Thursday, July 2, 2015

Asparagus with lime and cojita cheese

I think we'll still see asparagus at the Oak Park Farmers' Market this weekend, even as the July fruits and vegetables start to appear. I've written about my kids' favorite vegetable before, but this summer we found grated Cotija cheese at Costco and Tom came up with this recipe. Cotija is the same cheese that's used in elote, a Mexican corn on the cob sometimes sold from street carts and at festivals.

Asparagus with Lime and Cojita
  • Fresh aspargus
  • (optional) butter
  • Fresh lime juice
  • grated (dried) Cojita cheese 
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Pepper
Trim and wash asparagus. Place in a large saucepan or deep large skillet and add cold water just to cover the asparagus. Cover pan and turn heat to high. Set timer for 5 minutes. Check at 4 minutes for smaller stalks. 

When timer goes off (or asparagus is done) drain in colander. Transfer to plate. Spread with optional butter (about a teaspoon) if feeling indulgent. Squeeze fresh lime juice on asparagus to taste. Add salt (sparingly - cheese is also salty) and pepper to taste. Finish off with generous amounts of Cojita cheese. 

If my kids are around, they'll be in the kitchen stealing stalks before the dish gets to the table. Happy July! 

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Farmers Market opening day and a homely, delicious Lunar Cake

Lunar Cake

It's Memorial Day weekend, and the Oak Park Farmers Market opened its 40th season on one of the few perfect-weather days Chicago gets each year: sunny but not humid, too early for mosquitoes, warm enough for the pool and breezy enough to be cool in the shade. Just two weeks ago the trees were pale green with buds and immature leaves, but now our village's municipal arboretum's avenues are canopied in heavy deep green. 

So all of the world came out to the market on Saturday for plants and flowers and the earliest of the produce (and cheese, and honey, and jams, and organic meat, and flavored vinegar, and my favorite Three Queens maple syrup, just in time as we ran out of our winter supply.)

The Oak Park Farmers' Market was founded as a "growers" market, of local farmers, which means that a farmer or vendor has to make or grow what they sell. The market's rules don't allow vendors to resell from wholesalers, which is why you won't find corn until a few weeks into the season (or oranges, ever). 

In May at the Market, you will find a lot of rhubarb:

and asparagus:

I wasn't sure I'd find early Michigan strawberries at the first market so I looked for rhubarb-only recipes to test. A friend recommended Lunar Cake. Brown sugar and butter "craters" that appear on top after baking? Powerless to resist.

I tested the recipe for a pre-Memorial-Day get-together and it was a hit with both kids and adults. The linked article describes it as a coffee cake, and it does have a quickbread sort of texture but I think it's too sweet for first thing in the morning. Perfect for post-BBQ dessert.

I served it with vanilla ice cream and rhubarb sauce (recipe follows) but it would have been fine alone. It's a keeper of a simple recipe that's unusual enough to stand out in a potluck crowd but unfussy and easy to make. 

Credit to Canadian Living (please do click the link, What's Canada's National Fruit, to read the origin story), but I'm going to go ahead and include the text, with a few tweaks, since it has already been widely copied on major recipe sites.

Lunar Cake

1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, softened
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
 1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk (room temperature)
2 cups (500 mL) chopped rhubarb (1/2-inch/1.25 cm pieces)

Topping Ingredients

1 cup (250 mL) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tsp (10 mL)  ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (50 mL) butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13- x-9-inch metal cake pan with parchment paper, or butter/grease the pan. 
In a large bowl or stand mixer beat the butter and sugar until well mixed and fairly smooth. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until smooth. 
Set aside 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the flour. In a separate large bowl, whisk together remaining flour, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk.
Toss rhubarb with remaining flour. Spoon over the batter and fold in with spoon. Pour/scrape batter into the prepared pan.

Topping: Mix together sugar and cinnamon. With a fork or pastry blender, blend butter into the sugar mixture until crumbly. Sprinkle/spread evenly over the raw batter.

Bake until the lunar topping is pitted and crusty and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool on rack. 
Makes about 16 servings.

Rhubarb Spoon Fruit

I intended this to be an ice cream sauce, and it was great on ice cream but more like a jam than a sauce. Great on toast. 

Adapted from Taste of Home

1/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
2 1/2 c. fresh rhubarb, chopped into small dice
Don't slice long-way; you want to chop up those stringy bits.

1/2 - 1 tsp. lemon zest
I was surprised by how pronounced the lemon and nutmeg flavors are in this recipe. If you want more rhubarb taste, try a little less lemon.

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Add rhubarb.  Lower the heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 5-10 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in lemon zest and nutmeg. Serve warm or chilled. Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Green Tomato Vegetable Soup

Tomatoes went in late this year so we ended up with a lot of green fruit left on the vines as the days got shorter and colder this fall. Oh, green tomatoes. I’ve dutifully tried frying them and have tasted pie made with them, but just haven't developed a taste for them. At least not until I played with some recipes and came up with this last weekend. It’s on the light side but more flavorful than I expected from a simple and quick soup. Because of the cumin it smells like chili on the stove, but ends up tasting like - well, like delicious vegetable soup. The cumin does lovely things for the slightly-acidic green tomatoes.  

Green Tomato Vegetable Soup 

2-3 Tblsp. olive oil
1 onion chopped
1 ¼ cups chopped carrots
1 ¼ cups chopped green beans
2 cloves garlic chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
¾ tsp. oregano
¼ tsp marjoram
Pepper to taste
4-5 green (unripe red) tomatoes, chopped into small dice (I left skins on)
1 - 15 oz can diced tomatoes (or equivalent fresh red chopped tomatoes)
1 - 15 oz. can corn, drained
1 - 15 oz. can black beans, well-rinsed
8 cups vegetable broth
Salt (to taste if needed)

In a medium sized stockpot heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion  and carrots and sauté about 3 minutes. Add the green beans and garlic and sauté about 2 more minutes. Add the spices, tomatoes, black beans and corn. Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes. Stir in the vegetable broth and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook about 20 minutes until all vegetables are cooked and flavors have blended. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve with sourdough bread or garlic crostini or tortilla chips. 

The kids were meh on this dish but didn't hate it. Recipe above made enough for dinner for 4 with generous leftovers for the next day's lunch.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Get Anupy Singla's Latest Book: Free!

I'm not sure how long the offer will last, but Amazon has the Kindle edition of Anupy Singla's Vegan Indian Cooking for free today. Her Indian Slow Cooker is a go-to reference at my house. Highly recommended.

Anupy Singla, at left, leading a Devon Avenue spice tour in 2011. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Vegetarian Cincinnati Four-Way Chili

When we were first married, we lived about a block away from Chili Macs, a Cincinnati chili shop with an outdoor patio. Because we could bring our dog and the food was cheap and fast, we spent many summer evenings there.

I loved the combination of cinnamon, sweet/hot onion and sharp cheddar cheese, but after we moved to the suburbs I forgot about Cincinnati Chili for years until Tom decided to see if we could make it at home. We’ve made it several times since then – meat and veggie versions – and it’s always good, but never exactly how I remember it from the old 'hood. Still, this most recent version of vegetarian Cincinnati Chili gets very close. The pasta and cheese make it a kid-crowd pleaser, too.

I used a couple of different meat substitutes and added zucchini and carrot because I'm not crazy about the texture with crumbles only. Total meat substitute is about the equivalent of a 12- or 16-oz. package.

Note: The toppings are the numbered “ways.” 1. Spaghetti 2. Chili 3. Cheese 4. Onion. Five-way chili has an additional topping, kidney beans. My kids like to add sour cream (of course).

Vegetarian Cincinnati Four-way Chili

2 tbsp. oil (olive or your preferred)
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 package Morningstar Farms Grillers Crumbles
2 veggie burgers, chopped
1 grated zucchini
1 small chopped carrot
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 ½ tsp cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
Hot sauce (to taste - a couple of shakes)
1 tsp. allspice
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder (unsweetened baking cocoa) [note: use Dutch Process cocoa, or the best quality you have on hand]
Salt (to taste)
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 ½ cups veg broth
1 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 lb. spaghetti, boiled and drained

Chili Toppings:
1 white onion, chopped
Sharp cheddar cheese, grated (low-fat is fine)
(for 5-way: kidney beans)

Heat oil in large saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent. Add the meat substitute, zucchini and carrots. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the seasonings and cocoa powder, tomato sauce, vegetable broth, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes.

Serve in bowls constructed as follows: spaghetti, chili, cheese and onion.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Vegetarian Cassoulet

I've been cooking, but not blogging. So I'm 1 for 2 on the New Year's Resolution.

Here's a recipe that's really more of a winter comfort food. Of course it was below freezing this first morning of April, so we may have a few more "winter" meals ahead of us before we switch over to the grill.

Your cassoulet will have flavorful green flecks of fresh parsley. I forgot to buy parsley, but it was still pretty yummy.

Vegetarian Cassoulet

Stew ingredients
¼ cup oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme
½  tsp Penzey’s Parisien Bonnes Herbes (ok to leave out or substitute any sweet, mild herbs – marjoram, chervil, chives)
1 bay leaf
Pepper (to taste)
4 (15 oz.) cans Great Northern beans, drained/rinsed
About 2 tbls. tomato paste
2 (14 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
4 cups vegetable broth
1 large baking potato, peeled and diced
About 1 cup of vegetarian sausage, pan-fried and drained
(I used a Smart sausage labeled “sausage style,” which tastes like a breakfast-sausage flavor to me. I would not use Italian-style.)

Bread crumb topping ingredients
Coarse-chopped French bread, about 4 cups. (Chop the bread into pieces smaller than croutons but bigger than crumbs)
Scant ¼ cup olive oil. Lower-fat option: spray olive oil
Garlic powder
Fresh parsley, about 1/4 cup chopped

Ingredient Note 1: About tomatoes. One meat-containing recipe for cassoulet that we like, from Real Simple, does not include any tomato paste and has only 1 small can tomatoes. It makes more of a white bean stew. This version has a more Italian flavor - they're almost completely different dishes. If this recipe is too in-your-face, try the Real Simple version and either skip the sausage or substitute vegetarian.

Ingredient Note 2: Seasonal options. This is more of a winter dish for us, so I use dried herbs and canned tomatoes. Some versions of cassoulet include fresh chopped tomatoes and fresh sprigs of thyme, which sounds delicious but we didn’t have them on hand in February.

Make the stew:

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low to medium heat. Add chopped onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes until everything is starting to soften. Add thyme, bonnes herbes, bay leaf, pepper, beans, tomato paste, canned tomatoes and broth. Partially cover pot and allow to simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until carrots are soft.

Add the cooked sausage and the diced potato. If stew is too liquid, remove the lid completely. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes to allow potato to cook and sausage flavor to mix. 

While stew is simmering, make the breadcrumbs:

Heat oven to 350. Put bread pieces in a largish bowl. Toss with olive oil (or spray generously with spray olive oil). Sprinkle in garlic powder generously, tossing until coated. Spread on a (ungreased) baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, turning once and keeping an eye on them – baking time will vary depending on the moisture of the bread and size of the crumbs. Toss cooked breadcrumbs with parsley. 

Serve the cassoulet in bowls garnished generously with breadcrumbs. Recipe serves 6-8.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Conference calls, project planning, document editing - all while veggie stock's simmering on the stove. 

What a steamy, fragrant way to multitask on a work-at-home day. And tomorrow: minestrone!