Sunday, April 19, 2009

Champions of Breakfast

Runners, tighten your laces! Liquor stores, stock your 40's! It's nearly the third Monday in April here in Boston - Marathon Monday. The marathon represents one of two things: the indomitable nature of human will or the irrepressible urge to drink in public. Or there's the soul wrenching battle between the two - I could easily be one of those people with a beer in hand, an unlit cigarette in the other, thinking to myself: " year... Sob!" Now, not to be Little-Miss-Goody-Two-Asics, but I've never participated in the widespread debauchery that goes down on Patriots Day (yes, Boston likes to provide two names for its construed holidays; see also St. Patrick's Day/Evacuation Day). But this is the third consecutive year where I've intensified my running routine 'round about this time. I feel like a bit of a poseur running the trails right around the marathon. I'm usually being lapped by runners with highly sculpted calves and windbreakers from a previous year's race (the older the year, the more distinguished the runner, I think). But I plan to watch some of the runners as they come down Beacon tomorrow, and I know I'll catch the elite men and women cross into Copley and, as I always do, cry like a baby over the beauty of it all.

I just got back from a run and, starving, whipped up some breakfast. There are tons of recipes for tofu scramble out there, to the point where you don't really need a recipe. The most important part for me is the turmeric, for that sunny color and umami-liciosness. I'm not usually this serious about my morning meal, but hey, gotta load up for my big catharsis tomorrow.

Anything-Goes Tofu Scramble

1 package extra-firm tofu, thoroughly drained and crumbled

1 small onion, finely diced 

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 heaping teaspoon turmeric

a few splashes of hot sauce

a good plop of salsa

Additions: corn and cilantro; chopped kalamata olives and oregano, green onions and parsley... use your imagination!

Heat some olive oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Saute until softened and just starting to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add the tofu and cook until the tofu starts to brown, about five more minutes. Stir in the turmeric, hot sauce and any additions and enjoy (with hearty whole-wheat toast, yum!).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Potluck-y

Whether you mark this time of year with marshmallow chicks, matzo or a maypole, I think it's a pretty fine time to be alive. It's a time of triumph, really: over mortality, over adversity, over darkness. That's how some of our major religions slice it. But you don't need a set of dogma to feel cheered by green's victory over grey.

I got to celebrate Easter with most of my favorite people outside my bloodline, and yes, I felt like a lucky duck to be surrounded by such wonderful friends and a-freaking-mazing food. My apartment really felt like a home as soup simmered, onions brown and crusts baked last Sunday afternoon. My friend floored me with their culinary chops (quiches: feta, kalamata and asparagus, the other with apricot, peach and stilton), ingenuity (and improvised
potato and scallion soup), and resourcefulness (the food biz provided a scavenged salad and spring rolls accompanied by the best peanut sauce in Boston). 
I brought to the table (literally, woo!) portabello mushrooms stuffed with quinoa and spinach. My tye-A chef-y side prepped the day before; I just put them in the oven and let everyone else have at the kitchen. Admittedly, what I made was tame and health-foody compared to the robust flavors of the rest of the meal, but hey, I keeps it real like dat.

This is an ingredient-short but prep-heavy dish, but you can do near all of it at least a day before you serve it. You could even do the quinoa-spinach mixture two day prior, bake the mushrooms and assemble the day before and reheat when it's dinner time. Anything with this many steps is suitable for company. After all, your effort is a way to give to your family and friends for free.

Quinoa and Spinach-Stuffed Portabellos
8-10 portabello mushroom caps (plan on serving one per person as a side, two if it's a main dish)
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water or vegetable stock
12oz fresh spinach or one bag frozen (thawed and super-well-pressed for moisture if frozen)
olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic clove,s minced
1 bunch chevril or parsley, chopped
2-3oz nice Swiss, like Emmantaler or Havarti (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Clean the portabello caps with a dry paper towel and scrape out the gills with a small spoon. Use a gentle hand, as the cap will break under too much pressure (for those of us not used to handling textured, meaty ingredients, this part is really cool). Discard those insides. Place the caps (cap-side down, hollowed-out side up) on a non-stick baking sheet and spray or lightly drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until you smell the earthy mushrooms and they start to release their juices. SAVE THAT JUICE! Take the mushrooms off the pan and drain the juice into a small bowl for extra flava in the quinoa...

Bring two cups of water or stock to a boil and add the quinoa. Cover, reduce heat, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Add the reserved mushroom juice and let the quinoa sit for a few minutes.

In a large saute pan, add few tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chevril or parsley and stir until just heated. Add the spinach and stir to coat. Stir occasionally to uniformly wilt the spinach, about 8 minutes. Combine the quinoa and spinach mixture in a large bowl and season with sea salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

Add a heaping tablespoon-full of the quinoa-spinach mixture to the portabello caps. Top with some grated or shaved Emmantaler if desired (I did some with and without). Bake until the filling is hot, the portabellos are juicy and until the cheese -if using- is just bubbling. Serves five as an entree, 8 or more as a side dish.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Roasted Carrots and Parsnips: Kick it Root Down

This was a component to one of those rare, glorious meals that reinvigorate one's zeal for the tri-component plate model: a starch, a vegetable, and a protein. I think many of us grew up with this tradition, one that's steeped deep in the fifties. It's played-out enough to make a grown person never want to sit down at a table and eat without cardboard and styrofoam detritus again. But this old-school meal can get its groove back if we acknowledge that: 
  1. The starch need include the prefix with "Instant" or the suffix "-a-Roni." 
  2. The vegetable need not be canned 
  3. The protein need not, dur, be meat.
I once again cleaned out the veggie drawer in my fridge for this piece. Still roots, yes, and it seems to still be winter - at least botanically. That's gonn
a change, though, because I'm waiting for my next actual day off to zip(car) over to Allandale FArms, whose farmstand opened last Friday. Yaaaay! I'm sorry - Opening Day? Josh Beckett? Ted Kennedy's first pitch? Farmer's opening day is one to get amped about. But I was working. Sob. Anyway, here's what I hope will be the last featured parsnip until the fall (sorry guys, but I'm ready for some leaves 'n' such). Wintered-over parsnips are something special, though, and I chased away the their winter blues with sunny, peppy lemon and ginger.

(By the way, the other star player in this meal was an adaptation on Vegan Dad's Maple Barbeque Tofu - a full report on that is hunkered down in the dugout.)

Roasted Carrots & Parsnips with Lemon and Ginger

1/2 lb each carrots and parsnips, washed, peeled, and cut into matchsticks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon peeled and finely minced ginger
juice from half a lemon
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 425F. Combine the carrots, parsnips and olive oil in a good-sized dish (big enough so the veggies aren't all heaped on top of each other). Bake for about twenty minutes, or until the edges are browned and the veggies are tender, turning halfway through. In the last couple minutes, pour the lemon-ginger mix over the veggies. Stir when you take it out of the oven and season with a pinch of salt.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Wrecking Ball Through the Fourth Wall

...not that bloggers have a fourth wall. But in that vein, these images are a little glimpse of my kitchen, and this post is a little window into my obsessive mind. Food bloggers are a good crowd. I suspect we're all retaining some of the quiet, unassuming middle schooler in us: bookish, averagely likeable, prone to retreat to semi-closeted nerdish indulgences like beating Mario 3 in ten minutes or less, or doggedly rehearsing some musical piece. Or maybe that was just me. Regardless, food bloggers follow the same formula - just replace those after-school pastimes with researching, writing about, and cooking up all types of comestibles.

I felt a wave of camaraderie wash over me when I heard Marc Matsumoto speak on NPR about his fantastically rad blog No Recipes. It was serendipitous that I heard the broadcast; my friend was driving over to get some dinner and texted me en route: "Turn on NPR." So I did, and nearly everything Marc said struck a chord with me. Oh, to be inspired by a single ingredient; the craftsmanship that goes into turning a botanical into a meal; the dream to stick it to the man and just cook and write, cook and write. Well, sometimes that dream is actualized in the form of a hastily-built lemonade stand after a severe downpour of lemons. But why fret when your lemonade is the best on the block? 30,000 hits per month adds up to a lotta quarters! (Really, listen to the broadcast. You won't regret the few minutes.)

Suffice to say, I was inspired - then a bit star-struck. In another uplifting turn of events, Cathy at Not Eating Out In New York done-gone-'n'-done it a-gin. This month's featured Reason for Not Eating Out is scrumscalescent montage of some of the healthiest, eye-candiest recipes on Foodblogland (rhymes with Newfoundland). She features Marc's drool-worthy pasta fazool, Becky (-and the Beanstalk's) homemade tofu bacon, and other images that I recognized from the past few months of great postings. And, gasp, there's little ol' me... my Chickpea Patties snuck in there, too! I am flabbergasted, dillywithered, to be included with some of the greats. I can humbly say that it's one of my favorite recipes on this li'l blog of mine, and Cathy's caption makes it sound all the more appealing.

So thanks to Marc for the inspiration, and to Cathy for the esteem. Don't worry, a few hours on the floor ("I wanted milk, not cream") should put my feet back on the pavement.