Mistakes, triumphs and adventures in pescitarian cooking!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Rustic Tomato Herb Tart

Sometimes you just have to eat something, regardless of how healthy it is. Maybe because you've been eating oatmeal and fruit for too many days in a row, and you really need a greasy egg and cheese sandwich. Or maybe because you can't remember the last time you had ice cream, and you're walking past a place that sells organic, handmade icy cold deliciousness. Or perhaps it's because it's getting to be the end of summer and the supply of fresh, succulent tomatoes is already diminishing. And because you have a brand new apron and you really want to do a bit of baking.

This tart is the perfect end of summer meal. It's rich while still refreshing and juicy from the tomatoes and fresh herbs. Served with a nice salad and a good red wine, it's simple but still feels like a major treat. Which I realized it really was, when I considered how much butter I had consumed after I was done eating! I'll just try not to think about that part...

Rustic Tomato Herb Tart
Serves 4

Pastry dough
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of unsalted cold butter, chopped into 6 pieces
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 cup of very cold water

1½ tbsp Dijon mustard

4 tbs freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbs finely chopped fresh thyme

2 tbs finely chopped fresh basil

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 or 3 large Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 tbs olive oil

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water

1. Place flour into a large bowl and either using a pastry blender or your fingers (I had to use my fingers... I know, a blender is on my list of tools to get now!) work the butter into the flour until it's in pea sized, slightly uneven pieces. Add the cheese and salt, and then add the water a little bit at a time while mixing the dough, until it starts to hold together. Knead a bit to combine and form into a 12 inch circle. If you don't want to make that tart right away, you can wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate. When your ready to use it, remove from the fridge and let it soften for fifteen minutes.

2. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Transfer the dough to a parchment paper or tinfoil lined baking sheet. Brush the dough with the mustard, leaving about an inch border all around. Sprinkle about 2 tbs of Parmesan cheese over the mustard, reserving the rest for later.

3. In a small bowl, combine the fresh herbs, garlic and some salt and pepper.

4. Place a few of the tomato slices over the pastry, still being careful to leave the border of pastry. Sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, and then layer more tomatoes on top. Finish with the rest of the herb mixture and a drizzle of olive oil. Carefully bring the border of the pastry up around the ingredients to create the sides of the tart, then brush the sides with the egg wash.

5. Place tart in the oven for 20 minutes. Open the oven and sprinkle the top of the exposed tomatoes in the tart with Parmesan cheese, and then let the tart bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. When the cheese is melted and slightly browned, remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Slice the tart and serve!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower

Cauliflower is one of those veggies I have never warmed up to. Actually, I would have to say that I really don't dig it. At all. Except for the one time it made the list of the best foods I've ever eaten. It was at the same Indian buffet I mentioned in my entry about palak paneer. I was gathering various delightfully spicy vegetarian nibbles onto my plate, when I came to the serving platter with a small sign reading "Gobi 65" above it. Although I didn't know it at the time, I discovered later that Gobi (cauliflower) 65 is a variation on another popular dish, Chicken 65. There are many rumors on where the "65" part of the title comes from, from it being the 65th dish developed by a popular South Indian restaurant, to 65 representing the amount of ingredients in the original dish. Wherever the amusing name comes from, it is just one more reason that it is perhaps the best cauliflower dish ever created.

Gobi 65 is basically spiced, deep fried cauliflower. The version I had looked very similar to the fiery red of tandoori chicken. It was incredibly spicy, but with just the right amount of fat to keep your mouth from feeling like it was turning into lava.

That all said.... I didn't end up making Gobi 65. I've never been very good at deep frying, and it's not really on my diet. Instead, I searched for a recipe that looked like a healthier version of the dish.

I had high hopes when I came across a recipe for "Indian Roasted Cauliflower" online (thanks internet!!). It looked simple, healthy, and similar in spices to the Gobi 65 recipes I'd seen. I changed it a bit, halving the amount of chili powder (because our chili powder is super, super spicy) and adding some turmeric, which gave it a beautiful, vibrant yellow color. The final product was good, but it was still a bit too spicy for me, and it needed more olive oil. Even though it was imperfect, it was still way better than cauliflower would normally be. But I don't think I'd be in a big hurry to try it again, just because it's still cauliflower. But I think those of you who are fans of the veggie would love this recipe.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower

One head of cauliflower
One tsp of chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp of turmeric
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
lots of olive oil for drizzling

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Separate the cauliflower into smallish florets and spread onto a baking sheet.

2. Measure spices into a bowl and set aside. Chop garlic and put into the spice bowl. Mix until well distributed.

3. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil onto the cauliflower pieces, and toss to coat. Sprinkle spice mixture evenly of the florets, and toss again until evenly coated.

4. Place baking sheet in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the cauliflower over halfway through cooking. Serve as a side dish with your favorite curry, or as a meal of its own.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Spinach Hummus

One of the constant problems of living in a household of two is that it is difficult to use up ingredients before they go bad. Maybe that's just because I'm still used to living in a larger family setting where food disappears fast, or because it's more cost effective to buy larger quantities of ingredients. Whatever the reason, fresh spinach is one of those things that we seem to eat almost every day, but still have trouble getting rid of before it's past its prime. That's how this recipe came about. Despite salads, sandwiches and curries using the leafy green, we still had a few cups of fresh spinach sitting here. So I made a double batch of my favorite hummus recipe, added pureed spinach, and voila! A gorgeous, even more nutrient filled dip for us to snack on (and maybe give away to some of our lucky family and friends).

Spinach Hummus
Makes 2 1/2 cups

One can of chickpeas
2 cups of baby spinach leaves, packed down
1/4 cup of tahini
1/4 cup of water
2 tbs of olive oil
juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
2 cloves of garlic (raw and minced)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
black pepper and sumac, to taste

1. Rinse the chickpeas under cold water until the excess liquid is gone. In a food processor or blender, combine all of your ingredients (I usually do the wet ones first and then add the beans slowly into our crappy, easily upset blender). Transfer the dip to a bowl, sprinkle with a bit of chili powder and sumac, and serve with pita bread and veggies.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lebanese Spinach Lentil Salad

Down the street from my parents' house in Metro Detroit there is this tiny Lebanese restaurant that makes really good Middle Eastern fare for cheap. They had been going there for a while to get the regular carry out bag of hummus, stuffed grape leaves and falafels, when one day they decided to be a bit more adventurous and came home with "Lebanese Spinach Salad". Inside the Styrofoam containers were the most amazing salads ever. A mixture of green lentils and onions set on a bed of fresh baby spinach, topped off with a tahini based dressing. Simple, but so unbelievably good! My family began going there at least a couple times a week to get these delicious, cheap, healthy salads. But being the crafty, frugal girl that I am, I vowed to try and make this simple dish in my own kitchen.

My first step in the quest was of course to type "Lebanese Spinach Lentil Salad" into google. But surprisingly, nothing that looked remotely like the right recipe came up. I had started out thinking this was a traditional Lebanese dish, whereas it looks now like this little restaurant employs a genius, creative chef! Which was worth applauding, but did not help me the least bit in my search.

I knew then that I would have to wing it. I was pretty well able to guess what the major ingredients of the salad were--the spinach, lentils, onions were very simply prepared. But that delicious, strange dressing... that took a couple more days of Interwebs research.

I finally realized that the dressing tasted suspiciously like the sauce you get on falafels and shawarmas. I came across a recipe for a "Tahini Marinade", tweaked it a bit, and took the plunge. And while it didn't taste exactly the same, it sure was close. And delicious.

Another plus was that the recipe called for sumac, a middle eastern spice I had seen in recipes but never bought or used in cooking before. The berries on the variety of Sumac shrub that grows in Africa and the Middle East are ground up into a tangy, purple-red spice that adds another level of sourness. I don't think it's the same plant we get here in North America, so I would not suggest harvesting your own sumac!* I found mine at a Middle Eastern grocery. It's not totally necessary to producing a good salad, but I'm always excited to use new ingredients.

Lebanese Spinach Lentil Salad
Serves 4

1 cup of dried green lentils
1 white onion
2 cloves of garlic
8 cups of fresh baby spinach
1 Tbs olive oil

1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
3 gloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp of sumac
2 tbs olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
just enough water to thin a bit (I've never measured this part, just done it by feel)

1. Put your lentils into a strainer and clean thoroughly, picking out any bits of foreign objects. Place into a medium sized pot, and cover with water. Cook on high until boiling, then lower to medium heat. Let cook for 45 minutes to an hour. You may need to drain excess water.

2. When the lentils are cooked, cut the onion into thin slices and sautee in the olive oil. Chop the garlic, and add the to the pan as well. When the onion and garlic are translucent and cooked through but not brown, take off the heat, and stir into the lentils.

3. In a bowl, combine the tahini, minced garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Add just enough water to thin out the mixture a a bit; you still want it to be fairly thick, but more of a dressing instead of a marinade. Add the salt and sumac, and mix well.

4. Place two cups of fresh spinach onto each plate, and top with the lentil and onion mixture. Drizzle a few spoonfuls of the tahini dressing over the salad and serve.

*EDIT: I was told recently that the very commonly found sumac bush with red berries in North America is one and the same as those found in the Middle East. It's the white ones you want to avoid! Still, do a bit of research before you go off berry picking in your own yard.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seafood Curry

Last night I was chopping up some onions for dinner, and I ended up slicing into my index and middle fingers on my left hand! After some general "Ow ow ow ow" and pained looks, I settled onto the couch with a few bandages and a magazine to let my wonderful boyfriend finish preparing dinner. Since it was early on in the cooking stages, he went a different route entirely and made a lovely, fragrant seafood curry.

When my boy and I first started dating, the very first weekend actually, I asked him if he'd like to go out to lunch (read: breakfast, because we all get up closer to the afternoon side of the day) to an Indian buffet with my family and I. He said yes, and it wasn't until months later that I found out that he'd never really had Indian food before and that curry for breakfast was actually pretty bizarre to him. However, this jarring first experience has thankfully led to a love for Indian cuisine that is almost as intense as my own. I also have him to thank for being the first of us to even take the plunge and try to recreate some of these dishes in our own kitchen.

Goan-style Seafood Curry
Serves 3-4

1 tbs of olive oil or ghee
1 tbs of mustard seeds
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 can of coconut milk
1/2 pound of white fish
1/2 pound of cooked shrimp
half a large white onion, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the mustard seeds, and stir them around until the pop, about a minute.

2. Add the onion and garlic and stir for about 5 minutes, until the onion is cooked. Stir in the turmeric, coriander and chili powder and continue stirring for another 30 seconds or so.

3. Add the coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and stir for another 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Reduce the heat to low, add the fish and simmer for 1 minute, spooning the sauce over the fish. Add the shrimp and continue cooking for 4-5 minutes, until the fish flakes easily.

5. Add half the lime juice, then taste and add more if you wish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve with rice and naan.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


When my boyo was growing up, every Friday was pizza and movie night for his family. We used to carry on this tradition in the early part of our relationship, until I decided that pizza every week probably wasn't the healthiest idea! But every once in a while, when Friday rolls around, he'll glance over at me with a puppy dog sort of expression and ask hopefully, "Pizza tonight?" Usually I can give him a firm no, but after he left for work yesterday afternoon I decided to surprise him with a homemade pie. He's been such a good sport about my health kick, after all.

Homemade pizza dough is one of those things I've never really been totally satisfied with. It always seems to turn out too puffy, too tough or just not that tasty. Yesterday I half followed a recipe from a Tapas cook book we have kicking around. Halfway into making it I looked down at the book and realized that it was actually a flat bread recipe, not one for pizza dough. I was already committed at that point, so I decided to just roll with it. And funnily enough, it actually turned out extremely well. The resulting crust was chewy but not tough, with a really nice, simple flavor. I sort of haphazardly threw whatever ingredients looked good onto the pizza, and although it was a bit chaotic, they worked really nicely together, although I probably won't bother with the spinach next time, because it got kind of lost in the mix.

serves 2-4 (eight slices)

1 1/2 cups of white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 envelope of active yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbs olive oil
1 cup of warm water

1. Mix water, yeast and sugar into a small bowl and let it sit for five to ten minutes. Meanwhile, in a larger bowl, mix the flour and salt.

2. Add the yeast mixture and the olive oil to the flour. Mix the liquid into the flour until it is mostly incorporated, then turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for five minutes.

3. Place the dough into a large, oiled bowl and turn once to coat the outside of the dough with oil. Cover the bowl with a warm, damp towel and put in a warm spot (I usually turn on the oven for 60 seconds and then off again, and put my dough in there). Let the dough double in size, about one hour.

4. When your dough is ready, punch it down and knead it for a minute or two, then let it rest for ten minutes.

5. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. While the dough is resting and the oven is heating up, you can get your toppings ready. I used pesto (instead of regular pizza sauce) crimini mushrooms, fresh spinach, cherry tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese and smoked salmon (I put the smoked salmon on after the pizza came out of the oven, since I didn't want that to cook).

5. Roll out your dough onto a baking sheet and place your sauce and toppings onto the pizza. Put a piece of aluminum foil loosely over the top of the pizza. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cucumber Avocado Gazpacho

Last night's dinner was a very yummy variant of gazpacho, based on a recipe I found on a natural beauty blog that said it was the ultimate skin booster! I don't know that my skin looks any nicer today, but I'm pretty much up for making anything that calls for avocados. (especially because we have four sitting here that we really need to use up). One exciting thing about this recipe was that it called for leeks, which despite their simplicity are an ingredient I've never used before. I still have a few left in the fridge, and I'm planning on thumbing through my copy of Alice Waters' "Chez Panisse Vegetables" to see what she suggests for them.

My first experience with gazpacho was at a Lebanese restaurant my parents used to take me to as a child. I really disliked it back then, and only really went along without a fight because they served fresh-made lemonade with noodles for straws. It's grown on me over the years, and now I think it's a perfect meal at the end of a scorching summer day.

I liked this version of gazpacho better than the one I made earlier in the summer, which was more of classic, tomato based version. The avocado gave a slightly rich creaminess to the base. I think next time I make it I'll try using a red bell pepper instead of green, if only because the boy doesn't like green ones very much. I also might chop up a bit of extra avocado to throw in at the end, but I'm obsessed like that.

Cucumber Avocado Gazpacho
Serves 4

1 english cucumber
1 zucchini, peeled
1 green or red pepper
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
1 medium sized avocado
2 cloves of garlic, raw
1 leek
1/2 red onion
1/2 teaspoon cumin
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
large handful of cilantro (if you like it)

1. Roughly chop the leek and red onion. In a saucepan, heat the chopped leek and onion in extra virgin olive oil until translucent and soft, but not brown.

2. Meanwhile, in your food processor or blender, crush up the tomatoes, garlic, avocado, cumin and cilantro. Add the sauteed onions and leek, and pulsate until smooth. This will be your base. Don’t add water unless you absolutely have to—the juice from the tomatoes should be enough. (our blender sucks, so I ended up adding about 1/2 of a cup of water. It seemed to turn out fine to me!)

3. Pour the base into a bowl and set aside, then finely chop the cucumber, zucchini and bell pepper. Add the chopped veggies to the base. Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil and some salt and pepper.