Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Julie's Quinoa Bowl with Roasted Tofu, Summer Squash, & Egg

A few weeks ago Julie challenged me to create something edible from a small list of ingredients. She proposed tofu, squash, and something from the Easter basket. By now, all that's left in the dredges of the Easter basket is the Easter basket grass and a few fruity flavored tootsie rolls. Not much to work with there, so I went back to Easter morning and thought about what was in that basket that would work well in a dish. The dyed eggs of coarse!! I immediately labeled myself as the most brilliant person ever, and went to work throwing together ingredients until I came up with something edible.

Quinoa seems to be the popular grain right now. It's high in protein, fiber, and all things good so I've been working with it more and more. It is very versatile and has a nice nutty flavor. You could substitute brown rice or any grain that you've been harboring in your cupboard. It's all tossed together with an avocado dressing. I tried to incorporate spring flavors here, so use the most seasonal veggies you can find to keep it fresh and delicious!

Julie's Quinoa Bowl with Roasted Tofu, Summer Squash, & Easter Eggs

for the dressing:
1 large avocado, ripe
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbls fresh chives, chopped
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 cup water
sea salt and chili flakes to taste

Prepare the dressing by blending the avocado, lemon juice, chives, garlic, yogurt, water, salt, and chili flakes in a blender or food processor. Set aside.
For the other salad components:

3 large eggs
12 oz tofu, drained and diced
1 large zucchini or yellow squash, sliced
1/4 cup E.V.O.O.
sea salt

2 cups quinos, cooked and cooled to room temp
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled
chopped chives for garnish

Hard boil the three eggs. Place eggs in a pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and let set for about 5-8 minutes. Cool them in an ice bath or under cold running water. Set aside.

While the eggs are cooling start prepping the zucchini and tofu by tossing it  with olive oil and salt in a medium bowl. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Place the tofu and zucchini on a large roasting pan or a couple of cookie sheets, drizzle with a touch more olive oil and roast in the oven until evenly browned, flipping and stirring half way through cooking time- about 15 minutes.

Crack and peel the cooled eggs, and cut each egg into quarters lengthwise.

Assemble the salad by tossing the quinoa with about 2/3 cup of the avocado dressing. Top with the roasted tofu and zucchini, pine nuts, eggs, goat cheese, and a bit of chopped chives for garnish. Serve this family style on a big platter with the left over dressing on the side. Belly up!!

Monday, April 15, 2013

North Carolina Grits

I was met with a three foot pile of snow piled and packed firmly around my car when I stepped off of the plane from Asheville, North Carolina this last weekend. I am determined to not get knocked down by the relentless weather. Instead, I'll focus on Asheville. The sunshine, the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, the barbeque, the hush puppies, and the grits. I never knew that I had such a crush on grits. They are delicious. I had them with cheddar. I had them with goat cheese. I had them with blue cheese. I had them with jalapenos and smoked cheddar. I was in love.

Asheville is a progressive city with a heavy hand in the local food movement. As my friend from Asheville explained, if restaurants are not using local ingredients, they are shutting down because no one is eating there.  Every restaurant was cooking up amazing food incorporating local fare and flavors into traditional foods. The fried green tomato eggs Benedict with smoked cheddar grits, bacon braised collards with brown butter scallops, regional cheeses with rhubarb caramel and homemade crackers, and a lot of very delicious barbequed critter with all of the fix'ns were a few things I had the opportunity to taste. I visited an olive oil tasting room with infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars that ranged from regional to around the globe. I was so excited that not only were the restauranteurs performing heroic acts of local food-ism, but so were the citizens. They clearly supported the local food scene. There were farm to table eateries, forest to table products, and over 20 farmer's markets!

I should mention that Asheville is dubbed 'Beer City U.S.A.'. There is an enormous amount of brewing going on! Boasting more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city, Asheville is home to 12 craft breweries. On any given day, about 50 locals beers can be enjoyed, served on draft and in bottles. The most memorable brews and brew houses were the Lexington Avenue Brewery (the LAB), the Pisgah Brewing Company in Black mountain, and the Bywater which is nestled along the French Broad river. I loved the laid back atmosphere, kicking back in the warmth of the sun, with bluegrass bands picking in the background- what more could you ask for?

Back to eating. I really want everyone to eat grits. They are easy to make, and they can be adorned with many things, sweet or savory. It seems like a trend to pair grits with some variety of cheese. Being from Wisconsin I will not argue that. I will embrace it. I'm thinking about spring time cheeses like Manchego, fresh goat cheeses, or Cotswold- that creamy and tangy deliciousness form England laced with onions and chives. Along with spring cheeses, I would love to swirl some seasonal vegetables in my grits. Grilled asparagus or ramps, roasted artichokes, or pan seared peas. Wilted arugula or spinach would also be great. One final touch may be a few toasted pine nuts or almonds thrown on top with minced chillies and a drizzle of meyer lemon infused olive oil. Yeah, that's how I want my next bowl of grits to go. A drizzle of maple syrup and caramelized pears would do if you wanted something sweet. Enjoy yours however you can imagine them to be. Belly up!!

2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter

Place the milk, water, and salt into a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once the milk mixture comes to a boil, gradually add the cornmeal while constantly whisking. Once all of the cornmeal has been incorporated, decrease the heat to low and cover. Remove lid and whisk frequently, every 3 to 4 minutes, to prevent grits from sticking or forming lumps; make sure to get into the corners of the pot when whisking. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until mixture is creamy.

Remove from heat, add the pepper and the butter, and whisk to combine. Once the butter is melted, gradually whisk in the cheese (if using) a little at a time. Top with other add ins and dive in immediately!