Nothing tops off salad like crunchy croutons! In this toss-together salad, croutons add visual appeal plus textural contrast to smooth roasted peppers and tooth-tender olives. They’re the ultimate salad accessory. Store-bought croutons, however, tend to contain a list of unpronounceable ingredients that leave an odd taste on the tongue. Not such a great accessory, after all. But luckily, it’s easy to make your own whole-grain, ultra-savory croutons.
You don’t even have to “make” croutons, by the way — just look for whole-grain crackers (Mary’s Gone Crackers pops into my mind) and break them into bite-sized bits. Those make interesting ultra-thin croutons. Or cut your favorite whole-grain bread into cubes, saute the cubes in extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat until they’re turning golden brown, and then add your favorite spices, toss well, and cook for a final minute. So simple.
For this batch of croutons, I opted to do both: make my own crackers and then break them into croutons. That way, I figured I’d have crackers and croutons to enjoy. I was intrigued by a recipe in this month’s Food & Wine that used tomato paste as a main ingredient. Talk about instant savoriness! Plus, it’s a great way to make use of an opened can — normally, recipes only call for a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, and then you’re left wondering what to do with the rest. (I suggest opting for tomato paste in a tube instead. That kind is much easier to stash in the fridge and use later.) Next time you’re facing a use-it-or-lose-it tomato paste conundrum, try making these 100% whole-grain crackers! And then enjoy them as crackers or croutons.
Roasted Peppers, Olives & Mixed Greens with Cracker Croutons
Makes about 30 crackers. How much salad you’d like to make is up to you.
For the crackers/croutons:
1 cup buckwheat flour (I used raw buckwheat, but toasted buckwheat — also called “kasha” — would work, too)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano
2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning (or 2 tsp. total dried basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, or sage)
Dash of cayenne (optional)
Generous grinding of fresh peppercorns
Dash sea salt
1 stick butter, preferably from grass-fed cows, well-chilled
For the salad:
Roasted red pepper, chopped
Pitted green olives, chopped (I used green Niçoise olives)
Generous splash extra-virgin olive oil
Splash of red wine OR sherry OR cider vinegar
To make the crackers/croutons, place all ingredients except the butter into a food processor and blend well. Cut the butter into chunks, add to processor, and blend until the dough forms a ball and goes whump! against the side of the processor.
Place the dough on a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap. (The former is easier to deal with.) Weight the edges and shape the dough into a log, either with your hands and/or by rolling the dough across the parchment into a log shape. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or even overnight if you like.
Preheat oven to 350F. Cut the log into even slices, making them about 1/4″ thick. Arrange on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.
To make the salad, toss all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Break the crackers into crouton-sized pieces and toss again. Serve promptly. Leftover completely cooled crackers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week, although keep in mind they’re best served at room temp.
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You’ve probably come across chicken paprikash, but you can pair the “paprikash” part of the dish with whatever you like, from potatoes to beef. It’s the lovely sauce based on bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and sour cream that makes the difference. In this case, I decided to crack an egg onto leftover potatoes paprikash and enjoy a combination of scrambled eggs + paprikash for breakfast. Talk about a flavorful and simple way to start the day!
I opted for fingerlings (or “sausage potatoes,” as I’ve heard some people call them) since fingerlings are easy to cut into bite-sized pieces, but you could use whatever variety of potato you like best, from Yukons to redskins. Just be sure to pre-cook the potatoes for a nicer final texture. It doesn’t add any total cooking time since you can simmer the potatoes while you saute the other ingredients. This dish can play whatever role you prefer: breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Potatoes Paprikash with Scrambled Eggs
Makes enough for 4 portions plus leftovers for breakfasts.
10 fingerling potatoes OR about 1/2 lb. any potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed
1 small onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T. (or more) sweet paprika
1 tsp. caraway seeds, optional
Dash Aleppo pepper OR crushed red pepper flakes
1 T. tomato paste
1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt OR whole-milk sour cream, preferably from grass-fed cows
4 eggs, preferably from pastured hens*
Simmer potatoes in water for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain well.
While potatoes simmer, melt a generous pat of butter (or heat a splash of extra-virgin olive oil) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add peppers and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 5 minutes or until the onions are becoming translucent and fragrant. Add the garlic, spices, and tomato paste and stir well to combine. Cook another 5 minutes or until garlic is soft and fragrant. Stir in the drained potatoes and heat through. Move the skillet off the heat and stir in the yogurt or sour cream.
If you want to include the eggs with the dish when you make it originally, add the eggs before you add the yogurt. Cook, stirring the eggs into the paprikash, for 3 minutes or until the egg is opaque. Then remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt.
If you want un-egged paprikash, omit the eggs. Leftover paprikash can be refrigerated for 5 days, and you can simply reheat it over medium-low heat, crack the egg onto the paprikash, and cook for 3 minutes or until egg is opaque. You’ll get the best flavor and texture if you add the egg right before you’d like to eat the dish.
* I added the eggs to the leftover paprikash rather than including them when I originally served the dish. It’s up to you.
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Globe-trotting through cuisine is always fun, and it’s even more fun when a friend has recently visited an interesting place and brings back traveling tales and fond food memories. Thanks to a recent trip a friend paid to Hungary, I’ve had goulash and all things paprika-containing on the brain, so I thought I’d come up with my own riff on a sweet dish using typical Hungarian ingredients — in this case, ice cream made with apricots and poppy seeds. Aside from being an instant source of non-watery apricots (fresh apricots would be so juicy that the ice cream would have a tendency to crystallize), the no-sugar-added apricot jam I used had the added benefit of naturally sweetening the ice cream so that I didn’t need to add as much maple syrup as I normally do. Don’t get me wrong — I love maple syrup, especially with chocolate! — but it doesn’t need to be the dominant flavor all the time.
Allowing a mellow apricot flavor to shine through also lets you really taste the poppy seeds. Just be sure to sample a few seeds before using them to make sure that they’re still fresh. If they taste flatly oily or have an unpleasant scent, they’re rancid and need to be thrown out. Any kind of seed is delicate and should be refrigerated to prolong its life, so I always stash my poppy seeds in a glass jar in the fridge. And here’s a hot budgetary tip: you can usually find poppy seeds bagged in bulk sections of produce- or health-focused grocery stores for much less than they cost in the spice aisle.
Apricot-Poppy Seed Ice Cream
Makes about 3 1/2 cups ice cream.
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, preferably from grass-fed cows
1 cup milk, preferably from grass-fed cows
3 egg yolks, preferably from pastured hens
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup no-sugar-added apricot jam (I used Tree of Life’s apricot jam; lovely stuff!)
2 tsp. vanilla
Place all ingredients EXCEPT the vanilla in a medium-large pot and whisk well over low heat. Increase heat to medium and bring to an almost-simmer, whisking often. This will probably take a few minutes. You really need to keep an eye on the pot and keep whisking it so that the eggs don’t wind up solidifying into chunks. When you can see steam rising up and the surface barely rippling, you’re almost there. Whisk constantly for another 30 seconds.
Pour into a cool large bowl, whisk in the vanilla, and let cool to room temperature. You can transfer it to the fridge as soon as it’s lukewarm to speed up the cooling process. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer directions. It’s best to freeze homemade ice cream in containers just big enough to hold the ice cream — the more headroom the ice cream has, the more likely it is to freeze into a not-so-scoopable brick and/or to crystallize. Of course, if that happens, just let the ice cream sit on the counter for 10 to 20 minutes to soften it before serving.
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Avocados are generally something we eat cold, not hot: as guacamole, tossed with salads, sliced and layered onto sandwiches. But why not cook with avocados? Their creamy richness is just as delicious (if not more so) when heated — they’re as welcome in stir-frys as they are as taco toppings. Let’s play with our food! When you start to view avocados as potential ingredients for hot and cold recipes, you’ll find so many more ways to appreciate them.
Remember, it’s easy to only use one-half or even one-quarter of an avocado at a time. Simply cut the avocado in half (or neatly cut out one-quarter of it and tug it away from the pit to pull it free), then tightly wrap the remaining half in plastic wrap, gently pressing along the surface to make sure there aren’t any air bubbles. If no air can get to the flesh, then the avocado won’t brown. Some people say you should coat the surface with lemon juice to prevent browning, but I don’t do that if I’m going to plastic-wrap the half — an acidic ingredient like lemon juice could cause the plastic to degrade and break down. Stash your cut avocado in the fridge and then use it within three days. If any browning does occur, just skim it away with the edge of a knife before enjoying the rest of the avocado.
For this dish, I paired avocado with scrambled eggs, sauteed peppers, and a wisp of grated cheese. The peppers provide a crunchy, sweet counterpoint to the smooth eggs and avocado, and the cheese adds an umami-rich level of savoriness. (I used Dry Vella cheese, but any aged hard cheese would be lovely, from Parmesan to Manchego.) It’s a simple, quick, and very satisfying breakfast or lunch. And it’s a great way to use avocados!
Scrambled Eggs with Avocados & Peppers
Serves 2. Double or triple the recipe as you wish.
1 small sweet bell pepper, flesh only, diced
1 small avocado (or one-half of a large avocado), flesh only, cubed
2 to 4 eggs, depending on how many you want per person, preferably pastured eggs
Grated hard aged cheese for garnish (good candidates include Parmesan, Manchego, aged Gouda, aged Cheddar, etc.)
Sweet paprika for garnish (or smoked paprika if you prefer)
Melt a generous knob of butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes or until peppers are soft. Reduce heat to medium-low, add cubed avocado, and crack in eggs. Gently scramble with a wooden spoon, stirring almost constantly so that the eggs cook quickly and evenly. It should only take a minute or two for the eggs to turn opaque and creamy. (Pastured eggs cook especially quickly; in fact, any animal product from a pastured animal cooks quickly since it’s so lean.)
Immediately transfer eggs onto cool plates to halt their cooking. Garnish with cheese and a sprinkling of paprika. Serve promptly.
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Summertime finally beckons, and so do the strawberries. It’s a bit too early for strawberries here in Michigan, but organic strawberries grown in warmer states are starting to show up in local markets. (Seeing as strawberries are one of the top-sprayed fruits, they’re worth buying organic.) This is wonderful news for those of us enamored of the sweet-tart fruit with its appealingly tiny and crunchy little seeds. Time to haul out the egg slicer and use it to create perfectly sliced strawberries! You can enjoy them whole, of course, but sliced strawberries are ideal for tossing into everything from muffin batters and plain whole-milk Greek yogurt to salads and chicken dishes.
Strawberries are delicious paired with pasta, too, especially when combined with savory peppered bacon and a generous dash of cream. (The latter is a fun alternative to tossing the pasta with extra-virgin olive oil. You can’t go wrong with organic strawberries and grass-fed cream!) I added green beans to provide contrasting color and texture and because green beans are also starting to come into season in warmer areas of the country. This truly is a dish to welcome sunnier days!
Strawberry Pasta with Bacon & Green Beans
Serves 2. Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
2 servings whole-grain pasta of your choice (be sure to use gluten-free pasta if you’re making a gluten-free dish; I opted for brown rice fusilli)
Generous handful of green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
6 to 8 strawberries, preferably organic
4 to 6 strips of cooked bacon (peppered if you wish), preferably from pastured hogs*
Generous splash of cream, preferably from grass-fed cows
Prepare pasta according to package directions. Add the green beans during the final 3 minutes of cooking. Drain well.
While pasta and beans cook, trim away the tops of the strawberries and then either use an egg slicer to slice them or cut them into slices. Coarsely chop the bacon into small pieces. Toss with cooked pasta and beans, stir in the splash of cream, and serve immediately.Talk about an easy five-ingredient meal!
* See my post on “Bringing Home the Non-Messy Bacon” for tips on making bacon.
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You could say I’ve been on a muffin kick lately, both in a sweet and savory kind of way. But here’s my thought: muffins are just so easy to make and so versatile , you can’t have too many muffin recipes. And muffins can be downright hearty when you make them with ingredients like eggs, beans, whole cooked grains, and cheese. No need to run to the vending machine halfway through the morning when you’ve had such a satisfying breakfast! And no need to worry about getting breakfast on the table when it’s already sitting neatly wrapped in the fridge.
These egg-based muffins have a decidedly south-of-the-border flavor thanks to the tomatoes, beans, and cilantro whisked into the batter. I’ve included oregano, too, to give them a light undercurrent of warmth. If you’d rather make these muffins spicier, feel free to throw a tablespoon of chili powder and a dash of cayenne into the batter. Cumin fans may also want to add a teaspoon of cumin. I’m a giant cumin fan myself, just not for breakfast, and I wanted these to be breakfast muffins. But you can play with your own blend of spices for this (and nearly every other recipe).
Quinoa, Black Bean, Tomato & Egg Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.
1/2 cup raw quinoa, either black, red, or tan
1/4 cup corn flour (NOT corn starch!)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. sea salt
4 eggs, preferably from free-range hens
1 cup black beans, drained, preferably from a BPA-free can
3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes
Handful of cilantro leaves (pluck free from the stems), well-rinsed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 375F and line a muffin tin with parchment-paper muffin cups.
Add quinoa and 1 cup water to a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes or until quinoa has begun to uncurl and you can see their cute little tails. Drain well.
In a small bowl, whisk together the corn flour, baking powder, oregano, and sea salt. If you want to add any other spices (see recipe headnote above), whisk them in as well. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Stir in cooked and drained quinoa and dry ingredients, stirring until well-blended.
Scoop batter into waiting cups and bake for 20 minutes or until tops are turning golden brown. Let cool on wire rack.
These muffins are tasty any time, but especially when warm right out of the oven. You could serve them with salsa, guacamole, and/or sour cream/whole-milk plain Greek yogurt if you’d like to give them extra flair. Muffins can be refrigerated for a week.
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While I don’t always agree with the “five ingredients or fewer” rule — a dish with half a dozen spices sounds good to me despite being a rulebreaker — it is true that simple is best, and it’s also true that some of the tastiest dishes do indeed have five ingredients or fewer. (Side note, but one that I feel compelled to point out since I’m a freelance editor as well as a writer: “fewer” is used when you can count the number of objects “fewer” refers to; “less” is used with non-countable concepts. Hence a dish has fewer ingredients because you can count them, whereas a person is less confident than someone else because you can’t quantify a personal quality. Hopefully knowing that rule makes it less confusing to know when you use “fewer” or “less”!)
But back to the recipe. This incredibly simple and savory dish came about because I had radishes, carrots, and grape tomatoes on hand and wanted to make a veggie-based dinner. When I realized I also had a wedge of Kerrygold’s Cashel Blue cheese (which is my favorite blue cheese of all time — it’s very obviously a blue, but its buttery nature calms its assertive side), I thought it would be interesting to roast the lot of vegetables and then toss it with the cheese.
As I had hoped, the radishes became so mellow that they tasted almost like potatoes after being roasted, the carrots and tomatoes acquired a caramelized sweetness, and the Cashel Blue halfway melted into the veggies and became an instant luscious cream sauce. In one word: delish! In another: easy! Of course, you can roast any veggie you like. Much like bacon, everything is fabulous when topped with Cashel Blue.
Roasted Radishes with Cashel Blue
Preheat oven to 375F and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scrub and trim ends from radishes, then cut into quarters. Scrub carrots (preferably organic) and trim, then cut into matchsticks. Rinse grape tomatoes well and cut in half.
In a medium bowl, toss radishes with unrefined peanut oil OR melted ghee OR coconut oil. Arrange on one-third of the baking sheet. In the same bowl, toss the carrots with the oil. Arrange on sheet. Repeat with tomatoes. If you’re roasting lots of veggies, you might need as many as three baking sheets. I filled one sheet for one dinner-sized portion. It’s a good idea to keep the veggies separate in case one group roasts more quickly than the others — then you can pull it out as needed.
Bake 20 minutes or until the veggies are golden brown. Immediately slide into a bowl big enough to comfortably hold the veggies. Toss with a wedge of Cashel Blue OR your favorite blue cheese, tossing gently to break up the cheese and coat the veggies. Serve immediately. You can store leftovers in the fridge for four days, but this is really best when eaten piping-hot from the oven.
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Ever heard of matcha? It’s powdered green tea that’s a specialty of Japan, usually presented and served during an elaborate tea ceremony. The ultra-fine green powder is whisked into hot water with a bamboo whisk until it has completely dissolved. Not much is used since matcha is only made from the highest-quality, most flavorful tea leaves. If you’ve only had standard green tea, you’ll be surprised at how much more flavorful matcha is! You can find bags of matcha in Japanese grocery stores or in well-stocked mainstream grocery stores featuring a large section of Asian goods.
Because matcha can taste a little bitter, it’s often paired with something sweet and/or creamy, like being served alongside a traditional Japanese sweet cake or (in a modern twist) being blended into green tea ice cream. For my riff on matcha, I thought I’d go with that same sweet/creamy idea and blend the fine powder into a coconut smoothie tinged with coconut nectar. The resulting flavor is smooth but striking — you probably haven’t tasted anything quite like it before. If you’d like a thicker shake, use more coconut milk and less water; if you’d like a sweeter shake, add a little more nectar. And if you’re a newbie to the green tea scene, perhaps start with half the amount of matcha and taste your blended shake before adding more of the matcha. Either way, you’ll end up with a delicately light green shake that captures the spirit of matcha (and its health benefits) while taming it with a little sweetness and creaminess.
Speaking of creaminess, be sure to use whole coconut milk. If you can only find light coconut milk, then use 1 cup of that rather than cutting it with water. But I’m a big fan of whole coconut milk — why pay for a diluted product when you can dilute it yourself with water? Cutting whole coconut milk 50/50 with water means you get an immediate 50% discount!
Coconut Matcha Shake
Makes one serving.
2 ice cubes
1/2 tsp. matcha powder
2 tsp. coconut nectar OR maple syrup
1/2 cup whole coconut milk
1/2 cup water
Dash of vanilla extract
Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. It’s best to add them to the blender in the order stated — if you drop the ice cubes in last, they’ll splash and make a mess, and if you add the matcha last, the powder won’t blend into the liquid ingredients as smoothly.
Taste your blended shake to see if you’d like to add a little more nectar/syrup (or matcha, for that matter). Pour into a waiting glass and let it sit for a minute or two to allow a nice head of froth to build up on top. Froth is the best part! I like to scoop up the froth with a spoon and then drink the rest.
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You may not associate the word “lush” with muffins, but when you make them with velvety crème fraîche, that’s exactly what they are: lush. Throw in an extra (preferably free-range) egg, some buttery pecans, and a dollop of naturally sweet pumpkin, and you get lush-plus muffins.
Be sure to use Grade B maple syrup, too, rather than Grade A — the grading system refers to when the syrup was tapped, and that in turn affects the syrup’s final flavor. Grade A syrup is tapped earlier in the season, when there’s more water running through the trees; Grade B is tapped later, when the season is drier. Starting out with a lower water content is like starting out with a sauce that’s already partially reduced — it already will have a more concentrated flavor. Grade A tastes sweeter because it isn’t as maple-y, but I’m a maple fan, so I always opt for more maple-ness and less sweetness. And in the case of these muffins, a decidedly maple flavor pairs beautifully with the pumpkin and pecans.
Pumpkin-Pecan Muffins with Crème Fraîche
Makes 12 muffins.
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour*
1/4 cup sorghum flour*
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 cup chopped pecans OR walnuts
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 eggs, preferably from free-range hens
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup canned or freshly roasted and pureed pumpkin
Preheat oven to 400F and line a 12-cup muffin tin with muffin cups made of parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, spices, and nuts. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until well-blended. Scoop into the waiting cups.
Bake for 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center-most muffin comes out clean and warm. Let cool on wire rack. Muffins can be refrigerated for 5 days. They make great breakfasts, especially when you cut them in half and then spoon on more crème fraîche.
* These are gluten-free flours. If you’d rather make a wheat-based version, use 3/4 cup barley, spelt, kamut, or whole-wheat flour. Do NOT substitute for the coconut flour — the absorbency rate for coconut flour is very different than for most other flours, and I developed this recipe to suit coconut flour’s unique properties. Also, coconut flour is far lower in starch than almost any other flour, so using it in these muffins makes them all the more satisfying and nutritious.
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