Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sweet Sea Bass and Vegetables en Papillote (and Chips of course)

Art decided to purchase some sea bass on sale cheap at Giant Eagle at exactly the same time that I grew curious about the sea bass en papillote recipe in the French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook. Of course, as is often the case, the recipe in the cookbook was not exactly what I wanted. (Who the hell keeps star anise in their larder anyway?) But the method for cooking the fish stuck with me. It seemed so... easy and healthy at the same time. And fairly cheap (star anise aside).

So I googled. And I googled. And finally I came across the perfect site for creating your own fish en papillote recipe. It's a blog called "Cooking with Alison," and Alison, whoever you may be, I salute you.

Now, I'm not sure if I've covered this particular fishy subject in my blog thus far, but if I haven't, I will say it now: this vegetarian sometimes eats sea food. And by sea food, I mean fish or, in restaurants, calamari. The reason for this: my vegetarianism is based strictly upon my need to eat what makes me feel healthy that I can afford. I cannot afford pasture-raised organic bison. I can afford eco-friendly fish. I try to keep up on the seafood watch list, and I can assure you that white seabass is currently a best choice in their book... or pocket guide, as the case may be.

Either way, fish oil is just plain good for you. And fish is fine in moderation, just like margaritas.

So on with my fish exploration: en papillote is a style of cooking in which you place the fish is parchment paper with a variety of vegetables and herbs and pop it in the oven. Inside the paper, the fish steams itself, along with the vegetables and in no time, you have a very healthy meal in it's own carrying case.

Of course, if you have no parchment paper, tin foil is also quite functional, though less pretty:

Because this is a fish dinner, I felt it needed some chips. I always bake, rather than fry my potatoes, so start the oven early, at 400. Cut up a few potatoes into rounds, place on a baking sheet, and salt. Put in the oven for about 10 minutes.

At the 10 minute mark, take the chips out and flip them, upping the oven to 425 for the fish. The fish will cook for 20 minutes, but the chips, when placed back in with the fish for the rest of their cooking time, should need only about another 10-15 minutes.

Sweet Sea Bass and Vegetables en Papillote
(serves 2)
What you need:
1 whole sea bass, minus head and tail and sliced into two equal pieces
1 med. zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 red bell pepper, sliced and quartered
salt and pepper
Olive oil
2 T Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar
Pinch ginger, cinnamon, paprika, Italian seasoning, seafood seasoning

1. Preheat oven for 425 On two large squares of tinfoil, place the zucchini and pepper equally into the middle of each square. salt and pepper lightly.
2. Salt and pepper both sides of fish. Place on top of veggies.
3. Drizzle 1 T of the vinegar on each piece of fish. The sprinkle with each of the seasonings. Drizzle a little olive oil on top of each and the fold the tinfoil into packets.
4. Place the packets on a baking sheet and put in the oven for about 20 minutes. Fish should be cooked through before eating.

The resulting meal is sweet and savory. The chips, a needed compliment to fish, add a necessary light and crispy side. The fish, dusted with sweet spices and steamed with strawberry-flavored vinegar, is light and slightly tangy without any of that "fishy" taste that I really dislike. But the vegetables, by far, steal the show. Having been essentially marinated in the strawberry-cinnamon mix as the liquid pooled in the bottom of the tinfoil, they are sweet and flavorful with a hint of cinnamon and ginger, a fleck here and there of oregano, rosemary, and basil. Easily some of the best but lightly zucchini I have ever made. And plan to make again.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sweet quinoa and easy eggplant parm

I have been interested lately in quinoa. I kept seeing this ancient Americas grain in various recipes and cookbooks, so I got to thinking... perhaps I should try it. Eating quinoa, particularly for a vegetarian, has its upsides.
1. Quinoa has the most protein of all the grains.
2. It is the only grain that is considered a complete protein.
3. It's relatively easy to cook.
4. It tastes pretty good too.
So the next time I was in that area, I stopped in at the world market. I had been on the hunt, unsuccessfully, for quinoa at my local grocer, but alas, it has not the popularity of say, rice or barley or even couscous. Usually I find the world market a bit overpriced for just about everything, but quinoa priced at about what a bag of long-grian brown rice would.

In the bag, it looks a lot like couscous, small and pellet-shaped, but with an imperfection to its circularity, as though it had been somehow dented and worn by the elements. Once cooked, however, it looks quite different from couscous and oddly, a bit like maltomeal, except that off each single piece of grain, a small tail protrudes like a tiny white worm. They call this "sprouted" quinoa, if I recall correctly.

With this quinoa, plus a little help from my freshly grown eggplant, I would make a fabulous dinner. The entree: eggplant parm, the lazy version, adjusted from a recipe created by Mario Batali. The side dish: quinoa with almonds, hazelnuts, and apricots, brought to you by the French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook.

The eggplant takes longer to cook than the quinoa, so it gets put in first.

Eggplant Parm (easy version)
What you need:
3 very small, couldn't-wait-any-longer-to-pick-one-from-the garden eggplants
1 half jar of pasta sauce
a few cups of shredded cheese
grated parmesan cheese
Italian-style bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 450. Cut the top and bottom off the eggplants and then slice them length-wise into about three or four equal slices. 
2. In a small, rectangular casserole dish, arrange the first four slices to fill the bottom of the pan. Layer with half of sauce, then shredded and parmesan cheese to cover. Then add the second layer of eggplant slices. Top with remaining sauce. Then, cheeses to cover, and finally, coat the top in bread crumbs.
3. Cover and bake about 45 minutes.

Thirty minutes into the eggplant baking time, start the quinoa. It takes 15 minutes to cook, with a 1 c. quinoa to 2 c. water ratio.

Quinoa with Almonds, hazelnuts, and apricots
(or if you have no hazelnuts: Quinoa with almonds, more almonds, and apricots)
What you need:
1 c. cooked quinoa
2 T honey
1 T lemon juice
1 t butter
1/3 c. milk
pinch salt
2 T finely chopped almonds (or 1 T almonds and 1 T hazelnuts)
1/4 c. dried apricots, diced

1. Stir honey, lemon juice, butter, milk, and salt into quinoa and cook another minute.
2. Serve in individual bowls garnished with chopped nuts and apricots or, like I did, just stir the nuts and fruit into the pan with all of the quinoa and scoop it onto your plate as needed.

By itself, the quinoa tasted fairly nutty but also very very sweet. I affectionately deemed it "candied grain." Add a slice of almond and some apricot to the bite and it was an explosion of deliciousness that felt more like dessert than a healthy way of getting grain, protein, and fruit simultaneously into my diet. Not that I'm complaining. I do so love my dessert.

Then, add in the tomato-sauce-coated, soft-and-succulent eggplant to the mix. The 45 minutes of mixing flavors with the sauce and the cheese only benefits the eggplant, which has a fall-apart on your fork tenderness that had me unable to wait until it cooled down to a proper temperature before digging in. I think it helped that it was young eggplant rather than the larger, heartier aged eggplant.

A four-star meal, overall. And the tomato paired well with the honey-nut fruity grain beside it. A little bit sweet, a little bit acidic, this meal left me licking my plate clean and then searching for leftovers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Art of the Salad

I'm the first one to admit it. When I see a salad recipe listed in a cook book, I cringe a little. I mean, salads seem like no-brainers. You plop some greens into a bowl. You add veggies, maybe a dressing or vinaigrette, maybe some fruit, and voila: a raw meal in bowl.

Except, most of us never think about what one might put in a salad. As a species, we do not stop to ponder, "what have I never tried diced on top of a pile of lettuce?" Or maybe we do, and my lettuce, tomato, with an option of cucumber is the rarity rather than the norm. But I doubt it.

That's why now, when I happen upon a new and interesting salad topping, I try not to think "why bother with a recipe? It's only a salad." So in honor of the summer heat and the need to reduce the output of more heat from the oven, I give you my salad dinner.

No pictures, unfortunately. It was shy.

Tonight, I ate dinner at a little coffee place frequented by Cleveland State students called Ah Roma. It's worth noting not only for its mean Japanese green tea, but for its insane vegetarian menu, especially given its coffeehouse nature. They have roasted red pepper hummus wraps. It's genius. But today, I did not get a wrap. Today, I counted on an old standby: the veggie salad, with a side of fat free ranch. Ah Roma doesn't play around. When it comes to vegetables, they bring it. I'm talking whole slices of cucumber, two large slices of tomato, a heaping mound of bean sprouts, an abundance of raw mushroom slices, and, of course, the lettuce (usually, there's red onion. I did not get the red onion.)

The first time I got this salad, it was my first semester at Cleveland State, and I was worried I would have to survive on veggie delite subway salads for the duration of the semester. Then, I got the Ah Roma salad, and I was stunned... yes, stunned... I mean, you can put bean sprouts on a salad... really? It's a salad worthy of a recipe. And with a slight heated tang in the ranch, it's a very worthy and palatable dinner, one I can come back to again and again. With a side of tea.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A gardening start

The first zucchini has arrived.

Green tomato have engulfed the purple cherokee plant.

There are pickle-sized cucumbers and tiny peppers.

The harvesting season has officially begun.

Alas, I have not had much time for gardening or blogging, as last week was the Imagination Writers Conference at Cleveland State. I spent the week running about to various workshops and craft talks, interspersed with some more running about, as I have decided to take a summer adjuncting job. Classes started last week.

To make sure I had food to take with me, I had Art use the first of the zucchini to make a dish we invented last year, upon a plethora of zucchini. What it really is: zucchini and rice. What we call it so that Garet will eat it: Cheesy Rice. What I refer to it when the kid isn't involved: Stuff.

Cheesy Rice Zucchini Stuff
what you need:
three med. zucchini, shredded
two carrots, shredded
one red bell pepper, diced
2 c. of uncooked brown rice (or 4 c. of cooked brown rice)
about 1 c. of random spaghetti sauce (any tomato sauce will work)
1/2 square bakers chocolate
1 small can sliced mushroom
i can black beans (with liquid)
1 small can diced tomato (with liquid)
1 c. shredded cheese
ketchup and BBQ sauce

1. Cook uncooked rice. I use a rice cooker, because it's easy.
2. Put zucchini, carrot, pepper, rice, sauce, chocolate, mushroom, beans, and tomato in a pot on med heat. Add ketchup and BBQ sauce to taste. Cook on med to high heat until liquid is reduced to your liking.
3. Stir in cheese and serve.

We got the idea for this odd concoction, because, given the large zucchini my mom kept giving to us last summer, we wanted to try out stuffed zucchini. But I didn't want to use breadcrumbs, so I used rice instead. And slowly, the ingredients list veered off course from Italian to Mexican. Mostly because black beans are my favorite. And we were in the mood for chili.

The "cheesy rice" turned out quite tasty and I took a large container in to leave in the faculty lounge frig. However, I only ended up eating it one day. I was too busy eating out with my fellow MFA students, sampling a different cuisine each day. But the stuff still came in handy when we drove home to Michigan for the weekend. Mom never keeps vegetarian options in the house, so the rice got eaten up quite quickly.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Blendy Fun

In the heat of this summer, my blender has been getting a lot of use. For starters, rather than hot coffee or tea, I've been alternating between ice water with a mint green tea bag in it and my own recipe for a mocha frappe.

Mocha frappe
(for a nonMocha frappe, I'd imagine you'd just neglect to put in the chocolate)
1/3 c double strength coffee, cold
1 1/2 T raw sugar
1/2 c vanilla soy milk
1 c ice
1T chocolate syrup

Stuff in a blender and hit frappe.

Come to think of it, I could probably figure out a tasty mint green tea frappe if I thought hard enough.

But the frappe was an afterthought really. Because recently, the blender has already been dirty, as I have given my first "French Women Don't Get Fat" recipe, Magical Breakfast Cream, or MBC. If you'd like to try MBC. It's a mixture of plain yogurt, ground cereal, and nuts, among other things. The problem I rediscovered while making MBC: I really don't like dairy in its pure form. I've never liked plain milk and I'm not a big fan of sour cream. Moreover, I hate the taste of plain yogurt. It's so... dairy tasting. This was a taste that MBC failed to mask, so, as I'm often prone to doing, rather than can the recipe as a waste, I Kate-ified it.

And what resulted, while being very close to the original recipe, switches out citrus for strawberry, making it a tasty strawberries and cream concoction I can get behind. Moreover, with the almonds and oats added to the mix, the resulting taste has a touch of what I can only describe as "Almond Cookie" or "Bearclaw" tasting. And if there's one desert I love as much as strawberry shortcake, it's almond-anything.

Almond-Cookie Strawberry Breakfast Smoothie
 2T oats
2 t sliced raw almonds
1/2 c. plain greek yogurt
1 t flaxseed oil
2 T Berry-variety 100% juice (I had Pomegranate-Blueberry V8 fusion on hand)
1 t 100% maple syrup
1 t honey
4 frozen strawberries (if using fresh, add ice)

1. Put oats and almonds in blender. Grind to powder.

2. Add yogurt, juice, syrup, honey, and strawberries. Puree.

3. Drink and be amazed at the undercurrents of cookie pleasure... without the cookie. Not only that but it's really healthy.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Carb Confusion

So I get the Atkins craze. I get why this idea appeals to people; however, I don't think this type of mentality is the sort of diet guidance our populace needs. I was reading a blog recently at the Slow Cook. Essentially, it was not wrong. America binge-eats on comfort food. We have this collective belief that food tastes better if only you put it between two pieces of bread. Moreover, rather than eating healthy whole-grains in our bread and pastas, we opt for white. Because, as I've mentioned in a previous blog, foods that are white are comforting in and of themselves, even if all the nutritional value has been bleached out of that food to make it white.

The article in question calls for America to put down the hamburger bun, and this is probably a good idea. That hamburger bun is assuredly made from bleached flour and is far more bread than a hamburger needs anyway (why do buns have to be so... thick?). However, then it extends to all carbs, and I think this is the sort of eat-something-to-the-exclusion-of-all-others-attitude that has obesity on the rise. The reality is: the human body needs all sorts of nutrients from all different places. It's not enough to eat meat, our body needs carbs. Carbs = energy. It's not enough to eat green vegetables; you need the red ones too. And the purple ones. And the yellow ones. Nothing should be consumed to the exclusion of all others. What does need to happen is a better version of eating. Do eat less high fructose. Do eat more whole grains, and if you can afford it, some good, free-range meats. This vegetarian can't, but all power to you if you can eat meat and eat it from a healthy, happy cow/pig/chicken/etc.

But we need a lot less meat than American culture seems to believe we need. Meat used to be a luxury. Good meat still is. Whole grains, however, are a healthy way of getting high-quality energy, and there's not a person on the planet that doesn't need energy. The key is to not overeat, and to eat the best quality of ingredients that you can. As for me, I'd take the bun over the burger any day, as long as the bun is whole wheat, perhaps with some flax seed for good measure.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I have my first full blown zucchini blossoms at the garden and a number of small green tomatoes. While visiting the community garden where our small plot is located, we happened upon a woman with a hose who announced that when she comes to take care of her garden, she waters all of the gardens and this usually happens every other day. Now, on the one hand, it's very nice of her to do this. On the other, I feel a bit put off by it. I mean, this is my garden and I'm not sure I appreciate her 1. Infringing on the gardens of others. and 2. Not finding a way to announce her helpfulness to the rest of us, who have been watering our gardens on top of her every other day waterings. I'm curious, is this a valid upset to have? I couldn't decide if it would be rude and ungrateful to ask her not to water my garden, but at the same time, this is my garden. Thoughts?

Either way, the time of harvest draws near. But as I continue to wait, here is the first of many recipes to come featuring zucchini. I made Minestrone on thursday night and have been eating its leftovers ever since. I can't remember where I found this recipe now but it has its flaws and each time I make it, I have to find ways of correcting, however, it makes a very flavorful Minestrone, albeit more of a stew than soup when all's said and done, but then, my man isn't a soup fan anyway.


4 c. veggie broth
4 c. tomato, diced
1 T basil
1/2 t oregano
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
3 small zucchini, chopped
1 c green beans, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1 c macaroni (or other small pasta)
2 potatoes, diced
1 small can cannellini beans
1 small can kidney beans

1. Cook pasta as directed, drain and set aside. In an advanced effort to get my six-year-old to eat the Minestrone, I allowed him to pick any noodle he wanted in the Italian aisle at Giant Eagle. He opted for wagon wheels.

2. In large pot, combine all ingredients except pasta. Bring to boil and boil about half an hour, covered. Reduce to low and simmer for at least one hour, or until veggies are tender. This is one of the fixes I make to this recipe which only simmers the soup and at the end, none of the veggies are cooked all the way unless you leave it on the stove all day long. Instead, I had the half hour or so boil. Due to this, if the liquid gets too low, add water to the pot to fit your desired level of soupiness. I usually don't add much and let it be more of a stew.

3. Add pasta and bring back to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes to give pasta time to develop to flavors of the pot. Fish out the bay leaf and serve, sprinkled with grated cheese if you wish. I often do.

I'll continue to search for the perfect Minestrone recipe that is also uncomplicated, but until I find it, this one is pretty tasty and best of all, quick. Plus, during a hot summer week like this, it's nice to have a meal made before the heat wave that leaves behind enough leftovers to last through several nights of microwave reheating. The less added heat in this unair-conditioned apartment, the better.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Broccoli Review

For the summer months in my apartment, we have given Wednesday nights to my six-year-old. (I'm sorry, six AND A HALF year old.) He too was raised the chicken and potato way via my mother. You see, for the second three years of his life (and probably the most impressionable food-wise), we lived with my mother. I was divorced from the evil ex husband and going to graduate school and my parental units were kind enough to grant me two rooms in their household whilst I bettered my mind via Literature MA.

The downside to this: he ate the same foods I grew up on. Usually, my classes forced me to eat a separate meal from the family and Garet ate with everyone else. So I had falafel at Phoenicas (Greek food on campus) and he ate mashed potatoes and ham. Or mashed potatoes and chicken. Or french fries and chicken strips.  For the past year, I have been trying to broaden his culinary horizons, but on Wednesdays, he gets a break and usually picks hot dogs and boxed mac n cheese. Of course, this leaves little for the vegetarian to eat, so the vegetarian makes her own side-dish for the family that also acts as her main course. In this case, I made baked broccoli with a side of sauted mushroom for protein.

I got the recipe here at the Amateur Gourmet blog, who, in turn, got the recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.It's broccoli, parmesan, salt, basil, and lots of olive oil baked on a cookie sheet for about 20 minutes. I've taken to following the Amateur Gourmet blog only recently, but I have fun with his voice and honesty (read his latest on one cup coffee makers). Plus, I'm an avid broccoli fan and when I read about his recipe, I had to try it.

My first mistake was probably not measuring out the broccoli. I just cut up what I had and tossed it on the cookie sheet. I thought it seemed like less than the amount called for so I eye-balled the ingredients, lessening each by a bit, but I don't think it was enough.

Don't get me wrong. The broccoli was tasty. Art loved it and Garet would have if he had been willing to try it. But I found it personally a bit overpowering and salty. Something to bear in mind for future use, but overall, if you are less of a broccoli fan but want to incorporate more into your diet, the Amateur Gourmet won't steer you wrong on this one.