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Moroccan Vegetable Stew

We’ve been undergoing a bit of a food revolution in our house over the past few months, trying to eat as cleanly as possible (when we’re home and can control it, at least!) in the interest of being our best and healthiest selves. We eat lots of organic meat and eggs, lots of fruit and veggies (keeping the Dirty Dozen organic, at least), and a little organic dairy, and we’ve majorly reduced our beer and wine consumption. It’s been tough, but worth it. Lest you think we’re going crazy, I did bring a caramel apple pie to my friend Christopher’s amazing Thanksgiving dinner and enjoyed every single bite. (Life without any indulgence hardly seems worth living, am I right?) Still, we’re doing the best we can as often as we can.

Changing our lunch habits has been a major challenge throughout this process. I used to alternate between Lean Cuisine and turkey sandwiches; Dr. O was eating the previous night’s leftovers, or (horror of horrors!) Lean Pockets, in the event of an emergency. Since I really wanted to get away from processed food, I bought a bunch of glass Snapware at Costco and committed to stocking my freezer with homemade frozen lunches. I’ve made lots of delicious recipes (I’ll share them, promise!), but today’s recipe – Moroccan Vegetable Stew from Peace Meals – is one of my favorites. There’s a lot of prep work with the veggies, but the stew is really simple and tasty. Plus, the ingredients fill my five-quart slow cooker to the brim, which means I have plenty of lunches to freeze.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew
Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried coriander
1 teaspoon dried cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
5 cups vegetable broth (I use organic chicken broth, since that’s what I keep on hand)
2 1/2 cups diced eggplant, about 2 medium
2 cups peeled and sliced carrots, about 5 small
2 cups cauliflower florets, about 1 small head
2 cups sliced zucchini, about 2 medium
1 cup chopped onion, about 1 medium
29 ounces canned stewed tomatoes (I use Muir Glen)
15 ounces canned garbanzo beans
1 cup chopped toasted almonds
3/4 cup currants
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt (optional)

Method:
Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-low. Add the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes; be careful not to burn the garlic. Scrape the garlic and spices into a slow cooker. Add the broth and the remaining ingredients (except the yogurt) and stir. Cook on high for 6 to 7 hours. Allow to cool slightly. Purée 3 cups of the stew in a blender or food processor and return to the slow cooker, stirring to combine. Serve warm with a dollop of yogurt, if desired.

Source: Peace Meals

Moroccan Vegetable Stew

This is such warm, delicious, comforting food. You probably have to like eggplant in order to enjoy this one, but I just adore the way all the vegetables in this dish come together. I also love, love, love the hint of sweetness from the currants and the slight heat from the cayenne pepper.

The first time I made this stew, I was in a huge hurry, rushing to get out the door for some reason. I nearly skipped the almonds since I didn’t want to take the time to toast and chop them. It would have been a huge mistake! I thought it was so strange to put nuts in a slow-cooker stew (surely they would get spongy, right?), but they add such a wonderful texture and flavor to the dish.

TIPS: When I first made this stew, I cut my vegetables into fairly large pieces since I assumed they would cook down quite a bit (especially the eggplant and the zucchini). It didn’t really happen. Now, I use a small dice for the onion, a small-medium dice for the eggplant, and half-moons for the zucchini (and larger carrots). Also, I just put my hand blender right into the slow cooker for a few seconds at the end, rather than dirty my regular blender or food processor.

Slow-Cooked Vanilla Spice Oatmeal

Recently, I received a treat in the mail: a promotional copy of Pure Vanilla, a new vanilla-centered cookbook by Piece of Cake blogger Shauna Sever. As much as I love chocolate, vanilla has always been my favorite flavor, so I couldn’t wait to dig in and check out the recipes. In a cruel twist of fate, we’re trying to avoid eating too much refined sugar and dairy at this point, so I longingly skipped over Vanilla Bean Bread Pudding, Big Mama Vanilla Cheesecake, Salted Vanilla Chip Oatmeal Cookies, and Candied Vanilla Popcorn. I did manage to find a recipe, though, that (a) is relatively low sugar, (b) is made (almost entirely) with things I already had on hand, and (c) solves a problem we’ve been tackling recently, which is that it’s hard to make breakfast every morning with Dr. O’s ever-changing (and sometimes painfully early) work hours.

Shauna says adding a vanilla bean “transforms this humble food (oats) into something otherworldly,” and she’s right. Throw this one together before bed and wake up to one fantastic breakfast.

Slow-Cooked Vanilla Spice Oatmeal
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 cup steel-cut oats
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons light brown sugar (optional), plus more for serving
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
Half-and-half or heavy cream, for serving

Method:
Coat the sleeve of a 5-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Place sleeve in slow cooker and combine all ingredients in it; add 3 1/2 cups water and stir to blend. Set slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours. Remove vanilla bean and scrape any remaining caviar into oatmeal. Stir well and serve with brown sugar to taste and a drizzle of half-and-half or heavy cream.

Variation: Increase the water to 4 cups and add 2/3 cup of dried fruit before cooking.

Source: Pure Vanilla

Slow-Cooked Vanilla Spice Oatmeal

Talk about an incredibly easy, super tasty breakfast. I tried the variation, upping the water to four cups and adding 1/3 cup of dried tart cherries and 1/3 cup of dried apricots. The fruit cooked down to a lusciously soft consistency and the spices were just right. Dr. O said it was like eating cobbler for breakfast (a good thing in our house!).

My only complaint? I lost about a serving of oatmeal to crust on the sides of my slow cooker sleeve, even with a coating of canola cooking spray.  Maybe next time I’ll combine the ingredients in a separate bowl and dump them in to avoid disturbing the cooking spray.  (Or maybe my slow cooker is a bit too warm, even on low?)  I’m very interested to try this as a single serving in my Crock-Pot Little Dipper.  I’ll post an update when I do.

Thanks for the book and the amazing recipes, Shauna!  Can’t wait to try them all.

Honey-Caramelized Figs with Yogurt

You know those kitchen projects you mean to get to, year after year, but never do? One of mine was cooking with fresh figs. I think the problem is that the season is so short; by the time I had a plan, the figs were gone.

This year, cooking with figs actually had purpose for me. We’ve been focusing on healthy snacks around here lately and have been eating a fair amount of dried figs. I’ll be the first to admit that dried figs and a bit ugly and a bit chewy (particularly if you refrigerate them for freshness), and Dr. O wasn’t crazy about them. When I saw piles of beautiful, fresh figs at Whole Foods last week, I knew I had an opportunity to show him the fruit in its best light. Eight ounces of figs and a quick Internet search later, I had a plan for breakfast: Honey-Caramelized Figs with Yogurt. Dr. O loved every bite!

Honey Caramelized Figs with Yogurt
Total time: 10 min. | Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon honey, plus more for drizzling
8 ounces fresh figs, halved (I trimmed the stems also)
2 cups plain, low-fat Greek yogurt
Pinch ground cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Method:
Heat honey in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook figs, cut side down, until caramelized, about 5 minutes.

Serve over yogurt with cinnamon and pistachios. Drizzle with honey, if desired.

Source: Whole Living, September 2012

Honey-Caramelized Figs with Yogurt

Talk about a delicious and easy recipe! The flavor of the fresh figs was just incredible. They were rich and sweet with pleasant chewiness in the flesh and crunch in the seeds. Add extra crunch from the pistachios, extra sweetness from the honey (necessary, I think, since the yogurt is unsweetened), and creaminess from the yogurt, and you have a tasty, gorgeous breakfast. If I can get to it before figs are out of season, I’ll definitely make this one again.

Recipe link: Honey-Caramelized Figs with Yogurt

Ceviche Pescadero

Dr. O and I usually get an itch to travel in the summer, and this summer was no exception. Last month, we packed up and headed down to Rancho Pescadero, a hip slice of paradise on the Pacific coast of Baja California.

While I was awfully excited about spending time at the pool and the beach with my sweetie, I have to admit that I was most excited about the food. I had heard amazing things about the resort chef, Rodrigo Bueno (yes, really, his name is Chef Bueno), who had moved on to Rancho Pescadero after a stint at One & Only Palmilla (which we visited in April, coincidentally). His dishes center around super fresh local seafood and produce pulled from Rancho P’s on-site organic garden, so I knew we were in for a treat.

We sampled a number of amazing dishes in the restaurant, including an unforgettable corn and panela cheese salad, shrimp risotto, halibut in coconut-tamarind broth, rib eye with salsa verde, roasted chicken, and Thai curry. While dinners were divine, some of my favorite food at the resort came poolside. Fish tacos, chicken tinga stew burritos, shrimp quesadillas, guacamole and salsa… All were beautifully presented and beyond delicious.

How’s this for a view from the dinner table?

As Dr. O and I were lounging the afternoon away at the pool with yet another order of the best ceviche either of us had ever had, Chef Bueno came around with samples of a mango-chile sorbet. While we enjoyed our frozen treat, Dr. O told Chef Bueno how much he enjoyed the ceviche and that he wanted me to try to make some after we returned home. On the spot, Chef Bueno offered us a cooking class at 5 p.m. that day so I could learn just how he does it. Pretty cool, right?

Making ceviche with Chef Bueno

We showed up and I got to work under Chef Bueno’s gentle guidance. (Dr. O decided to take on the all-important job of photographer and chief taster.) As a perfectionist, I’ll admit to being mildly frustrated by the process of making ceviche. My knife skills are less than perfect, and there was quite a bit of intricate knife work. (With all the slicing and dicing, Chef Bueno says to give oneself 90 minutes to make ceviche for 10 people.) Also, I tend to be a by-the-book recipe follower, and making ceviche is more of an intuitive process. Still, I had a great time in Chef Bueno’s kitchen; the cooking class was a highlight of the trip for sure. And my ceviche might not have been gorgeous, but it sure was delicious.

After we finished our class with Chef Bueno, Dr. O and I took notes about what we learned. This is the recipe according to my notes and memory. (Chef Bueno, if you read this, feel free to correct me!) Go with the flow and adjust ingredient quantities to taste… The end result will be worth it!

Ceviche Pescadero
Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients:
8 oz. fresh, firm white fish (we used halibut)
4 limes
3 – 4 Roma tomatoes
1/2 medium white onion
1/2 serrano pepper
1/2 medium cucumber
Leaves from one small bunch cilantro
Olive oil
Clamato
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 avocado
Tortilla chips

Method:
Cut the halibut into 1/4-inch slices. Cut each slice into 1/4-inch strips and then cut crosswise to finely dice the fish. Place the fish in a small bowl. Squeeze the limes over the top of the fish. Transfer the fish and lime juice to a plastic bag. Seal and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely dice the tomatoes and onion and place in a large bowl. Using your knife, remove several wide lengthwise strips of skin from the cucumber. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices, avoiding the center (seeds). Cut each slice into 1/4-inch strips and then cut crosswise to finely dice the cucumber; add to bowl. Gently stir the mixture to combine, checking for balance of ingredients. (If you need more red, add tomato; if you need more green, add cucumber, etc.) Chop the cilantro and mince the serrano pepper and add to the bowl. Add a splash of Clamato, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

At the end of the 30 minutes, add the fish and lime juice to the ingredients in the bowl. Season again with salt and pepper to taste. (This step is important since the fish was not previously seasoned.) Transfer ceviche to serving dish.

Peel, pit, and thinly slice avocado; arrange over ceviche. Serve with chips, preferably poolside!

Finished! (And we still let Dr. O hold it like he made it…)

This ceviche is heavenly. It’s fresh and limey, with great texture from the onion and cucumber, and a hint of heat from the serrano. I could eat it every day (and practically did during our time at Rancho P). Thanks, Chef Bueno, for tasty food and a great experience!

The quality of the fish you use plays a huge part in the recipe’s success. All you coastal people have a definite advantage. In Colorado, our best shot at fresh fish is river fish; Chef Bueno said this recipe definitely would work with trout. He also suggested having fun with the ingredients based on what you have and what’s in season. Adding mango and coconut milk (and subtracting the Clamato, I assume) is one variation we discussed.

TIPS: Don’t over-marinate the fish, as it will become chewy. Also, once the fish is marinated and the ceviche is assembled, be sure to serve it within about four hours for best taste and texture. Curious about how ceviche “cooks” and how to select the best fish? Check out this helpful article.

Tzatziki Potato Salad

Is there anything better than entertaining out on the deck or patio in the summer? I just love sharing a meal outside with friends while we sip, nibble, and chat until the sun goes down. For me, though, an essential element of this experience is being able to do most of the dinner work long before any guests arrive. That’s where today’s dish – Tzatziki Potato Salad – comes in. It’s delicious, it pairs beautifully with several of my favorite grilling recipes (including Grilled Greek Chicken Kebabs with Mint-Feta Sauce and Greek-Style Pork Chops), and it can be made up to two days ahead.

Tzatziki Potato Salad
Serves 6

Ingredients:
2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3/4 cup Greek-style, plain, fat-free yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I use light)
3 Kirby cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 serrano chile, seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped dill
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook over high heat until tender, about 9 minutes. Drain, gently shaking out the excess water. Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer and freeze for about 10 minutes, just until no longer warm.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the yogurt with the mayonnaise until smooth. Add the cucumbers, chile, mint and dill. Fold in the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Source: Grace Parisi, Food & Wine

Tzatziki Potato Salad

I just love the flavors in this salad, particularly the freshness of the mint and the mild heat of the serrano chile. The cucumbers add coolness and crunch, and the yogurt and mayonnaise lend just the right amount of creaminess. This salad is the perfect accompaniment to any Greek-themed menu, but it would be right at home next to burgers, brats, or whatever else you’re grilling up this summer. Give it a try!

TIPS: Depending on how accurately sized your potato cubes are, you may need a few more minutes of cooking time. Just make sure the potatoes are tender before you drain them. Also, if you can’t find Kirby cucumbers, substitute a medium English cucumber (and feel free to skip the peeling and seeding, since English cukes have thin, tender skin and their seeds are less bitter).

Recipe link: Tzatziki Potato Salad

Peach, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Salad

I got sucked in by Costco’s goat cheese again. (Why buy 5 ounces for $4.99 when you can get two 10-ounce logs for $5.99? Plus, their goat cheese is super creamy and delish.) In my quest to find ways to use it, I came across today’s recipe: Peach, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Salad. I love peaches, adore prosciutto, and am crazy about goat cheese, so how could I go wrong?

Peach, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Salad
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1/3 cup walnut oil (I used olive because that’s what I had)
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons shallots, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 cups curly leaf lettuce (I used baby spinach since I had a giant Costco container)
2 ripe peaches, peeled
8 thin slices of prosciutto
4 ounces soft goat cheese

Method:
Combine oil, lime juice, shallots, honey, pepper, and salt in a jar; cover tightly and shake vigorously to combine. Let stand 1 hour to allow flavors to blend.

Meanwhile, cut each peach into 8 wedges. Halve prosciutto slices lengthwise and wrap each peach slice in prosciutto. Thinly slice goat cheese using unflavored dental floss or a warm knife (wiped clean after each slice).

Toss lettuce with dressing. (You may not need to use it all.) Divide lettuce among four plates and top with goat cheese, peaches, and prosciutto. If you have extra dressing, drizzle some over the top of each salad.

Adapted (mostly because I think they wrote the lettuce and goat cheese quantities incorrectly) from The Dallas Morning News

Peach, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Salad

What a fun and delicious salad! The goat cheese, peach, and prosciutto combination is fantastic, and I love the amount of lime and shallot in the dressing. I’ll make this one again and again this summer.

That said, this salad would be even better with nuts. Adding a crunchy textural element would definitely take this over the top. I plan to make this recipe with a sprinkle of chopped, toasted walnuts next time (a natural choice since the original recipe calls for walnut oil in the dressing).

TIPS: Not sure about the best way to peel a peach? I learned this trick from Martha a few years back. Also, if you want to make this salad ahead (I know I will at some point!), you could make the dressing, slice the goat cheese (place wax paper squares between each slice for easy separation later), and wrap the peaches in the prosciutto beforehand. Just store everything in airtight containers in the refrigerator. When it’s time to eat, toss the lettuce with the dressing, assemble the salads, and top with the chopped walnuts. (That’s much easier than slicing goat cheese with dental floss in front of dinner guests, right?)

Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies

“Mayhem” (the only way I can describe my May!) is almost over. Hallelujah. It’s been fun, but traveling every weekend really puts a damper on my cooking, and I’m ready to get back to it.

Today’s recipe – Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies – is a treat I’ve enjoyed at my friend Christopher’s house numerous times. Until I actively sought out the recipe, though, I didn’t realize that (a) I’ve had it in my possession since September 2009, and (b) it’s been on my list of must-try recipes for months and months.

The cookies are super simple to make; there’s only six ingredients, and prep time is minimal. The first time I made a batch, though, they did not look like the cookies I’d enjoyed before. Christopher’s had relatively smooth but still slightly crackly tops, while mine were very uneven. I had ignored my kitchen instincts when I made the batter and didn’t beat the egg whites before adding them to the dry mixture (the recipe said nothing about it), so I figured this must have been my problem. This time, with lightly beaten egg whites, the cookies turned out perfectly.

Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies
Makes 12

Ingredients:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (sub chocolate chips if desired)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (or other type of nut)
4 large egg whites, room temperature (I say lightly beaten)

Method:
Preheat oven to 325°. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa, and salt. Stir in chocolate and pecans. Add egg whites and stir until just incorporated (do not overmix).

Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 3 inches apart, onto two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake until cookie tops are dry and crackled, about 25 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool completely. (To store, keep in an airtight container, up to 3 days.)

Source: Everyday Food, September 2009

Image

These are one of my top three favorite cookies, easy. The crisp, crackly outside gives way to a chewy, brownie-like center and the combination is absolutely out of this world. The cookies are large (about the size of my palm) and visually impressive, which makes them great for gifts or entertaining.

The quality of cocoa powder used definitely affects the flavor of the cookie, so if you try the recipe, go with the best. I’ve had good results with Savory Spice Shop’s cocoa (I mixed their basic Dutch-process cocoa with their Black Onyx) and with Ghirardelli; Christopher swears by Droste.

Recipe link: Flourless Double-Chocolate Pecan Cookies




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