Caponata en Croute

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Caponata is a well known and much loved Italian antipasto that originated in Sicily.  A savory mix of vegetables and fried eggplant is perked up with sweetened vinegar and left to sit overnight in the refrigerator.

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Tonight we ate it “en croute”, wrapped in puff pastry, as the main dish.  It was served with a fresh salad and a little bit of fish.

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It’s incredibly versatile, and can be used as a side with Mahi-Mahi or roasted meats, as a main course, or as an appetizer that is served either on it’s own or with toast points.  Some versions even include pine nuts, almonds, or pumpkin seeds, and a bit of cocoa powder.  Like an Italian version of mole.  Feel free to add those if you are so inclined!

Caponata en Croute

Serves 4

Caponata the night before…

2 small eggplants, sliced in 1/2 inch strips (see instructions)

2 small red onions, cut in half, and then cut in 1/4 inch slices

1 celery stick, cut in 1/4 inch slices, and boiled for 4 minutes

1 large sweet red pepper, cut in 1/2 inch strips

1 T capers (if packed in salt, rinse and soak for at least an hour, changing water at least once to purge the salt.  If packed in vinegar, just rinse)

12 green olives, thinly sliced

6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded

1.5 T raw sugar mixed with 2 T red wine vinegar

about 2 C olive oil (give or take) for frying eggplant

black pepper and salt

Sprinkle eggplant strips with salt and let sit in a colander for at least an hour.  Rinse thoroughly, and press between dishtowels to dry.

Saute pepper and onion slices in olive oil with a pinch of salt.  Use a pan or pot with a cover – this will help the vegetables to retain moisture, and get a great texture.  I start with the peppers, and then add the onions once the peppers are about 1/2 way done.  Once the onions are nice and soft and translucent, add the tomato puree and cook for about 15 minutes with the cover on, stirring occasionally.  Take pan off heat and set aside.

Add olive oil to fry pan and heat to med/med low.  Whatever fry temperature is for your particular stovetop.  Fry the eggplant in batches, removing from the oil when they are golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.

Add the eggplant, capers, olives, and basil to the pepper and onion mixture.  Return the pan to the stove top and heat to medium.  Once it’s nice and hot, stir in the sugar vinegar mixture, cook for an additional 10 minutes, remove from heat, and let cool down.  Transfer to a container and let sit overnight and up to 3 days.

En Croute the night of…

1 rectangular sheet store bought puff pastry dough (use one made with oil if you prefer a vegan version)

1 beaten egg for brushing top of pastry (use oil if you don’t want to use egg)

dried oregano and Maldon or other flaky salt for sprinkling on top of pastry

Let caponata come to room temperature. Spread in center of pastry dough, and fold over edges.  Brush top with beaten egg or oil, and sprinkle with herbs and salt.  Cook according to package instructions.  The caponata is already cooked and does not need to be hot, so really you’re just cooking the pastry.

Enjoy!

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Straight From the Bottle Buttermilk Syrup

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Buttermilk Syrup

3/4 C cultured buttermilk

1/2 C unsalted butter, cubed

1 C sugar

1/2 t baking soda

Add all ingredients except baking soda to a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Stir occasionally.  Boil for 1 minute, remove from heat, and whisk in baking soda.

There aren’t many words to describe how good this syrup is, and there aren’t many words to describe what it actually tastes like.

It’s just really really good.

When it’s first made, it’s all froth, like this.

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As it settles, the parts come together in a more homogenized way.

Obviously, this syrup can be used on all manners of breakfast items like pancakes and french toast, but there are other ways to use it as well.

I think it might taste good in a whiskey cocktail for example.

And I know that it tastes good on chicken and waffles, and it also tastes good as a sweetener in coffee.

I also know that it tastes good by the spoonful, and based on the evidence, I’m sure it would taste good if you drank it straight from the bottle.

Personally I’ve never crossed the “drank straight from the bottle” line, but if I did, I would cover the bottle in plain brown paper, and tie it off with a piece of repurposed baling twine taken from some beautiful green hay.

Which is how I finally came up with the name of this blog post:

Straight from the Bottle Buttermilk Syrup.

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Marinated Cauliflower with Quick and Easy Miso Peanut Sauce

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That nice little bit of caramelization on the cauliflower comes from agave syrup.  You can get the same color by using a natural, unrefined sugar.  The agave was used in this recipe so there would be a bit of “sticky” to the cauliflower.

Agave syrup is not necessarily healthier for you – it’s quite processed and pretty high in calories.  It does however, handle the heat of a sear quite well without turning black and bitter like a sugar sometimes can.  It’s more similar to a corn syrup than a sugar when you add it to a sauce.

What is my favorite way to steam vegetables?  Well…this handy bamboo steamer is my absolute favorite way.  The taste is so clean and fresh.  Each compartment can hold a different vegetable, and even if you’re using them them together in a recipe, they retain their own unique flavor profile.

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Marinated Cauliflower with Quick and Easy Miso Peanut Sauce

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets and steamed

1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated

1 inch piece fresh turmeric, grated

3 cloves roasted garlic, mashed

1 t ground cumin

1 t ground mustard (why mustard?  Because cooking cauliflower and broccoli can unfortunately make some of their strongest nutritional benefits less available to your body.  Adding mustard or radish to the cooked vegetables will then provide the nutrients necessary to ‘unlock’ their potential.  If you eat these vegetables raw, then you get the full benefits)

1 dried hot Chinese or Thai pepper (whole)

1/2 C Braggs Amino Acids or Soy Sauce

2 T Agave Syrup

Quick and Easy Miso Peanut Sauce

1 C peanut butter (I did not use a “peanuts only” brand, because it doesn’t melt as well for this quick and easy version).  

1 t garlic powder

1 t dried minced onion

1/4 t powdered dried ginger

1 C miso broth (I used a very yummy natto miso brand, but you can use other types of miso broth as well. )

*optional* honey to taste

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together and pour over the steamed cauliflower.  Massage the marinade into the cauliflower and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.  To serve, heat a pan to medium and add a bit of oil so the cauliflower doesn’t stick.  Remove cauliflower from marinade and sear both sides.

For the peanut sauce, briefly heat the spices in the bottom of a pot, and then pour your water in.  Follow your miso directions.

Whisk the miso broth bit by bit into the peanut butter until the peanut butter is melted and it’s at the consistency you want.

I like this marinated cauliflower and peanut sauce best when served over mung bean noodles and a bunch of steamed vegetables like carrots and zucchini!

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Cauliflower and Chickpea Falafel Stacks

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These wonderful stacks taste great with a cucumber dressing, a hummus dressing, or even just lightly topped with olive oil and vinegar.  I’ve even eaten them with ketchup, and they taste fine with the ketchup as well!

The dried chickpeas need to be soaked at least overnight, and once the dough is made you’ll want to have it rest for a couple of hours.  This way the falafel patties will stay together once you start cooking them.

It’s not a traditional falafel recipe, but it’s a nice way to get even more vegetables into your diet.

Makes 6 hamburger sized patties

Cauliflower and Chickpea Falafel Stacks

About 1/2 a small head of cauliflower, which will give you about 2 cups ground cauliflower

1 cup fresh chickpeas that have been soaked overnight

About 1 cup green onion, white and green parts

3 cloves roasted garlic

Small bunch fresh parsley

1 t coriander

1 t cumin

1 T baking powder

1 t salt

About 1/2 cup chickpea flour (you may need more, depending on how much moisture the cauliflower has.

1 C Sunflower oil (or other oil of your choosing)

Roasted red pepper slices

Roasted sweet potato slices

Drain the chickpeas and let them sit in the colander while you begin preparing the dough.

Add cauliflower to a food processor, and pulse until the cauliflower is fine.

Add the vegetables, spices,  baking powder and salt.  Pulse until fully combined.

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Add the chickpeas and chickpea flour, pulsing until everything is incorporated, and the chickpeas have a crumb texture.  You don’t want to overmix it, or it will start turning into a hummus.

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Put the dough into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours.  Form into 1/2 inch thick patties. If the patties aren’t holding together well, add some more chickpea flour to the mixture.

Add the sunflower oil to a frying pan and heat to med/lo.  The oil should come up to almost 1/2 the side of the patty.  You’ll want to make sure that the oil is deeper, rather than shallow because it will help the patties to stay together.  Fry about 4 minutes on each side, drain on paper towels, and then top with the potato, pepper, and salad mix.  You can also put it in a pita for a sandwich!

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Truly Tasty Turkey and Cannellini Bean Burgers

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Hello juicy, full flavored turkey burgers!

Goodbye dry, bland, tasteless, boring, no texture meat puck on a plate!  This burger is so good that you can eat it PLAIN, without any condiments at all if you’re that type of person.  OR you can top it with whatever you would like.  Bacon, avocado, mayo, red peppers, onions, cheese and mushrooms, whatever your favorite burger toppings are.

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Some of the best beef burgers have a few things going for them:

1)  Fat, which is where the flavor comes from.

2)  A crispy, charred exterior with a juicy interior.

3) A crumb like texture to the grind of the meat, which gives it a satisfying bite.

Most turkey burgers lack:

1)  Fat, because turkey is low fat.  (Think 20% fat for a beef burger vs about 2% fat for a turkey burger)

2)  A crispy, charred exterior because it’s hard to brown something with no fat to it, cook the inside fully, and not have it dry.  It’s just difficult.  It’s difficult to do that with a beef burger, which is why they are usually served still pink in the inside.  You can’t have pink inside poultry burgers.  They have to be fully cooked.

3)  Unless you’re grinding it yourself, most ground turkey you purchase is reduced to a level that resembles a mousse or pate more than it resembles a ground meat.  This results in a very unburger like texture for something called a burger.

There’s actually a bit of a science behind a good burger, and here is what’s the most interesting of all.  The SMELL OF THE BURGER IS WHAT TRIGGERS YOUR MOUTH TO SALIVATE.  

So, it’s not so much the burger itself that is juicy, but your mouth that is juicy.

True!  Scientists have actually studied this.  Burgers with equal amounts of moisture, but cooked differently resulted in either a “drier” or “wetter” mouth.  And what was it about the smell that triggered the brain to start the mouth salivating?  Well, char (like on a barbecue or from a griddle), and scented fat molecules floating through the air and into your nose like fat wrapped flavor gifts.  As the tongue hit the outside charred parts, the mouth was already salivating.  Super interesting.

So how could I get a decent turkey burger with this information?

1)  Season the meat with roasted garlic, bouillon, dried onion flakes, and liquid smoke.  Each of these carries a happy, and heady aroma on their own.  You MUST use oil in the pan or these will stick.  Avocado oil was the perfect choice.  It has a fairly high smoking point, and you don’t need a lot of it.  Plus, it’s really healthy for you, and I’ve found that foods cooked in it tend to retain their moisture.

2) Achieve as close as possible to a charred exterior on the burger by having irregular edges, and cooking them in a cast iron skillet.  Finish them off in the oven to make sure the inside was cooked.

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3) Use cannellini (or white) beans to add texture and bite.  These also aid in the moisture department.  Since turkey and white beans are a great match in several recipes, I didn’t think twice about using them.

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The turkey and bean mixture are combined with a rubber scraper so it doesn’t get packed down and dense.  You want those little air pockets if possible.  They’ll still compact when formed into patties, but they wont be horribly dense and textureless.

I’m not sure how they’ll turn out on the grill, but if one of you tries it, let me know!

Truly Tasty Turkey and Cannellini Bean Burgers

Preheat oven to 400F or 200C

1 lb ground turkey

2 cups canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cube bouillon

1 T dried onion flakes

1 clove roasted garlic

1/2 t liquid smoke

*note* – it’s better to use a low or no salt bouillon for this dish so you can control the salt amount.  Do not add any salt if you are using a regular bouillon. Use your hands to crush the cube into a powder.

Combine beans, onion flakes, garlic, and bouillon in a food processor.  Pulse repeatedly until everything is broken down, but try not to make it a hummus like paste.

Use a large bowl to mix the turkey, bean mixture, and the 1/2 t liquid smoke.  Form into patties with nooks and crannies.  The beans act as a binder, just like fat would in a regular burger.  You don’t need to pack them tightly to make sure they hold together.  These do not reduce in size horribly, so make them about the size of, or a little bit larger than the bun you are using.

Heat up a cast iron pan over med, or med low heat.  Add about 2 T avocado oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Keep the bottle of oil to the side and add more as needed.

Cook without turning for about 4 minutes or so.  The time is best judged by the look of the burger, rather than the timer.  When the burger is turning color about 1/2 way up, carefully flip to the other side.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until the color on the new side has just caught up with the top of the burger.

Your burger isn’t fully cooked yet, but you’ll want to take it off the stove top and transfer it to the oven to finish.

Transfer entire pan to the top shelf of the oven and continue cooking for at least 5 minutes.  You should be able to see some juicy goodness starting to ooze out of the tops or sides of the burgers. If it’s real red, leave the burgers in for another 2-3 minutes.  If they are just starting to run clear, it’s the perfect time to pull them out.  They will continue to cook as you get them on the bun and put the toppings on.  Don’t worry if they cooked really quickly in the oven and the juices oozing out of the top look a little oily and not clear.  That just means they already finished.  They will still taste great, and not be too dry at all.

Enjoy! (I ate 2 1/2 of these guys while writing this post.  And I may or may not have snipped the edge off of a 3rd one.  They are that tasty!)

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Spanish Style Chorizo and Chestnut Soup

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Ecclesiastes 1:9

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

This is how I feel when some “not always available” or “hard to find on a daily basis” food items show up at the grocery store, and I decide they would taste good together.

“Not always available ingredients” like authentic Spanish Chorizo and vacuum packed chestnuts.  Don’t ask me why, but I thought “I bet these would taste good together – let me make a recipe.”  So I bought them both.

Sure enough, all anyone has to do, is google the ingredients they want to use. Someone already did this.  

And they might have been doing this for hundreds, or even thousands of years.

Nothing new under the sun, folks.  Apparently other people thought that chorizo and chestnuts would taste good together.  And I LOVE finding that out!  Someone, somewhere, at some time, thought the same thing! 

I’ve never been to Spain, but according to a preliminary search of “chorizo and castagna zuppa”, this dish is somewhat popular with chefs around the globe who all say that it’s Spanish in origin.  

I’ve probably made this about 4 times in the last 4 months.  It takes a bit of time to make.  You can eat it right away, but it is really really good the next day.

Pasta is not usually included, but now, at the 5th time, my husband and I agree it tastes better with “a bit of pasta”.  We had it plain, we had it with a bit of bread in the broth, and we had it with bread on the side.

It tastes the best when you serve it the day after cooking it, with “a bit of pasta”.  I put the pasta on the side so everyone can choose how much they want to put in.

*note: the browning (caramelization) of the onions and chorizo is an important step to building a deep, rich flavor*

This is a recipe for 2

Spanish Style Chorizo and Chestnut Soup

1 medium onion, chopped

85 g (3 oz) Spanish Chorizo, chopped

1 T olive oil

1 clove fresh garlic, minced (or 1/2 t dried garlic powder)

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped

1/2 C strong red wine

1 T tomato paste

1 T dried oregano

1 can tomatoes

1 litre vegetable broth

1 bay leaf

200 g (7 oz) vacuum packed chestnuts, chopped

1 C small dried pasta, cooked to al dente

Cook olive oil, onions, and chorizo over med/low heat in an uncovered stock pot.  Cook, stirring once in a while for about 10 minutes or until onions are starting to brown.

Stir in garlic, celery, and carrots, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring at least once.  Add wine, stir, and scrape up any little bits that might have stuck to the bottom of the pan.  

Stir in tomato paste and oregano.  Add the tomatoes, vegetable broth, and bay leaf.  Stir and cover.

Simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and let cool down a bit before proceeding to the next step.

Pour 1/2 the soup into a blender and add the chopped chestnuts.  Blend on high until smooth.  The color will change from a deep, dark red, to a light cream color.

Return the chestnut blend to the stock pot, add the fresh oregano, stir, cover, and simmer for another hour, stirring occasionally.

Let the soup cool down, and then transfer it to a container for the refrigerator.

For serving, heat the soup, ladle into dishes, top with fresh parsley, and then add the cooked pasta directly to the soup, or serve the pasta on the side for everyone to add as they will.

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Oyster Mushrooms in Ginger Turmeric Broth

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Who knew that Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), contained something called “Ubiquitin” which stops influenza A viruses in their tracks?  Flu viruses from that strain simply can’t replicate themselves in your cells if “ubiquitin” is present.

All I know, is that I have been craving vegetables, and soup.  Yes, I’ve been eating other things, but mainly I crave vegetables and soup.

This easy soup comes together in less than 1/2 an hour, and serves 2 people with small appetites.

*Edited to add 1/2 t maitake mushroom powder, stirred in at the end.  The maitake mushroom is another strong immune system builder*

Oyster Mushrooms in Ginger Turmeric Broth

1 litre – 4 cups vegetable broth

1 t grated ginger

1 t grated turmeric

1/2 t ground pepper

1 t dried lemongrass

1 t minced garlic

Bring all ingredients to a boil.  Then add next ingredients.  Reduce to simmer and add next ingredients.

1 large piece coste or bok choy, sliced thin

1/2 t fresh hot pepper,minced (or more depending on heat)

Simmer for 5 minutes or so.

80 grams fresh oyster mushrooms, whole, woody bottom removed

Simmer for another 5 minutes or so.  Remove from heat.

1/2 t coconut oil

1/2 t maitake mushroom powder

minced chives

Stir in oil and mushroom powder.  Top with chives, ladle into dishes, and serve.

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