Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lusciously Legumelicious Soba Noodles

I love soba noodles.

Apparently, they're extremely difficult to make from scratch. The buckwheat flour is tricky to work with, and it takes years of practice and training to make excellent soba noodles. I like to think that eating lots and lots of soba noodles is my way of showing my appreciation for all the hard work these soba masters put into their craft.

After stumbling across them at World Market (finally), I was excited to make a dish bursting with Asian flavors and seasonal goodness. I happened to make the noodles on a day when my fridge was less-then-ideally stocked, and I ended up resorting to padding my basic peanut sauce recipe with some jarred Satay sauce form Trader Joe's that I bought months ago - I'm not dead, so I guess it was fine. The recipe I've provided below, however, is the real deal.

Soba noodles are tastier than plain old spaghetti (although this recipe would be fine with whole wheat pasta subbed in), and there's something about their texture that makes them the perfect complement to hearty, leafy greens and stubbornly crisp summer beans. The peanut sauce is so refreshing, and only requires a few ingredients. The noodles simply swathed in the sauce would make an excellent lunch, served cold with a fresh green salad on the side.


9 oz. dry soba noodles
1 bunch red kale (or other variety kale or leafy green)
1/2 c. shelled, ready-to-eat edamame
3/4 lb. (approx.) mixed green and yellow wax beans
1/2 large white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil
a few slices extra-firm tofu (optional), squeezed dry and lightly pan-fried


2 T. natural (no sugar added) peanut butter
a couple good dashes rice wine vinegar
2 T. honey
squirt of Sriracha (to taste)
2 T. soy sauce
juice of 1/2 a lemon


Boil the soba noodles in salted boiling water until al dente. About 3 minutes before the noodles are done, add the kale to the water. Drain the kale and noodles.


Make the peanut sauce by whisking all the ingredients under "sauce" together. Set aside.


Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet and saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the wax beans and cook until slightly tender. Add the edamame and stir in the sauce, stirring around until all the veggies are hot and coated with the sauce.


Place the kale/noodle combo on a serving dish or in individual bowls and top with some of the bean/peanut sauce mixture. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading! More soon...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Salade Nicoise a la Green City Market

It absolutely kills me to disagree with Julia. But when it comes to using canned tuna versus fresh, I simply cannot abide her near-holy directives.

After all, Julia cooked during wartime, when canned tuna was all a gal could come by. I live in a world where fresh fish is abundant - and in the case of my one little $4 tuna steak at Jewel - inexpensive.

Julia's Salade Nicoise calls for canned tuna - that's just how it's traditionally made. Not only did I use a fresh tuna steak, I didn't use Nicoise olives, ostensibly rendering this salad not a Nicoise salad at all! My friend and host Emily, into whose apartment I'll be moving in 12 days (she's moving out), had never had tuna that wasn't from a can, and isn't much of a fish lover at all. I wanted to take this opportunity to school her (pun intended) about the glories of tuna steaks, which in my opinion are a lot more like steak than tuna.

I got really excited to make this salad when I realized that almost everything in it is in season (aaah...late summer!) - the green beans from the market were exquisite, the salad greens were fresh, and even the little thin-skinned new potatoes had an uncharacteristically sweet, creamy taste.

When combined with the eggs I had, and the black olives Emily had, I knew that bringing the salad together would be a snap.



2 big handfuls mixed salad greens
2 hard-boiled eggs, halved
big handful fresh green beans, cut into pieces and blanched
~12 black (or nicoise) olives
1/2 c. halved grape tomatoes, any variety (we used orange ones)
4 small thin-skinned baby potatoes, boiled until tender, then sliced
1 medium tuna steak, fresh
a few spoonfuls capers
1/3 c. cucumbers, sliced into half-moons
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper


1 T. mayo
1 T. grainy brown mustard
juice of one Meyer lemon
1 T. honey
1 small shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste


Heat the olive oil in a grill pan or a nonstick skillet until hot. Cook the tuna on one side, seasoning the side facing up, until it's nice and browned. Flip and cook the other side until it matches, or until the tuna is cooked to your liking. Slice and set aside.


Arrange all the elements of the salad in little side-by-side piles and place the tuna on top.


Whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle over the salad. Serve and enjoy!

Emily also relished learning how to make a quick dressing out of just a few staple ingredients - this is truly the only salad dressing I ever eat anymore.

The salad came out great, and I think Emily may be inching closer and closer to becoming a fish-eater - here's what she had to say:

"Considering I don't like fish and had never had tuna not from a can, I thought it was really good. I couldn't finish all my tuna though - baby steps. It was really good - a lovely mix of flavors in my mouth."

Not too shabby! We spent the rest of the evening sipping wine and using her measuring tape to figure out how in the world I'm going to fit all my worldly possessions into the new place - check back in a couple weeks for pics of the new kitchen and dining area!

Thanks for reading! And thanks to my lovely host Em - more soon...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Meyer-Lemon Poached Halibut with Tuscan Bean Salad & Chard

I'm on a little bit of a chard kick right now. It's in season, and it's just divine everywhere I go looking for it. The bunches at the farmer's market yesterday were so lusciously green and leafy, I bought two different varieties. In this dish, I chose to use the classic Swiss variety.

My good friend Colleen, who "doesn't eat quadripeds," challenged me to make a meal with fish. Since I've really been dialing back the bipedal and quadripedal animals myself lately, I was all too excited to make it work. I decided on halibut, which is a notoriously not-overly-fishy fish. Only after I bought a gorgeous filet did Colleen tell me that apparently, halibut is also one of the most difficult fishes to cook.

Undaunted, I decided that cooking the halibut in a sauce on low heat would keep it moist and prevent it from overcooking. My instincts were correct, and we found ourselves with a couple of delicious, quadriped-free dinners.



Tuscan Bean Salad:

~1 c. cooked chickpeas (canned is fine)
~1/2 c. cooked cannellini beans (canned is fine)
~ 1 c. cooked wheatberries
glug of good olive oil
zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
chopped fresh rosemary
chopped fresh oregano
chopped fresh dill (or you could use parsley)
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes


1 large bunch fresh Swiss chard, tough stems removed, chopped into pieces
a little olive oil
salt and pepper

Halibut and sauce:

1 shallot, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil
3 T. butter
Two fresh halibut filets
1/2 c. dry white wine
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
Juice of 3 on-the-vine tomatoes (use a sieve to prevent any seeds from getting through)


In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the Tuscan Bean Salad. Toss to combine. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, covered. Bring to room temperature before serving.


Blanch the chard (dunk for about a minute into boiling water, then drain and rinse with cold water). Set aside.


Heat the olive oil and butter and in large, semi-deep skillet that has a tight-fitting lid. Cook the shallots until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.


Add the white wine, lemon juice, and tomato juice and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low. Season the broth with a little salt and pepper and add the fish fillets to the broth. Cover and cook until halibut is just cooked through, about 5-6 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove halibut and set aside. Cook the sauce on high heat for another few minutes until it reduces a bit.


While the fish is cooking, in another skillet, heat a little olive oil for the chard. Saute the chard quickly until it is hot and just a tad more tender than it was from blanching. Season with salt and pepper.


On two plates, spoon some Tuscan Bean Salad. Place some sauteed chard on top of the salad. Top off each with a halibut filet, then pour the poaching liquid over everything. Serve and enjoy!

If you wanted to make this salad more quickly, using canned beans would be fine. I really liked the texture of the beans I cooked myself, although I came perilously close to oversalting the bean salad - I just dialed back the salt elsewhere and the overall dish came out fine...whew!

The bitterness of the chard was a nice astringent complement to the creaminess of the beans and the succulent, tender fish. I thought the sauce was pretty strongly lemony, but being a lover of all things lemon, it certainly wasn't too lemony for me!

Overall, I thought the meal felt really indulgent when it was actually really light and healthy. Here's what Colleen thought:

"Basically this is my ideal summer meal - light lemony fish, a bed of greens, and magic chickpea melangé. I'm still not quite sure what makes Meyer lemons so amazing, but I swear I could taste a difference in the sauce. Next time I would not brine the beans (though I enjoyed the salt a great deal) - I think it's easy to just add seasoning later on. Maybe we (you) could try an iteration of this dish again for the wintertime and create a more hearty, brothy sauce and winter greens? Mmmm, broth."

Not too shabby! (And I totally agree about brining the beans - a very salty oops. I had no idea the beans would soak up the salt from the water the way they did.)

It was a successful, laid back dinner at home followed by a tour de Ukie-village bars - deliciousness followed by friends and chatter! Saturday night, perfected.

Thanks for reading! More soon...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quick Bi Bim Bop Bowl

Ross and I used to live in Uptown, and some days when we'd ride the train home together, we'd get off at the Sheridan red line stop (our stop) and have a quick, healthy Korean dinner at BBop, which is practically underneath the train tracks.

I never quite understood the name BBop until I began to look into making my own Korean food - namely, Bi Bim Bop, a simple rice, egg, meat, and veggie concoction. Then one day it hit me - BBop is a cutesy abbrevation of Bi Bim Bop, one of Korea's most famous and most popular dishes.

I was always struck by how simple the dish is - it's rice, marinated meat (chicken or steak), sprouts, cucumbers, carrots, and spinach, simply placed into a bowl - not mixed up, just placed side-by-side, Salade Nicoise style. You douse it with hot sauce or top it with kimchi, and there you have it: a Korean dinner.

The idea to create my own version of Bi Bim Bop struck me last night, when I found myself with not much more than a few eggs, a couple carrots, and some leftover brown rice in the fridge. Eggs and rice topped with Sriracha is one of my favorite quick-and-lazy meals, but I wanted to punch up the nutritional content. And it hit me - I was only a few veggies away from Bi Bim Bop.

I did change a few things (what did you expect?). I opted for fresh broccolini over spinach; I kept it meatless but added some protein with some shelled, ready-to-eat edamame (sticking with the Asian theme); I left out the sprouts because I'm not a sprouts fan; and I improvised an Asian-flavored sauce that tasted remarkably like the Korean sauce from BBop - a lucky coincidence, believe me.



~1 cup cooked brown rice (or you could use white)
1 medium carrot, shredded
1/2 c. cucumber, sliced into half moons
handful cooked, ready-eat, shelled edamame
1 bunch broccolini, quickly boiled or steamed until crisp-tender, tough stems removed
1 egg
butter for frying the egg, or oil or pan spray


1 T. Sriracha (if you don't like things spicy, start with about a tsp.)
2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
a couple dashes rice wine vinegar
drizzle of honey
1 clove garlic, minced


Arrange the rice and all the veggies on a plate or in a bowl (traditionally, they are placed side-by-side in little piles, not mixed together). Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and melt the butter. Fry the egg until the whites are cooked and the yolk is still runny.


Meanwhile, whisk together the ingredients for the sauce. Place the egg on top of the rice and drizzle the sauce over the rice, egg, and veggies. Enjoy!

Bi Bim Bop is great with chicken; if you wanted to add chicken to this dish, I'd marinate diced chicken breast in the sauce, then just quickly saute it until it's cooked through.

The Bi Bim Bop came out great! I absolutely love how the sauce came out, and I will definitely be making it again for future Asian cooking needs (beware: if you've never used Sriracha, it is very spicy. My mouth was on fire for 10 minutes after I was finished eating). It's so great to be able to cook something in your very own kitchen that people on the other side of the world love to cook in theirs.

Thanks for reading! More soon...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cauliflower & Green Bean Linguine

Do these ingredients look familiar?

They should. Because they're the same basic ingredients I used in last night's curry, only put together very differently. This, my friends, is how you cook for one person without wasting food. You commit to a couple of key ingredients, then make them do new tricks with each meal.

To get everything I needed at Whole Foods for the curry (plus a couple other staples and random items), I spent $30. Sounds expensive for what basically amounted to one meal. But it was so much more than one meal, my friends! The curry made three servings (that means dinner, lunch the next day, then another dinner), and this pasta made three servings (same math, same meals). So that's 6 meals for $30, which comes out to $5 a meal.

Granted, both meals were meatless, which helps save money, but if you were to throw in a three-pack of fresh chicken breasts, you'd only be up to about $6.50 a meal - not too shabby, especially considering a healthy, fresh, organic lunch at Hannah's Bretzel will set you back about $12 once it's all said and done. I also keep several ingredients on hand at all times (lemons, cans of diced tomatoes, and pasta, to name a few), but I hope you see my point: you can cook fresh, healthy, and yes - even organic - meals for less than you think.



1 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. white wine
1/2 head orange cauliflower
1/3 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into pieces
1 can diced tomato with juice
1 red chile pepper, seeded and minced
salt and pepper
6 oz. whole wheat linguine
~a dozen kalamata olives, chopped
freshly grated cheese (any gratable kind you have on hand)


Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet. Cook the onions until translucent, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the white wine, cauliflower, tomatoes and juice, green beans, chile pepper, and some salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-high heat.


Meanwhile, cook the linguine until al dente. Drain and set aside.


Uncover the sauce and let it cook until the liquid reduces a bit. Stir in the olives, then the cooked linguine. Toss, then transfer to a serving dish or bowls. Top with the grated cheese. Enjoy!

This pasta came out great! It was well-seasoned, light yet satisfying (love that), and super-easy. I'm sure you're probably wondering about the orange cauliflower; basically, it was between that and the purple variety, and I just couldn't bring myself to buy a purple veggie that wasn't an eggplant.

As it happened, I also bought this month's Real Simple, which had an article about the nutritional differences between different colors (different strains) of vegetables, citing specifically that orange cauliflower has roughly 25 times the amount of Vitamin A than regular cauliflower. Sweet! And it just looks so darn bright and gorgeous in a tomato sauce - win/win! (By the way, taste-wise, there is no difference.)

I hope these couple of cauliflower-centric meals have inspired you to create healthy, veggie-packed meals for the same price as a Super Value Meal. Thanks for reading! More soon...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cherry-Cumin Banana Bread

What do you do when you are forced to go out of town and leave a bunch of bananas sitting at home without you?

You have a whole weekend away to think about making a fabulous banana bread when you get home, of course!

As I predicted, I came home to several very spotted, just-past-ripe bananas, and knew I would make a banana bread. I've been making my mom's banana bread for years, which is perfect and infallible, just like Mom herself (really, it's the best banana bread I've ever had or ever will have). But I wanted to try making one that was a little more...exotic.

And, as it turned out, butt-ugly.

My go-to wonder-product of the 60's, PAM spray, failed me for the first time ever when I turned my banana bread out onto my cutting board, and only the top 2/3 of the loaf came out. The rest clung to the bottom of the loaf pan. That of course has no effect on the taste, but it doesn't make for very pretty pictures (which I why I only have one sad, mediocre photo of this lip-smackingly quirky banana bread).

Check out the original recipe for much more beautiful photos. The only modification I made to the original recipe was to leave out the bourbon (didn't have any, now that Ross no longer lives with me), and to replace the cloves (which I also didn't have) with cumin (which I always have on hand). I've seen cumin in quickbread recipes before, and I thought it would go nicely with the banana and cherry flavors - which, fortunately, it did!

The banana bread was moist and chock-full of yummy banana chunks and big, juicy cherries. The cumin and the rest of the spices are subtle, but their flavors are just enough to make you think that this banana bread has a little somethin' somethin' special going on. I'd love to try this with other spice and dried fruit combinations - cardamom and apricot comes to mind.

Try it yourself - hopefully you'll have more luck getting it out of the pan than I did! (Although I had no problem having a big piece for breakfast with my yogurt.)

Thanks for reading! More soon...

(Almost) Heidi's Cashew Cauliflower Curry

They say that the hotter the region of the world, the spicier the cuisine (think Thailand, India, Malaysia).

Chicago certainly isn't known for its balmy temperatures, but lately it's been as hot and muggy as it is down south this time of year. Maybe that explains my sudden craving for tongue-scorching fare.

I had a great weekend of baby-showering (the arrival of my little nephew is only two months away!), but in so doing, I devoured no less than a dozen egg salad and pimiento cheese tea sandwiches - on white bread, no less! It was also my birthday weekend, which meant several thousand calories consumed that other way you consume calories - in, ahem, liquid form.

So I wanted something healthy, vegetable-y, and yes, fiery. I checked out for inspiration, and found a curry recipe of Heidi's that I'd been wanting to make for some time now. I've made curries that were similar to this, but never so closely inpsired by this exact recipe. I also liked that her Cashew Curry wasn't served with rice - as much as I like rice, the idea of just slurping the spicy curry broth straight from a spoon sounded wonderful.

I did add a few things to Heidi's recipe, but only because I wanted to make her recipe go further - so I could pack several days of lunches this week.


Serve 3-4


1 can light coconut milk
1 can vegetable broth
big squeeze honey
1/2 head orange (or regular) cauliflower
1/3 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into pieces
1/4 block extra firm tofu, cut into chunks
1 red chile pepper, seeded and finely minced
1 small yellow onion, or half a large onion
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
1 smallish yam, peeled and cut into smallish chunks
1-2 T. curry powder
a little salt
handful roasted unsalted cashews
big handful cilantro leaves


Add the coconut milk and vegetable broth in a large skillet. Turn the heat to medium-high. Whisk in the salt and curry powder and honey.


Add the rest of the ingredients, except the cilantro and the cashews. Bring to a low boil and cool until all vegetables are tender and the curry broth has reduced and thickened.


Stir in the cashews. Pour into bowls or a serving dish and top with a bunch of cilantro. Enjoy!

This is one of my favorite curries I've made to date! I love that it was lightly - but not cloyingly - sweet. The curry flavor was really direct, and the heat level was perfect - enough to make my nose run but not so hot my lips were burning. The vegetables and cashews were hearty and satisfying; I would definitely make this again. And it was super easy - you don't even have to saute the veggies, you just chop and drop.

It would be excellent with shrimp or chicken, too, and also tasty over rice if you wanted to go that way. I can't wait to have a spicy leftovers lunch tomorrow at work...mmmm.

Thanks for reading! More soon...

Monday, August 3, 2009

By Popular Demand, Breakfast for Dinner: Rainbow Burritos!

Yes, Rainbow Burritos.

For two reasons: one, this baby was colorful. Two, I used rainbow chard...mmmm.

I get a gold star for eating seasonally for this post, too: rainbow chard, beans, and potatoes (and a yam is close to a potato, right) are all in season. And what's always in season? Breakfast burritos for dinner, my friends. Fluffy scrambled eggs snuggled up to beans in a warm tortilla...that can't be bad. And this burrito is delicious! And easy! And cost-effective! There's really no reason you shouldn't drop everything and make one immediately.



1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1 medium yam, diced
1 bunch rainbow chard, ends trimmed, cut into smallish pieces
dash cayenne pepper
a few dashes cumin
black beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly
1 tsp. butter for cooking the eggs (or use nonstick pan spray)
2 eggs, scrambled (or you could use just one)
big handful chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1 burrito-sized whole wheat tortilla
light sour cream to serve on the side


Heat butter and olive oil in a medium skillet. Cook the yams, seasoning with salt, pepper, cayenne, and cumin, until browned on all sides and tender. Add the chard and cilantro and cook until wilted to your liking. (I just piled the chard right on top of the yams in the pan, and since it was still a little wet from rinsing it, some of the water got into the pan - I think this worked out well because it helped the yam pieces to steam a little bit, making them perfectly tender.)


Wrap the tortilla in a damp paper towel and place in the microwave for about 20 seconds to soften it. Then place on a plate. Meanwhile, melt the butter in another nonstick skillet. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then scramble them in the pan.


Place some of the yam-chard mixture, beans, then eggs in the tortilla. Roll up like a burrito, or, if your tortilla is too small or won't cooperate like mine was, just pile everything on and hope for the best. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and some fresh cilantro sprigs. Enjoy!

The only small snafu I had was that my eggs were a tad on the salty side. I think it would have been a more grievous error if the beans and chard hadn't really been salted at all. Next time I think I'll try this with one egg instead of two - unless of course I can find burrito-sized whole wheat tortillas. This would be great with a little you-know-what nestled in there (cheese, of course), although the sour cream was plenty rich.

Thanks, Tim, for your lovely BFD (breakfast for dinner) suggestion, and I promise to make more BFD meals in the future. Thanks for reading! More soon...
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