Diet Food, My Way

25 08 2011

This week has not gone as planned on the blogging front.  I have a bunch of posts just dying to have their chance in the spotlight, one I even had to stop working to jot down this morning.  But of course I left that notebook at work.  Fortunately, I’ve got one of these “One Meal, One Photo, One Sentence” pictures up my sleeve.

Roasty-roasty

Roasted salmon, risotto made with shrimp stock and roasted zucchini.  This is what I make when I’m trying to eat lighter.  Really.

On this day in 2009: The Land of Chocolate (includes my recipe for premium chocolate ice cream)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Vegetable and Grain Salad

14 07 2011

You can try to plan it out.  You can try to make sure you have holiday-appropriate recipes all ready in advance.  You can spend hours taking that perfect photo.  You can read, and re-read, and edit.  You can post regularly, multiple times per week, or day.  There are lots of you who do, and that’s why your blogs are better than mine.  Me, I’m in a phase with my blog right now where I am just letting it come to me.  If I don’t have inspiration to write about something, I’m not going to force you to read my pained output.  I’ve got a couple of books I’ve been trying to write about for weeks now.  But I’m afraid the truth is I don’t have much to say about them.  What I am excited about right now, and what I want to share with you, is this:

Don't judge a book by its cover.

I know.  It kind of looks like barf.  But this is just one in a parade of such grain-and-vegetable salads I’ve made over the last few weeks.  I wouldn’t keep making if they weren’t tasty.  It started with a box of blé, which translates literally to “wheat” but often refers in French to a particular product that resembles wheat berries in the way that Uncle Ben’s resembles rice.  I acquired this box of blé when a friend was moving away, and Nick and I both actually like the stuff – it’s a nice change from rice or pasta – so using hasn’t really been a problem.  But one day it occurred to me, perhaps following a party at a friend’s where she served a couple of delicious grain-based salads, that I could use the blé as more than just a side dish.  Combine that epiphany with a weekly delivery of fresh vegetables and an uncommonly delicious salad dressing, and you’ve got what’s been a very popular dinner in my house of late.

So far I’ve done it with asparagus, broccoli, and zucchini, but I suspect it’s also good with green beans, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, winter squash… you get the idea.  When I finally ran out of blé, I bought and used petit épeautre* which was equally successful.  I originally wanted to type this up as a nice recipe (see above re: planning), but the more I think about it, the more I think this is something you should be able to play around with.

Here’s how it goes.  Cook your grains in a pot of boiling water.  (If they require it, as my spelt did, soak them ahead of time.)  While the grains are cooking, make the dressing** and prepare and cook your vegetables.  Roasting and sautéeing are my preferred methods, for the flavorful browned bits they produce, but if you’d rather just steam yours over the already boiling pot of water, that’s fine, too, and saves energy to boot.  When the grains are tender, drain them and gently stir in the vegetables and dressing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  A little crisped bacon, chunks of ham, or shredded cooked chicken would be good additions, too, but I assure you it’s just fine without the meat.  Some toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds add a nice crunch.  Fresh herbs like parsley or basil could add a fresh note.  See what I mean?  This “recipe” is so infinitely adaptable I see no reason to commit to just one version.

Have fun with it, and happy Bastille Day!

*Anyone who knows the difference between spelt and farro, and their respective names in French, is implored to comment here and enlighten me and my readers.

** I linked to the dressing recipe above, but here’s my paraphrased version: take a small pot of plain yogurt (about 125 grams or 4 ounces), add 4 big spoonfuls of tahini, a big pinch of salt, the juice of half a lemon, and a couple of smashed garlic cloves.  Blend them together.  The flavor of this dressing can vary according to the juiciness of the lemon and the pungency of the garlic, but it is always delicious.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





You Say Courgette, I Say Zucchini

7 08 2009

I know I’m not the only one with a glut of zucchini these days.  Every week I get at least one bag of it from the CSA panier, and I’m trying not to cook it the same way twice.  They are beautiful specimens, just the right size with lovely mottled dark green skin.  So far I’ve made muffins (I can do better), dunked raw spears into homemade ranch dressing (which reminds me that I have yet to make that fried chicken liver salad I’ve had my eye on), grilled slices of it to accompany aged Gouda cheeseburgers on homemade brioche buns, and made a LOT of pasta sauce.  And all of that has been very good – well, except for the muffins, which were edible but nothing to write home about – but I wanted to make a meal out of these tasty vegetables, rather than relegating them to side dish territory.

Pancetta makes everything better!

“Casserole” is a word that for some reason has not-so-good connotations.  “Zucchini Bake” sounds a little dumpy.  Lasagna it isn’t, even though one time I put some no-bake lasagna noodles in between the layers of zucchini planks, with delicious results.  I guess “Strata” may best describe this concoction of mine, considering it is a layered, baked dish.  But a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?  Names aside, it comes together like this: slice some zucchini lengthwise and lay them down in a baking dish.  Season with salt, pepper, minced garlic, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Top with paper-thin slices of pancetta and some caramelized onions.  Repeat.  Finish with a layer of zucchini planks and top with a couple of sliced tomatoes (which you are probably long on as well).

Zucchini Strata, before

Throw the dish in the oven and forget about it for an hour or so.  (Well, you might want to give it a half-turn after about 30 minutes, if your oven is anything like mine.)  When the tomato slices are starting to look a little roasty and the zucchini has drawn itself a nice, hot bath, put some slices of fresh mozzarella on top and return the dish to the oven until the cheese has melted.

Zucchini Strata, after

It occurred to me while I was baking my first zucchini strata (oh, you can bet there were more) that all that zucchini liquid could be put to good use.  I could have put breadcrumbs or even slices of bread between the layers to soak it up.  But as I ate, mopping up the flavorful juice with hunks of Really Good Bread, I thought it would almost be a shame not to have that saucy component.  There was the aforementioned variation with the lasagna noodles, which left plenty of liquid for my bread-dipping enjoyment.  It also had prosciutto, basil and goat cheese, which I’m telling you because I don’t want you to feel limited to my choices of zucchini accompaniments.  You don’t need a recipe, just slice up some zucchini, layer it with some other stuff you like, and bake.  Serve with bread.  It’s that simple.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Exploring France: Pays Basque: Piment d’Espelette

15 05 2009

When did it get to be May 15th?  And here I am, writing my first post for what is supposed to be “Basque month.”  I have been doing some research, but so far that has not been apparent on my blog.  At any rate, I’m kicking things off with one of the produits phares* of the Basque Country.

Piment d'Espelette in its dried, ground, jarred form

Piment d’Espelette is a mild (around 4,000 on the Scoville scale for you chili geeks out there) red pepper with hints of smoke and a slight bittersweet quality.  It was brought to Europe from Mexico in the 16th century, along with many other New World food “discoveries” such as potatoes, tomatoes, and corn.  The Basque country was found to be an ideal climate for cultivating the small, elongated, bright red peppers, and the piment d’Espelette soon became an integral part of Basque cooking.  It gained AOC status in 2000, and now commands fairly hefty price tags.  On account of this, I had been holding off buying some, until one day, browsing in G. Detou (after stops at La Bovida and Mora– Les Halles can be dangerous!) I found a jar of that lovely reddish-orange powder for half of what they were charging at the grocery store.  I also came home with 3 kilos of Valrhona cocoa powder, but that’s neither here nor there.

The humble beginnnings of a tasty pasta sauce

I’ve been using it sparingly here and there, but this week, all that changed.  Apparently Spring’s sudden onslaught (and just as sudden retreat) has wreaked a bit of havoc on the farms that provide me with my CSA panier.  The bag was positively bulging the previous week, with more lettuce than two people could possibly eat in a week, barring some kind of fad diet.  This week, though, they had to supplement with some zucchini from the Drôme.  And they are beauties.  Small, slender and sweet, they gave me the urge to sauté them up with a little tomato and toss them over a big bowl of whole wheat spaghetti.  And then it occurred to me that the piment d’Espelette might be just the thing for a light, summery pasta dish such as this one.  And it was.  The faint heat was a great match for the fresh, sweet zucchini.  I see piment d’Espelette playing a pretty big role in my kitchen this summer.  Good thing I know where to get it cheap.

*WATCH! As my grasp of the English language slowly devolves into franglais.  Literally, this phrase says “lighthouse products,” but obviously that’s not what it means.  Maybe “beacon” would be a better translation.  Anyway, it’s a product that gets a lot of attention, or is especially connected with a region or company.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Courgettes aux Herbes de Provence

5 08 2008

Last week I made good on a dinner invite I had extended to Hails of Coffee Helps.  I decided to revisit the pork roast that had been such a hit a few months back, but couldn’t decide on an appropriate vegetable side dish.  I’ll admit I sometimes feel befuddled in the Summer regarding what to do with the bounty of gorgeous vegetables available at the market.  It’s hard to strike a balance when you want to do something new and interesting but don’t want to mess up the perfection that is a ripe tomato, zucchini, or what-have-you. 

So I thought I’d do a simple summer squash sauté with a little garlic and lemon – nothing to overpower the freshness of the squash or compete with the apricot glaze on the pork.  And then, on my way out of the market, I saw these:

Cute little bundles of fresh Herbes de Provence

Fresh herbes de Provence!  Obviously, I had to buy them.  I just knew they would be fantastic with the zucchini I had picked up earlier, not to mention a lovely counterpoint to the fruity pork glaze.  And naturally, I neglected to take any photos.  (Sorry.)  But rest assured the end result was delicious.

So delicious, in fact, that I made a quiche using the same ingredients later in the week.  Using my usual recipe, with garlicky sautéed zucchini in place of the onions, I seasoned the custard with lemon zest and chopped fresh sage, thyme, lavender, and parsley.

You'll notice I finally got a round baking dish

After the quiche came out of the oven, I realized I had forgotten to put the fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano into the custard as intended.  D’oh!  Nevertheless, grating it directly over the top of the baked quiche isn’t a bad way to go.

Provençal Zucchini Quiche

The quiche was fantastic – the herbs and lemon gave the whole thing a feeling of lightness not usually associated with the buttery, eggy, cheesy goodness that is a typical quiche.  Served with a glass of chilled rosé, it made a refreshing summer supper.  It’s amazing how one simple ingredient (in this case, the fresh herbes de Provence) can inspire you to look at your cooking in a new way.  And who knows what it will be next?  I’ll just have to wait and see what the market has in store for me.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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