Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spicy Quinoa with Cucumber and Tomato


My first CSA box arrived! I signed up for the "more veggies" box from Farm Fresh to You, which included beets, baby turnips, avocados, asparagus, spring onion, green garlic, cucumber, broccoli, sweet potatoes, mint, spinach, and romaine- oh my! Excited as ever, I have been planning dinner menus for the next week or so showcasing all of these wonderfully fresh, local, organic ingredients. There will be a number of usual favorites like parmesan roasted broccoli with lemon and pine nuts, roasted beets with goat cheese and pistachios (tossed with shallot, balsamic vinegar, and good olive oil), and shaved asparagus with lemon, olive oil, and pecorino. There's even talk of making pizza for the first time ever at Plate and Pour! I'm thinking shaved asparagus, green garlic, and spring onion with mozzarella and red chili flakes.

Given this overload of fresh veggies, I have been thinking of ways to incorporate protein like quinoa (keen-wah), farro, and cannellini beans into the meals for the week. I really do love quinoa, especially spicy lemon quinoa salad with pine nuts. I first came across the super grain, quinoa, while traveling around Peru a few years ago. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of vegetarian options available at virtually every restaurant, ranging from quinoa vegetable soup, quinoa salad, causa, papa a la huancaina, and even a play on lomo saltado at the beloved Astrid y Gaston.

Inspired by the contents of my CSA box, I made a refreshing quinoa salad with cucumbers, tomato, and spring onion tossed with lime, red wine vinegar, and jalapeno and topped with parsley and avocado slices. I love that this dish is light and full of nutrients while still packing a ton of flavor.

This is the kind of dish that you can play with different variations. I think black bean, corn, and green bell pepper would be a nice combination with the lime and jalapeno vinaigrette and maybe some cumin and red chili powder.

I recommend making quinoa for dinner and having leftovers for lunch. Or you can double the quinoa amount and keep the extra undressed in the refrigerator for a day or two until needed or freeze single servings in separate ziploc bags. If I haven't convinced you to run to the market to find quinoa, I should point out that quinoa cooks significantly faster than farro or spelt, which can take 45 min to an hour to boil. So believe me when I say that this is a perfect spring/summer salad and even a light weeknight main dish full of a ton of protein and nutrients.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Green garlic champ


After months of busy-can't-stop-to-take-a-breath-much-less-catch-up-on-sleep weekends, I couldn't wait to have a lazy Sunday brunch. As I've mentioned before, I love green garlic and try to use it as much as possible during its short lived season. Last year I made a wonderful orecchiette with green garlic and swiss chard dish, but I haven't used green garlic in a brunch recipe yet. Green garlic looks similar to a scallion but smells like garlic. To prepare green garlic, trim off the root end and slice the stalk crosswise using much of the green stems.

We made herbed baked eggs and roasted asparagus and spring onions and decided to make new potatoes with green garlic. I had Suzanne Goin's green garlic champ on my list of must-make-this-ASAP dishes and wow, I wish I hadn't waited this long to make it! I am convinced that green garlic and new potatoes are made for each other. We sauteed green garlic in butter with thyme and combined it with lightly crushed, boiled new potatoes, including beautiful purple potatoes. It made for a great variation on breakfast potatoes and the bright Spring colors were stunning.

I love asparagus and am always looking for different ways to prepare it. My favorite is simply tossing the asparagus with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper and roasting it in the oven for 10-12 minutes until crisp tender. This time I pan roasted the asparagus along with spring onions (or scallions) on high heat with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper until asparagus is crisp tender and slightly browned. Add a squeeze of lemon if you want and serve immediately. Simply delicious! And, just think, a fried egg on top would make at even more fabulous!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ramps with Spaghetti


Ramps are here!!! If you remember Plate and Pour's obsession last year with ramps and morels, you can imagine my delight when I found some beautiful tiny ramps at the Far West Fungi Mushroom shop.

I had just returned from the farmer's market and we were headed to the SF Vintner's Market Spring Flight to spend Saturday afternoon tasting wines from smaller local wineries. Think a farmer's market but for wine! Since we would be walking around tasting a bunch of wines for 3 hours, we needed a satisfying lunch to absorb all that wine. It was the perfect excuse to make a dish with the just-procured ramps.

Ramps are so very delicate that they beg for the simplest preparation, like a quick saute until they just wilt, to bring out the true flavors of Spring. You may remember the spaghetti with ramps and toasted bread crumbs I raved about last year. Sometimes a dish is so wonderful and simple that it doesn't need any tweaking. This is definitely that kind of dish- easy, fast, and incredibly satisfying.

I can't think of another vegetable that creates such a mania amongst the seasonally obsessed like the brief springtime arrival of ramps.  If you are in the Midwest, you are likely familiar with the ramps and morels obsession that hits menus across town around this time of year. So far I haven't seen such a following in California but time will tell.

Quick, run to your local farmer's market this weekend and try to wrestle away a bunch or two of ramps! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Leek and Swiss Chard Galette


I feel like the last 4 months have just been so busy that I haven't had a moment to myself. When I finally had a free weekend at home, I did the first thing I could think of- I went foraging. Well, urban foraging at the Ferry Building farmer's market in search of wonderful quintessential spring delights. As I walked through the stalls brimming with local Spring produce, I filled my bag with beautiful ramps, fragrant green garlic, delicate pea shoots, gorgeous rainbow chard, bundles of asparagus, tiny baby carrots, and so on... If only I could get my hands on those all-too-elusive fava beans!

The unpredictable changes in temperature during Spring make it such a wonderful season for experimenting with cooking. When it is chilly and rainy, warm and filling dishes with bright spring vegetables and a touch of butter make an incredibly satisfying dinner while still hinting at Spring. Then when a warm day hits, it is a perfect excuse for a lighter meal, composed of sides more often than not, with bright, young fresh ingredients.

I was so excited to find wonderful Rainbow chard at the farmer's market! Rainbow chard has crisp-tender, thick ribs in a range of colors- bright yellow, silvery white, rhubarb red, and pink. Select chard that has fresh, crisp and deeply green large leaves with stiff ribs. These will be the most flavorful and tenderest.

I've been wanting to make a galette and thought chard would be a perfect Spring vegetable filling. In place of onions, I decided to use leeks for a more refined flavor. Seriously I adore leeks... one of my favorite antipasti is a leek ragu, where the leeks are gently cooked until soft and almost melting in your mouth and served on crostini.

I've never made a galette before and to be honest, am not much of a baker. To make the dough, I turned to Alice Water's recipe for galette dough. The secret to making it crispy and flaky is... butter!

Oh my goodness, the galette was wonderfully crispy and browned so beautifully. I served the galette with roasted baby carrots, and I'm pretty sure this was one of the best meals I've made in a long, long time.

Roasted Baby Carrots


I just love when the first late Spring carrots appear at the market. You know the kind of carrots that are tiny and scream Spring with an array of colors- reddish purple, yellow, bright orange. The beautiful carrots can be long and wobbly or small and globe shaped. They were wonderful simply roasted in the oven with olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. You could add other Spring vegetables like turnips and new potatoes for a heartier side.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cheddar and Chive Buttermilk Biscuits


After years of controlling my urge to go out and buy one, I finally purchased a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. It is so very beautiful. As can be expected my next mission was to find the inaugural dish for the Kitchen Aid. I poured through my list of recipes bookmarked for when I get my stand mixer, and after much debate, I decided to try something quick- cheddar and chive buttermilk biscuits.

I definitely grew up thinking that biscuits were made out of a box of Bisquick (just like pancakes).  Then I had my first buttermilk biscuit. It was so light and fluffy on the inside, almost melting in my mouth, and crispy on the outside. When I saw this recipe for cheddar (bacon) and chive buttermilk biscuits, I knew these had to be first biscuits I make. They were oh-so-amazing. Perfectly fluffy and so buttery tasting. And they were delicious warmed up the next morning for breakfast.

The recipe makes 12 large biscuits using 1/2 cup drops and it calls for chives, but I think scallions would be really tasty too.  I wasn't sure if we would even be able to finish the half recipe that I made. I am embarrassed to admit that we finished all of them and while doing so, we fought over the biscuits, each accusing the other of taking the better one. And then I made the biscuits again in less than 10 days.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How Chef Grant Achatz creates a dish for Alinea

A colleague of mine passed along a wonderful article in The Atlantic on how Chef Achatz creates a new dish for Alinea. Achatz describes his thought process behind each component of a dish and how he uses a specially designed serving piece, the apple bowl, to create an element of surprise for the guest. You can read about my own experience dining at Alinea here, including a dish with the apple bowl.Thanks, KY!

Source: The Atlantic

I recently read Chef Grant Achatz's moving memoir, Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat, co-authored with Nick Kokonas, his business partner at Alinea. Chef Achatz grew up working in his family's diner in Michigan, first as "chief egg cracker" and then line cook. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Achatz had a brief stint at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. He later became Thomas Keller's protege at The French Laundry, where he was motivated by the discipline and drive that the chefs and cooks possessed. Keller sent Achatz to Spain to experience Ferran Adria's revolutionary techniques at El Bulli.

Eager to cook in his own style, Achatz left TFL to be a chef at Trio, just outside of Chicago, where he was named the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef in 2003. Soon after, he teamed up with Nick Kokonas, a Trio regular and former derivatives trader, to build Achatz's dream restaurant. Achatz and Kokonas shared the vision of creating the world's best restaurant, and both men demonstrated that with drive and hard work they would succeed at all costs, bringing their dream to fruition.

In 2007, Achatz was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer and was told that if he didn't have surgery or start treatment immediately, he would die. Achatz fought hard, attacking the cancer with the same determination with which he and Nick built the restaurant. While undergoing treatment at the University of Chicago, Achatz kept Alinea running at full capacity and remained as engaged as possible with the kitchen, even drafting prototypes for new dishes late into the night. Miraculously, he recovered and is cancer free.

And in 2010, Alinea was named the best restaurant in North America and number 7 in the world.

His courageous story as a chef, a businessman, and a cancer survivor has left me inspired.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ghee (clarified butter)


Ghee, or clarified butter, is an important part of Indian cooking and plays a significant role in Ayurvedic cooking and Hindu traditions. Ghee is really simple to make and only requires butter and your attention. It can be used in place of butter and oil when tempering spices, both whole and ground. Ghee is often used in Indian sweets, like halva and laddu and is delicious spread on hot rotis right off the stove and mixed into hot rice or khichedi, a comforting mix of lentils and rice. Ghee is also used for lighting divyas, or oil lamps, at home and at temples.

I started making ghee well before I was tall enough to reach the stove. My brother and I would build little houses out of sticks of butter in a large pot, which my mom would then place on the stove. Then we would eagerly watch as the "house" melted. It was so much fun!

It is fairly easy to make ghee but the process requires you to pay attention as ghee can brown or even worse, burn quickly. So don't wash dishes or other errands once the butter starts to boil! You will need 1 lb of unsalted butter (organic, if you prefer), a large, heavy bottomed pot, a dry pot to pour the hot ghee into, a jar to store the ghee, and a fine sieve or cheesecloth for straining. Make sure the large pot is deep as the butter will get fairly foamy and increase in volume as it boils.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Paneer Makhani


When I was in college, my older brother and I would meet for dinner at Kashmir on charming Newbury St in Boston. My brother was doing his residency at the time, so it was a rare treat to be able to have dinner with him. We would order our regular: one order of shahi paneer, one order of dal makhani, rice, and 2 naan and catch up on life. We would rave about how absolutely delicious the shahi paneer tasted. It was the kind of delicious that makes you feel like you are in on a secret because if everyone knew how good it was there couldn't possibly be enough to go around. I loved my time with my brother at Kashmir and, better yet, at his quaint brownstone in the South End eating take-out from Kashmir, courtesy of

Once I moved to Chicago, I became slightly obsessed with trying to find a similar version of the dish at the many high end Indian restaurants around town. India Garden and India House came deliciously close, but something wasn't the same. I tried ordering the same dish at hole-in-the-wall restaurants in neighborhoods across the city. Nothing came close. Desperate as ever, I even ventured (after a few drinks) to late-night sketchy spots frequented by cab drivers, like Pakiza, Baba Palace, and Zaiqa, only to find the scariest bathrooms I've ever seen outside of India and more disappointment.

A few years ago (in 2007), I visited Boston with a dear friend from Chicago (who had listened to me obsess over the dish for the past 3 years). We had dinner at Kashmir and ordered the shahi paneer. As we sipped wine and nibbled on papaad, I grew increasingly nervous. What if, after all these years, I had hyped up Kashmir's shahi paneer to a standard that was no longer realistic? Or perhaps worse, what if my palate had become more refined over the years and nothing would come close to what I remember?



It is well worth making paneer at home at least once. It takes quite a bit of kneading to get the right consistency- soft and smooth yet firm and not crumbly. I used to keep store bought frozen paneer on hand when I had easy access to Indian grocery stores on Devon Ave in Chicago. The store bought stuff is good in a pinch, but to be honest, I find it rather rubbery and almost squeaky in texture so I often just eat the gravy around it!

Over the years I've tried several different approaches for making paneer. I've tried recipes that claim to produce a firm brick of paneer simply by draining the curds in a cheese cloth and placing heavy objects on top for 3-4 hours. I've tried other recipes that recommend refrigerating the paneer once it is drained to firm it up (with and without heavy objects on top). I've even tried microwaving the paneer in short intervals to remove the moisture. And each time, I've ended up with paneer that crumbles when you cut, cook, or eat it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower with Capers, Parsley, and Pine Nuts


I was never really a fan of any preparation of cauliflower other than Indian as most dishes I came across sounded uninspired and bland compared to gobi mutter or aloo gobi. Yes, in the past I made penne with a cauliflower ragu and even an ever-so-comforting cauliflower gratin with a bubbly, slightly browned crust. They are both rich and good dishes but after a few bites, my palate begged for something a bit more exciting.

Just before I left Chicago, I ate at Top Chef Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard's restaurant Girl & The Goat with two good friends (PJ and SL). Our server recommended a roasted cauliflower dish with pickled peppers, pine nuts, and mint.  It was surprisingly fabulous and by far the highlight of the night.

Determined to make roasted cauliflower that I could love at home, I poured over blogs and my favorite cookbooks. I wanted a dish with good acidity and tangy-ness and liked the idea of using toasted pine nuts to provide a textural contrast to the buttery roasted cauliflower and compliment the nuttiness that cauliflower develops when it is roasted. I decided that Chef Stephanie Izard had it right and tried to recreate her dish at home. To add a salty/ tangy flavor, I opted for capers in place of pickled peppers and, although I liked the way the mint played off the pickled peppers, I felt parsley would be a better fit for the capers than mint.

And just like that, our favorite side/appetizer/ sometimes even main was born. 

During a recent visit to SF, my dear foodie friend CK confessed to me that he doesn't like cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. As we walked around the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, I teasingly pointed to a huge bushel of Brussels sprouts and asked if we should get those to make for dinner the next night. His response was, "If anyone can make me like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, it would be you." Challenge accepted.

After a sun-soaked day spent wine-tasting in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, we arrived back to the city and I began to prepare his favorite dish, paneer makhani, and two of my favorite sides: roasted cauliflower with capers, parsley, and pine nuts and roasted Brussels sprouts.

As we sat down to eat, he begrudgingly took a bite of a roasted Brussels sprout and then promptly popped another and another into his mouth. I was pleased but still nervous because the roasted cauliflower on his plate remained untouched for a bit longer. Finally, after a second helping of the paneer makhani, he turned his attention to the cauliflower. His approval was obvious even before he uttered a word (and subsequently reached for more).

Thank you for all of the foodie adventures, CK!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Feta Salsa Verde + Cannellini bean crostini


Sometimes as a vegetarian the hostess in me worries about having non-vegetarian friends over for dinner. I am always concerned about whether or not there will be enough food for people to feel full without a major protein course. At my dinner parties, I tend to serve several antipasti, a protein or carb-based main, and a seasonal produce-focused side or two.

When I cook Indian food, the protein-rich dals and beans (moong bean, chick peas, kidney beans, etc) add substance and heartiness to the spread. I am not a huge fan of tofu or stir-fry dishes (as evidenced by the lack of such dishes on my blog), so when I don't make Indian food, I tend to make a main dish incorporating seasonal vegetables with grains/rice/pastas- like farro, quinoa, polenta, couscous, orzo, and pasta- and on a rare occasion I make a hearty, smothered-in-cheese dish like a gratin or eggplant parmigiana. The way in which I think about food and cooking these days makes me worry that other produce forward dishes may not be as filling to someone who is used to eating meat.

I am in need of ideas-- what's your favorite non-meat dish for protein or a main course?

Speaking of dinner parties, I have discovered a weepingly delicious appetizer. Flavor-packed smashed cannellini beans are spooned onto crostini and topped generously with feta salsa verde. I have wanted to make feta salsa verde for months and am seriously kicking myself in the foot for having waited this long to make it.  It was so good that after we tasted it, we just kept eating it and forgot to take a picture... I know, I've failed you as a food blogger!

You simply must try this dish. The feta salsa verde is the kind of delicious that makes you want to add it to everything you eat. It's too bad that I never have any leftovers! I love the combination of the bright fresh herbs, the creaminess of the French feta, and the saltiness of the capers and olives. I used French feta which is creamier than Greek feta so it blends in quite nicely with the olive oil and herb salsa.

And the cannellini beans are fabulous served on crostini and even more wonderful served as a protein-packed side dish on a weeknight. The best part is that the cannellini beans take less than 15 minutes to make. You can see why we eat these flavorful, protein-packed cannellini beans as a side dish at least once a week!
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