Bowled Over

Grain bowls. Lately I’ve been inspired by the idea of stacking food delicately into a small, fetching bowl. At its heart, a healthy grain or rice forms the base, then a good dose of well-flavored vegetables are arranged atop, with a smaller amount of protein tucked in for a balance meal in a bowl.

The concept hits all the right notes, it’s quick and easy. A bowl holds less food than a plate, and it’s a great way to round up a flavorful meal with odds and ends—or leftovers, in some circles. Of course the creative license to mix and match at will is powerful. There are no rules. Better than that, break the rules!

The key to the grain bowl’s success is to have a supply of pre-cooked rice or a grain such as farro, barley, or quinoa ready to go. For example, spoon a healthy amount of your grain or rice into a small, tall bowl, top with a generous handful of a pre-mixed blend such as spinach, pak choi, and mustard greens, fill in with a poached or fried egg to break up, much in the manner of a sauce.  Finish with some fresh herbs and a big punch of flavor, the likes of harissa or gochujang.

This past weekend I was on fire, filled with the anticipation of throwing together my own grain bowl.  A little low on supplies, I had only millet, but it was a fine start when simmered with a dash of turmeric and a bay leaf. Mostly, I was excited to take advantage of my latest rhubarb chutney, waiting for its own 15-minutes of fame.

At the farmers market I picked up a couple of beautiful zucchini and a few gorgeous carrots, a nice combo for a quick veggie add-on. In the fridge I had a small pork tenderloin. This was coming together more like a banquet that a small meal in a bowl. But, it’s the weekend!

When dinnertime rolled around I was running late, getting very hungry, and certainly glad this was going to be a fast, easy meal.  The pork was quickly rubbed with olive oil, Moroccan spice, salt and pepper.  I gave it fast sear and popped it in a 400° oven for about 25 minutes. While that was happening I deglazed the pan and made a quick sauce flavored with harissa.

The zucchini and carrots were quickly sliced into ribbons, tossed with a few drops of sesame oil and garam masala. Opa! We’ve got big flavors everywhere!  About 5 to 7 minutes before the pork was done, I added the veggies to the roasting pan and tossed them lightly with a little of the pan juices.  Once out of the oven, the tenderloin was tented for a few minutes to rest before slicing.Pork grain bowl

I had just enough time to pull it all together. It was then, that I was faced with the truth. A charming, small bowl would not do justice to the fine collection now waiting to be plated—or bowled, if that is a word.

This was worthy of a pasta bowl, of the first order.  Facing reality, I spread the thinnest possible layer of millet into the bottom of the bowl.  One of the grain bowl rules is to use more vegetables than protein. I smartly swirled a portion of the zucchini and carrots across the millet, allowing for three lovely medallions to arc around the corner, and finished the pork with a drizzle of the harissa sauce.  Rounding out the bowl, a small handful of spicy Asian greens became a mere place holder for the honored rhubarb chutney—and of course, a sprig of cilantro.

Good news!  No heartburn, or negative reaction to the epic grain bowl.  Delicious, all of it!

Epic Grain Bowl with Pork Medallions and Harissa Sauce

Ingredients
For the Pork
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pork medallion
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Moroccan spice
salt and pepper
For the Harissa Sauce
1 cup beef stock, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon harissa paste
salt and pepper to taste
For the Vegetables
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon garam masala
For the Millet
1 cup millet
3 cups water
salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
To Finish
1 cup Spicy Asian Greens (spinach, pak choi, mustard greens)
½ cup rhubarb chutney
few sprigs cilantro

Directions

  1. For the millet, combine the millet, the turmeric, bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for approximately 35 minutes, until water is absorbed.  Set aside to cool.
  2. For the pork, rub the pork with olive oil, then with Moroccan spice, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet with coconut oil over high heat and sear pork on all side, about 5 minutes. Remove to baking pan and roast at 400° for approximately 25 minutes.
  3. For the harissa sauce: deglaze saute pan with ½ cup of the beef stock, let it cook down briefly while scraping the bottom of pan. Add the remaining ½ cup stock combined with 1 teaspoon cornstarch.  Add the harissa sauce and let reduce. Taste for seasoning add salt and pepper as need.  Keep warm.
  4. For the vegetables:  using peeler or spiralizer thinly slice zucchini and carrot into long strands.  Toss with sesame oil and garam masala.  About 5-7 minutes before pork is done, add veggies to the roasting pan. Toss with the pan juices and heat.
  5. Remove the pork and veggies, tent with foil and allow to rest briefly while preparing grain bowl.
  6. To finish: re-heat the millet and spoon into the bottom of bowl. Spread vegetables over half of the top. Slice the pork into ½” or thicker medallions.  Nestle in the pork and drizzle with a little of the harissa sauce.  Add a small handful of greens and top with a dollop of Rhubarb Chutney.  Add a sprig of cilantro and enjoy. Yield: 2 or more servings.
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Cheaters Risotto

There’s nothing like authentic risotto for sheer artistry. But at home I don’t seem to have the patience or inclination to constantly stir assorted liquids with rice in order to achieve the layers of flavor and creaminess it requires. Here’s an easy solution using orzo instead that takes all the work out of the process.zuke orzo one pot (480x640)

While the orzo and other goodies simmer away, diced zucchini can be stirred into the pot and cooked along with it.  I discovered it was the ideal opportunity to whip out my new inexpensive spiralizer, which cranks out perfect spaghetti-like strands in the flick of a wrist. The zucchini sits atop the simmering orzo, and steams to an al dente state in no time at all.zuke orzo (480x640)

To finish:  spoon into bowls and add a dollop of ricotta-basil cheese for extra creaminess.  

Orzo and Zucchini Risotto-style

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chop
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1-1/2 cups orzo
14 ounces chicken stock
2-1/2 cups water
2 medium tomatoes, seed and dice
1 medium zucchini, diced or cut into 6” julienne strips or spirals
¾ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
½ cup Parmesan cheese grated
Optional ricotta topping
½ cup ricotta
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese grated
1 tablespoon fresh basil, julienne

Directions

  1. In 2-quart pot with lid, sauté the onion in olive oil to soften, adding the saffron in the process.
  2. Stir in the orzo and sauté for 1 minute.
  3. Stir in the broth, water, tomatoes, and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and cook for 8 minutes.
  4. To finish with zucchini, scatter the strands on top of the orzo, sprinkle with salt and pepper and parmesan cheese, cover and cook about 3 minutes longer, until the orzo is just tender and zucchini is al dente.  If liquid remains, increase heat, stirring until liquid evaporates and it is creamy.
  5. Spoon into bowls, top with a spoonful of ricotta cheese topping and serve.  Serves 3-4

White Truffles: Oh, my…

In Oregon’s emerging truffle industry, I feel like a newcomer to the party.   Admittedly, this truffle season I finally experienced my first cooking session with these quirky characters, legendary for their aphrodisiacal attributes.

At my local Roth’s market, I spotted a small collection of the knotted balls of excess on display, marked $199 lb.  According to “D”, our produce manager, the white truffles were provided by a reliable local purveyor who’s very tight lipped about their actual location in the wild.  At that price, he should be.

Oregon White Truffle

Oregon White Truffle

“D” suggested shaving them over a light pasta dish.  With white truffles, it seems much of their musky ephemeral garlic-like attributes are linked to their aroma, which can be fairly fleeting.  Thus, peppering the top of the dish, allows the most extreme up-close-and-personal olfactory sensation.  Since the heat of the pasta would cause the aroma to drift upward, salad would be deferred to a later date.

Truffles have an affinity to butter and cream, too.  Many of the dishes from Italy’s Piedmont region and specifically Alba, where truffles go for thousands of dollars a pound, are prepared quite simply.  Often pasta is tossed in a butter sauce seasoned with Parmesan.  Fresh truffle is then shaved on lavishly in front of the salivating guest.

My solution was a little different.  I took my old Pasta Carbonara, deleted the bacon, sautéed local mushrooms in a small amount of butter, tossed in the hot pasta, and added raw egg with Parmesan cheese to make a light sauce.

Pasta with White Truffle

Pasta with White Truffle

Into the bowls it all went.  A razor-sharp grater of some sort is necessary to shave truffles as thin as possible: my handy garlic shaver worked like a pro.  Oh, my…

Mushroom Carbonara with Truffles

3 Tbsp. butter, or part EVOO
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, flattened
6 oz. wild or domestic mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2-3 leaves sage, chopped, or 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 lb. linguine, cooked in salted boiling water until al dente; reserve 1 cup pasta water
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 white truffle, gently wiped clean

  1. In a large sauté pan, heat the butter, add the shallot and garlic and cook until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, herbs, salt and pepper, and sauté until the mushrooms soften and begin to release their juices.  Remove the garlic.
  2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add half of the Parmesan cheese.
  3. Over moderate heat, add the hot pasta to the mushroom mixture.  Reduce heat, pour the egg-cheese mixture over the pasta and toss to coat well.  It will make its own sauce and have shiny appearance, if it looks dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.  Sprinkle in the remaining Parmesan cheese and a grinding of freshly ground pepper.  Portion into pasta bowls. At the table, shave fresh truffle over the tops of the pasta.  Serves 4

Adult Mac ‘n Cheese

I’ve long been enchanted by the idea of cauliflower and cheese – such a lovely duo; they seem to be made for each other:  cauliflower’s earthy nuttiness mingling with the rich creaminess of cheese… despite this prolonged infatuation it has simply not been enough to move me to any great culinary action.

Recently, though, I came across an idea for penne combined with cauliflower and cheese that set me on fire!  How perfect!  An adult mac-and-cheese with just enough vegetable thrown in to rate full meal status.Penne and Cauliflower

But was this workable in my tiny kitchen?  Too ambitious?  Well, it was certainly worth an attempt, but I had better think about it…

grater

Two-sided grater

The following items would be needed for prep and cooking

  • 1 quart pan
  • Chef’s knife, small whisk and spatula
  • 3-quart prep bowl with microwaveable steamer/strainer insert
  • Small two-sided grater
  • 2 cup measure, 1 utility bowl
  • 6-cup baking dish for heating and storage

Consider 4 main steps in the prep phase

  1. Prepare the cheese sauce. It can be done well ahead, if time permits.
  2. Boil the pasta.  Cook the pasta, if space permits and add the cauliflower about 4 minutes before the pasta is al dente.  If not cook the pasta, drain, rinse, and hold.
  3. Steam the cauliflower. If not boiling, steam the cauliflower in microwaveable bowl, cover and cook for about 2 minutes, until barely tender.
  4. Assemble the dish. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and cauliflower; stir gently to evenly distribute.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.  Bake, or if preparing ahead, cover and chill.

Yes, I could pull this off.  I just had to remember to work my plan, clean up as I go along, and rinse/ re-use my prep and cookware, or this could potentially turn into a real mess…

And I wasn’t disappointed:  creamy, cheesy, with a slight bite from the cauliflower.  Penne, Caul and SaladThe crisp panko topping was the perfect foil with its extra crunch factor.  A simple green salad was all that was necessary to create a totally soul-satisfying meal.

Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Cheese

Inspired by Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden by Jeanne Kelley

Ingredients
1 ½ cups whole wheat penne
3 cups cauliflower, sliced and broken up
Cheese Sauce
2 tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup smoked Gouda cheese, grated
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp prepared mustard
1 bay leaf
Breadcrumb Topping
1 tbsp butter
½ cup panko or traditional bread crumbs
2 tbsp Parmesan Cheese
Directions

  1. Prepare the Cheese Sauce: In 1 quart pan, melt the butter, add the shallots and cook 2 minutes to soften.  Add the flour and cook 1 minute, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps.  Add the cheese, stirring to melt.  Add the salt, peppers, nutmeg, mustard and bay leaf.  Simmer briefly to blend flavors.  Set aside, can be made ahead.
  2. Bring pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and simmer until al dente, approximately 10 minutes. If adding the cauliflower, add it about 4 minutes before the pasta is cooked.  Drain and rinse to stop the cooking process.  The cauliflower can be boiled separately for 4 minutes or microwaved for about 2 minutes.
  3. Combine the pasta, cauliflower and the sauce and stir gently to distribute evenly. Spread it in buttered 6-cup baking dish.  For bread crumbs:  Melt the butter, add the panko and the Parmesan.  Sprinkle evenly over the pasta mixture.
  4. Bake at the 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top. Yield: 4 servings.

Small Space Cuisine: Gumbo

I’m fascinated by small spaces―especially tiny kitchens.  Nothing is more challenging than creating great food under peculiar conditions.

Maybe that’s why I loved my time cooking on the water and making the best of whatever came my way:  on sailboats, dive boats, mega yachts―even private tropical islands, where crucial resources such as power and water are often limited.

Smaller spaces tend to make for greater efficiency since everything is within arm’s reach.  However, planning ahead is key since success depends radically on optimizing all that is readily available.

In a limited setting one-pot cuisine is a natural solution for enticing,well-balanced meals.  It might be necessary to make a few concessions along the way, but it will still be amazing.  For example, depending on equipment and space constraints, you might want to re-consider when and where to include a starch.  Perhaps it will make more sense to add it directly to the pot rather than cooking it separately.

Nothing beats gumbo when it comes to meal-time flexibility. Gumbo

By its very nature, gumbo lends itself to tons of variation, too.  Here, nutritional value is easily bumped up by the addition of hearty greens, and full-flavored black-eyed peas, precooked or canned, become a handy, satisfying support component.

For an authentic gumbo flavor, be sure to include the roux process.  Although it is time consuming, this is not a step to skip, and can be done well ahead.  Begin by slowly browning the oil and flour; when you’ve developed a rich, deep mahogany color add the vegetables to the roux.  Include protein such as ham, sausage, or chicken plus some handy dried herbs like thyme and bay; you can even add rice for toasting at this point.   Dilute it all with a good chicken stock, throw in your greens if desired, and let it all simmer 20-30 minutes, until the greens are tender.

If serving rice separately, consider one of the easy microwaveable pouches of basmati― ready in less than two minutes.  Here’s a basic recipe which allows for plenty of adaptation.

Gumbo with Black-eyed Peas and Ham

Ingredients
2-3 Tbsp. oil
¼ cup flour
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 cups smoked ham, cubed
2 cups sausage, andouille, polish, or garlic sausage of choice, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 -2 jalapeno peppers, seeded minced
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tomato, seeded and chopped, or 8 oz can diced tomatoes
1 qt chicken stock, or more
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp red pepper flakes or cayenne, to taste
14 oz can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1-2 lbs tender greens, kale, collard or spinach cleaned, stemmed, cup up
2 tsp file powder, optional
Add-ons:
2 cups cooked basmati rice, 1/2 cup chopped green onions, hot sauce

Directions

  1. In a soup pot over medium, heat the oil; add the flour and stir occasionally for 20-30 minutes until it reaches a deep mahogany color.
  2. Add the onion and garlic to the roux, stirring until aromatic and the onion has softened.  Add the jalapeno pepper, the dried herbs, the ham and sausage, and cook briefly to combine.
  3. Add the tomato and slowly stir in the stock, season with salt, pepper and cayenne; add the black-eyed peas and the greens if using, and cook until they are tender 20-30 minutes.  Stir in spinach just before serving.
  4. To thicken gumbo further file powder can be added just before serving, allow it to briefly simmer until it thickens.  Adjust seasoning and serve hot topped with hot rice, green onions and hot sauce.  Serves 4 or more.

Decidedly Delicious: Pear, Almond, and Ground Rice… Pie?

What do you call a pear dessert that is topped with a ground rice cake, of sorts?

Pear Almond plateThat is only one of a number of unusual recipes found in Jenni Fleetwood’s One-pot, Slow-pot, and Clay-pot Cooking, (2002) recently purchased on Amazon.com for $.01 plus shipping. 

Although Jenni’s book has a clear Mediterranean influence with its share of tajines and tians, there is an abundant global feel to it from such specialties as Truffade, an amazing French cheese and potato dish, Brazilian Pork and Rice Casserole, and Stir Fried Crispy Duck. 

I originally borrowed this cookbook from my local library and was  mesmerized by the array of mouth watering photos throughout.  By the time I made it to the dessert section and considered the pear and almond dessert with ground rice, absolutely no further enticement was necessary:  I wanted it all—immediately.Pear Almond Pie

In terms of American dessert vernacular, this pear dish would most likely fall somewhere in the range of cobblers, slumps, and grunts.  However, its simple almond-studded-cake-like-topping-dusted-with-powdered-sugar has far more cache than any rustic biscuit or crumble finish.

Comice pearsIndeed, now is the time to think pears, since most markets have plenty of varieties to choose from.   I went for the Comice.  Even though it is known more as a raw eating pear, it is also juicy and incredibly sweet.  Turns out, its rich perfume and creaminess were just what I needed, and the wedges held their shape beautifully.

While at it, I purchased an inexpensive spice grinder since ground rice has more texture that rice flour. It is this slight crunchy contrast from the ground jasmine rice that adds another fun dimension to the dessert.  I suspect cornmeal could be substituted for the rice, but the flavor would not be the same.

I served it warm with my convenient custard sauce that seems to be a regular in my refrigerator these days. No question, I would call this Decidedly Delicious.

Pear, Almond, and Ground Rice Pie

Adapted from One-pot, Slow-pot & Clay-pot Cooking, Jenni Fleetwood

Ingredients
3 ripe Comice pears
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temp
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/4 tsp almond extract
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup ground rice, Jasmine is good
¼ cup sliced almonds

Accompaniment:  custard sauce or vanilla ice cream

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a pie dish, then peel and cut the pears into thick wedges and arrange in dish.  Sprinkle with brown sugar.
  2. Place the butter and granulated sugar in a medium mixing bowl and beat together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time; stir in the almond extract.  Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt; add the ground rice and combine the dry ingredients well.  Fold it all into the creamed mixture.
  3. Spread the thick batter over the pear wedges in the baking dish; level the surface with a knife.
  4. Sprinkle the sliced almonds even over the top and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and springs back when lightly touched.  Serve warm or cold with custard sauce or ice cream.   Serves:  6

Reminiscing Ramen

I have a new favorite soup.  This brings back crazy memories of Top Ramen dinner days—when that was about all there was left in the cupboard, because payday hadn’t arrived yet.  If we were really lucky maybe we would add a few sliced mushroom, frozen peas, green onion, or an egg. It was a meal; easy, hot and filling—salt and all.Ramen table

With images of PureWow’s inventive Ramen Soup dancing in my head, earlier in the day I had made a chicken stock from the carcass of a roasted chicken.  I headed out to my local grocery store in search of dried ramen noodles and drifted from the international section where they had bags of all sort of noodles, to the soup section, where I was confounded by the daunting range of instant ramen noodle soups.  I guess I haven’t been paying attention because now there are choices like curried noodle and kim chee ramen.

Completely befuddled, I decide to keep it simple and stay with what I knew: the original Chicken Top Ramen.  I could use the noodles from 2 packages of Maruchan Roast Chicken Ramen at .17 each; a far cry from $1.88 for a large package of noodles.  Crazy.

And the instructions haven’t changed much either: boil the water, add the noodles and let it stand for 3 minutes, then stir in the seasoning packet.  It doesn’t get any easier than that.  I am a great reader of nutrition labels, and on this day I opt to just let it go.  Forget about it, ignorance is bliss.  I have lofty plans ahead.

Although a simple vegetable stock was certainly a possibility, I was well ahead of the game with my homemade chicken stock chilling, well-skimmed of excess fat.

Ready for dinner, I heat up the soup pot and quickly sauté green onion, garlic, coriander, curry, fresh minced ginger and garlic in sesame oil.  A bit of Sriracha is squirted in to taste, then the lovely chicken stock.  For extra flavor I throw in ½ cup of soaked dry shiitake mushrooms, plus their strained liquid.  Within 15 minutes, this melange transforms my simple stock into something complex and intriguing.  Actually, these flavors are so powerful, I’m not sure I’d even mess with my precious homemade stock in the future.  Perhaps a quick vegetable broth would do the same trick, after all—still light years away from ramen’s requisite seasoning packet.

The noodles are added to the simmering stock and burble away for 5 minutes or so.  What fun – they visibly puff into a curly mass.  While this is happening, I assemble the toppings. I sauté red pepper strips in coconut oil and poach the eggs to perfection.  I pull out a bag of spinach and arugula salad and pick off any errant stems, and quickly chop some green onion and cilantro.  A bit of leftover roasted chicken is sliced into strips.

ramen finalFinally!  Noodles are piled into bowls along with big ladles full of the shockingly good soup broth.  The toppings are available and added to taste.  Ah, sweet memories!  Not exactly instant, but better than ever!

Easy Ramenramen closeup
Adapted from PureWow ‘s Easy Ramen 

Ingredients
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 large bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
½-inch piece ginger, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons Sriracha, or more to taste
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup dried Shiitake mushrooms rehydrated plus drained liquid (soaked in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes)
12 ounces dried ramen noodles (I used noodles from 2 pkgs Top Ramen Noodles)
1 tablespoon vegetable or coconut oil
1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups, if not using dried Shiitake)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
5 cups raw spinach and arugula, stemmed
4 eggs, poached (see How to Poach an Egg)
½ cup chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Add half the scallions, the garlic and ginger, and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add the coriander, curry powder and Sriracha, and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more. Add the chicken stock or vegetable broth and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer covered, for 15 minutes, or until the broth develops good flavor.
  3. Remove the cover from the pot, add the noodles and cook until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. If the noodles begin to absorb too much of the broth, add water to keep the noodles fully submerged.
  4. In a large sauté pan, heat the vegetable or coconut oil over medium heat. Add the fresh mushrooms and bell peppers, and sauté until very tender, 6 to 7 minutes.
  5. To serve, ladle the soup into four bowls and garnish each portion with 2 tablespoons mushrooms, 2 tablespoons peppers, ¼ cup spinach, 3 tablespoons scallions and 1 poached egg. Serves 4.