Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mushroom and Zucchini Salad

It is spring time in the Midwest , or at least trying , if you stepped out right this minute you would think that we regressed to November weather , rather cold, rather dismal and a tad dreary . By now we have already experienced a couple fo 80F days , we have been teased with good weather , but a gently reminder of who is the boss - mother nature always wins .

Around this time we have become a little tired of comfort food , albeit homemade mac and cheese, soups stews - you get the picture . You look at the calandar , you look outside and realise that regardless of what mother nature throws our way - it time to shed the blankets and think spring like recipes and lighter fare . I took the brave step of planting some lovely spring flowers in planters - to remind us that it is indeed nearly the end of April , and regardless of the weather they are standing tall . Note to all - the picture with the CD/Disc flower is courtesy of my little little gourmet's school art project and in fact she also took the flower pictures .
Let me introduce you to Mushroom and Zucchini salad , for all the people squeemish about eating raw mushroom or zucchini - steel yourselves . You are about to experience a taste sensation , your taste buds are about to go into overdrive. This dish does not require exotic mushrooms, but rather the simple plain jane everyday mushrooms you buy at a food market and or supermarket . The key to the success of this salad is that the mushrooms are very fresh, ie, with a white and dry feel ( no slimey mushrooms allowed) , heavy to hold and a little bit of organic matter will not kill anyone and as tight a cap as possible. I prefer the slimmer sized zucchinis as there is less chance they will have started to produce a lot of seeds inside- again make sure they are very fresh and tender.
To sqeemish foodie readers , PLEASE ...... and I beg you PLEASE , do not rinse the mushrooms under running water , OR soak them in a bowl of water - to clean a fresh mushroom you need nothing more than a just damp paper towel and brush the organic matter off the mushroom.......... that is it ...... many decades on, I am living proof that I have not suffered physical harm from eating fresh mushrooms.

This salad marries well with beef - I would not exclude making it for chicken , pork or fish - but for some reason I always feel it just goes better with good ole beef . For the vegetarians and or raw foodies , this will also taste great on a bed of spring greens . The beauty of this salad is that it does not need last minute preparation and loves to sit around for at least a hour before been eaten . I would not recommend you leave it longer than that or the lemon juice will soften up the salad too much. So if you are invited to a picnic in the park - or a bbq in the country make this salad and allow it mature to perfection as you drive to your destination .

Any week now in different parts of the nation Farmers Markets will begin to surface and I am sure they will have wonderful fresh produce to enjoy - too early for zucchini - but I am sure the mushrooms will be molto fresca!!! .

Enjoy the recipe and I hope you all enjoy this first ode to spring fare .

Mushroom and Zucchini Salad
a GG original recipe

1 packet white button mushrooms or loose white mushrooms
1-2 small zucchinis
3 spring onions
1/2 bunch italian flat leaf parsley
1 large very juicy lemon
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Clean the mushrooms with a damp paper towel, and slice into quarter inch slices. Wash and dry your zucchini then slice about the same thickness as the mushrooms- either at an angle or round discs.

The juice of a large lemon or two, if they are not very juicy, some olive oil to balance the tartness of the lemon juice . Sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper - or to taste . Toss the salad to combine at this point , as the marinade starts to soften the vegetables just keep on tossing the salad. About 15 minutes before serving add the finely sliced green onions and chopped parsley. This way the lemon juice does not discolour the spring onions and parsley and the salad looks vibrant and you get to enjoy the freshness of the herbs. At this point check the seasoning of the salad , it should not taste bland or too salty. 

You can alter the ratio of mushroom to zucchini according to your taste - it is a very forgiving salad. You can substitute red onion ( very finely sliced) or fresh chives instead of spring onions , if that is what you have on hand or in your garden. The red onions can be added straight away to the mushrooms and zucchini and they will take on the marinade and impart a lovely flavour.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Caulifower Toastie

There are not many people with an affinity for cauliflower . Try as you may , that it is a long lost cousin of the broccoli , you will still struggle to win over any friends . However , one of the buzz words for healthy eating , high in anti oxidants and a good fighter against cancer is anything from the cruciferous family - and I believe cauliflower falls in that catergory .

I grew up eating steamed cauliflower with a simple adornment of freshly squeezed lemon juice and only the best extra virgin olive oil . A spectacularly simple and delicious side dish , that I still enjoy to this day .

As the quest of motherhood came upon me and raising little gourmets followed close at hand , I have pondered many ways of how to introduce this wonderful vegetable to the family . Then I remembered reading about this simple and unusal take on cauliflower , from a book that escapes my memory. It is a fusion of steamed caulifower florets, some mayonnaise, good dijon mustard, tiny little cubes of celery and red onion and freshly ground pepper and a sprinkle of salt.

One day , with much trepadition , I purchased a beautiful white head of cauliflower, came home, and with much aplomb cut off the florets and proceeded to steam them ,until fork tender .You add to this a fusion of
aromatics ,toast some nice hearty whole wheat bread, pita or sourdough bread and proceed to slather on this delicious spread . You can also elevate this to super health food snack ( thus momentarily forgetting the much maligned use of mayonnaise ) by topping the delight with some grated carrot and sprouts.

I must confess that I have yet to serve it with these accroutements , to my immediate family - as we at baby step stage - when we reach toddler stage Iwill break out the frills and spills.

But more importantly , I was completely floored when the family scoffed this down without a second of hesitation . I am still in recovery - I was expecting resistance from my little little gourmet - more like downright refusal- and to my complete delight she thoroughly enjoyed eating it like this . Needless to say my little gourmet cannot eat enough of this - I am sure she will be the first to embrace the accroutements as mentioned above . And daddy enjoyed it also - he falls in the slot just before my little little gourmet when it comes to pickiness ..... somehow this dish has won everyone over .

It is not a dish with exact measurements, it is made with a little bit of this and little bit if that and commonsense .

I urge you all to give this  a try and I am sure you will in wover fervent haters of cauliflower and it will become a staple, quick , go to meal/snack for your family and friends .

Cauliflower Toastie
a recipe inspred by a book that escapes my memory !

1 head of cauliflower - florets only
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard - or to taste
1 stalk celery - diced
1/2 scant cup red onion - diced
small handful of chived - fine dice ( optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper
whole wheat breat or pita - toasted

Cut florets from the cauliflower head and steam to fork tender.

Meanwhile ,clean and wash a stalk of celery , then cut down the length of the celery long strips and then crosswise into very small dice . Fine dice your onions and fresh chives if you are using them . Place all the ingredients in a large bowl , add the mustard and about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise - to begin with .

Once the cauliflower is cooked , remove from the steamer and place on a chopping board to cool down , at this point you can also start to roughly chop through the cauliflower - this will accelerate the cooling down process .

Once it has cooled down enough - you can then mash it with a fork or continue to finely chop it with a kitchen knife . Add the cooled cauliflower to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl .

Do not add the caulifower to bowl , steaming hot as it will make the mayonnaise go runny and par cook the onion and celery and the mix will not have the crunch it needs .

If you see that the mayonnaise is not enough - just add more so that it coats the cauliflower but does not swim in it .

Toast some of your favourite bread or Pita - or you can even enjoy it with some Wasa Crispbreads.

This can be enjoyed at room temperature or kept in the fridge and enjoyed cold as well .

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Quinoa Pilaf with Cranberries and Almonds

Have you tried Quinoa ? I am sure many of you have heard of this grain and all its "super" powers. It is the preferred grain of the Inca Gods and a staple of south american cuisine specifically , in Peru, Chile and Argentina . At the risk of repeating myself it is also my absolute favourite whole grain of all time .

I thought cous cous was an easy fix and a great foundation for many a side dish .To the uninititated quinoa is a whole grain , a complete protein containing all the amino acids our body requires - therefore a perfect "protein" for vegetarians. It looks like a plump sesame seed and comes in white, red and a rare hard to find black colour, it has a bitter outer coating ( nothing life threatening) just an odd taste if it is not rinsed properly - note to all : make sure you rinse your quinoa well before you start cooking with it .

I personally can eat quinoa 24/7  ........ 365 days a year and I am not exaggerating. If you suffer from gluten intolerance - the perfect solution for your wholegrain needs. I swear I eat so much of it and I have never felt bloated or stuffed , maybe this is the secret Inca Gods did not want us to know .

I featured a quinoa dish back in November 2009 - this dish was a super hit with all my clients and a beautiful and colourful dish . This time I used quinoa in pilaf style , ie you start with a saute of onions and carrots and peppers then add the quinoa and cook all together , once it finishes cooking you add some other aromatics and nuts . I usually add the dried cranberries in the last few minutes of cooking - the steam will help reconstitute them a little and then add the chives and almonds at the very end .

So if you are trying to tweak your diet, trying to introduce a whole grain that is a little more fun than brown rice , I urge you try Quinoa - and I will be posting more wonderful dishes in the coming months .

Have I told you I even eat this pilaf for breakfast !!!! mmmmmmmmmm

Quinoa Pilaf with Cranberries and Almonds
a GG original recipe

2 cups Quinoa
4 cups water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium size spanish onion (approx. 1.5 cups)
1 medium size carrot (approx 1.5 cups)
1 medium red pepper (approx 1.5 cups)
salt and pepper to taste
good handful if dried cranberries
good handful of whole unroasted almonds
small bunch of fresh chives
feta cheese (optional)
kalamata olives - pitted (optional)

Measure out the quinoa , place in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under running cool water for several minutes . Allow to drain while you start the base of the pilaf .

Preheat a heavy based dutch oven add the olive oil , then chop the onions , carrots and red pepper to a medium dice. Add these to the olive oil and stir until the onion becomes translucent and the carrots and pepper have softened . Season liberally with salt and pepper - remember you are also seasoning the quinoa .

Add the quinoa and toss for a few minutes then add the water and cook according to packet instructions. About 5 mintes before the pilaf cooking time is finishes add the dried cranberries on top of the pilaf- do not mix through . When the pilaf finishes cooking fluff with a fork and allow to sit for about 20 minutes. Can be served warm or at room temperature .

You can add some crumbled feta and chopped pitted kalamata olives if desired .

Friday, April 2, 2010

Red Eggs ........

This week for the first time in quite a few years we have a confluence of events.

Firstly, it is spring break for our district , secondly, it is also Orthodox Easter coming up this sunday  therefore making this week Holy Week . Add to this we hit 83F in Chicago yesterday ( this is not a typo !) ......... and it was also April Fools Day ..... aahhh mother nature how you tease us !!!!! . Before I forget it is also Passover ... which for reason I cannot explain at this point in time is always around Orthodox Easter.

Easter is filled with many traditions , for the devout it is the highest point in the religious calendar . Far outstripping Christmas as a religious event , not completely lost in the mire if present shopping and decorations for house and anything that breathes , Easter is for many a time of reflection and introspection.

Another time I will sit down and explain to one and all what Orthodox Christians do in preparation for Easter Sunday , for the sake of this post I would like to share and show off the fruits of the labours of my girls in preparing the eggs.

As I mentioned , 83F in chicago yesterday - however in true tradition we had a small window of opportunity to prepare the eggs ( which signify "new life") , they can only be done on Easter Thursday or Easter Saturday . So , to the store we went and purchased 3 dozen Amish free range eggs , came home and boiled them . Allowed them to cool , then gave free range to my little gourmets and their friend Caroline , to decorate the eggs.

The idea was given to me by my sister in Greece, who has started this tradition with her son and a few of his friends . It is fun , artistic and a great tradition to uphold.

For the purists of egg dyeing - please look the other way , for mothers looking for a way to get their children involoved in a great tradition , please read on .

Boil as many eggs as you will need . Remove from water and allow to cool .

Meanwhile , prepare the red food dye in COLD format - this is only available form the international supermakets.

Assemble the following wax crayon colours - white, dark blue, lime green and a regular green colour and a nice golden yellow colour.

Now the fun begins , let the children draw different designs on the eggs , then place them carefully in the cold red dye and gently swirl around . Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Remove from the dye with a mesh spatula and place back in the egg carton to dry off completely.

If you wish, once they have dried completely you can gently rub then with a soft cloth and some olive oil - I personally think they look just fine as is .

I hope this has inspired you to begin a fun tradition , to the purists, the eggs still taste the same - but we have involved children in a tradition which has a lot of meaning .

Happy Easter ..... Kalo Pasha .........