the cilantro, jalapenos, garlic, and 1/2 cup of the cooking water
  • Check the consistency, and if you want a "saucier" finish, add more cooking water
  • Enjoy!
About the Tomatillo
Known to many as the green tomato, ripe tomatillos are bright green and firm.  Found in Mexico as far back as pre-Columbian times, the fruit is now a large domesticated Mexican export with with 80% of the yield sent to the USA.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Shishito Peppers: A lasting flash in the pan

A growing culinary trend in New York City and the Hamptons confirms three of my golden food rules: 1) Anything fresh is better; 2) Anything Japanese* is delicious; and 3) Most things fried are a treat.

My eyes have been lighting up at all the non-Japanese establishments now serving grilled or flash fried shishito peppers on their appetizer menus.  Not-coated or battered, the frying feels healthier than what you may be imagining, and these sweet little summer gems could really replace the deep-fried frozen jalapeno poppers blanketing many menus.

When these little guys arrived in my CSA box last week, I knew I had to try my hand at preparing them as I enjoyed them in Japan and as my husband I regularly now order them.  I winged it and we loved it, so this simple little preparation is becoming a post. I'd love to hear suggestions on grilling, omitting oil together, if any of you readers have a healthier recipe you'd like to share in the comments.

*As you may know from this post, I lived in and adore Japan.  

Flash Fried Shishito Peppers
  • As many shishito peppers as you wish to serve, no more than will fit in a single layer of your frying pan or skillet
  • Equal parts Olive Oil, Peanut Oil and Sesame Oil, enough to cover the pan in a 1/4 inch layer when combined 
    • For six peppers, I used about 1.5 tablespoons of each in a 10-inch pan and had oil left over
  • A healthy dose of sea salt
  • Slightly pierce each pepper through to the middle to prevent them from puffing up during  cooking
  • Over low-medium heat, warm the oil blend in your frying pan or skillet for 2 minutes just before it starts to smoke
  • Standing back, and using an oil guard if you have one (I never do, and clean oil splatters regularly), place the peppers in the oil mixture
  • Sear the peppers for 2 minutes.  Before they start to burn, use tongs to flip.  Sear an additional 1- 2 minutes, and transfer to a paper towel to drain
  • While still warm, liberally dose with sea salt and serve

About Shishito Peppers
Looks are deceiving when it comes to this little pepper.  Small like their hot cousins, nine out of 10 are actually quite mild and sweet.  The name comes from the Japanese word for lion, shishi, as the top of the stem is said to look like the head of a lion. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Tomato Tales

I have a confession to make. I don't like tomatoes. No, actually, I loathe them. Not cooked tomatoes, or pasta sauce, or even the friendly sun-dried kind (most days), but raw, seedy, watery, tomatoes literally make my throat close. Many a tomato-lover has begged me to try this heirloom or that cherry variety, but I just can not enjoy them. Luckily, my husband (and father and stepmother) feel the same way! 

As a food lover, this is a hard one. Tomatoes are one of the few food items that regularly pop up everywhere unannounced. Have you ever ordered a sandwich or salad and had it arrive with mushrooms not listed on the menu? Never. Unlisted tomatoes, on the other hand, are doled out aggressively. There are many bigger (and real!) problems to be had, but as a veggie lover my relationship with the tomato is a tough one.

I've been on a quest to enjoy CSA tomatoes. Pasta sauces and stews were satisfying...until I started roasting them. Inspired by two of everyone's favorite food bloggers, this one and that one, I roasted a batch last year and oh my lord are they sheer goodness. The roasting brings out an almost caramel taste, reminding you why this food is actually a fruit.

I pop roasted tomatoes in my mouth for a little treat after meals, as a part of breakfast, when opening the fridge to get water.... I'm addicted. And best of all for this CSA-er, roasted tomatoes are a fabulous way to enjoy a weeks worth of tomato shares in one go.

Roasted Tomatoes 
  • 3 -12 tomatoes
  • Ground Cumin
  • Whole Coriander Seeds
  • Salt, Pepper
  • Olive Oil


  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with tinfoil.
  • Wash, dry and cut in half as many tomatoes as you have on hand. I've used as little as 3 (6 halves), and as many as will fill two baking sheets.
  • Line the tomatoes, sliced side up in the pan.
  • Lightly drizzle with olive oil, up to 2 tablespoons for a full tray.
  • Sprinkle with salt, fresh pepper and ground cumin (nothing scientific, just a light dust)
  • Toss up to 2 tablespoons of whole coriander seeds over the tomatoes if roasting a whole tray. Some seeds will land on the tomatoes, others on the pan.
  • In the middle rack, roast the tomatoes for 2.5 - 4.5 hours depending on your oven and the size of the tomatoes.  They will shrink down to about 1/3rd their size, and smell a-MA-zing. 
Aside from their pop-them-in-your-mouth-like-candy enjoyability, these little gems are delicious: 
  • On sandwiches
  • Served warm on top of burgers (turkey, veggie, beef)
  • Minced up in omelets
  • Blended with a little olive oil and water for a roasted tomato sauce
  • In tacos
  • Sliced over salads

If you expect to use them in a weeks time, store in an air-tight container in the fridge.  To extend the shelf-time of your roasted tomatoes by a couple of months, generously cover the entire batch in olive oil.

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