• fresh produce
  • fresh produce
  • fresh produce

marenIn September 2015, I pulled out the most intimidating (and least used) cookbook on our bookshelf and challenged myself to make every recipe in the book, come hell or high water. Ten months and two days later, I crossed the finish line. That quest fanned a flame that inspired me to move on to the next cookbook… and the next one after that… and you get the idea.

It’s not as hard as I imagined to prepare complex recipes, and it’s OK to invite people over for dinner when trying new ones. The fellowship is wonderful, and I’ve yet to hear a complaint about the food. Quite the contrary, our friends have been really supportive and complimentary. And they don’t care whether or not the house is neat and tidy.

So, if you’ve got a hankering to experiment in your kitchen, I’ve provided reviews of the ten cookbooks that I’ve explored to date with pictures of the individual recipes. I’ve also shared some of my own recipes along with features on favorite foods.

Bon appétit!

While we typically follow a whole food plant based diet, we enjoy the occasional meat, poultry, or fish meal. Salmon finds its way on the menu as a function of a friend who makes an annual sojourn to Alaska to catch wild salmon. We reap the benefits of his efforts with a few choice filets.

Wild salmon is one of the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. These fats promote heart and brain health, reduce inflammation, control blood sugar, and improve circulation and memory. Wild salmon also packs a protein punch – roughly 6 grams per ounce.

I always opt for wild salmon when I indulge in a tasty filet. It gets its brilliant pink color from eating krill and shrimp. Farmed salmon eat grain, which inhibits production of Omega 3s and confers a grayish color to the filets. Farmers use dye to get their products to pink up.

With just two of us at the dinner table, I decided to bake a nice-sized filet in our toaster oven. (Why waste all the energy firing up the main oven?) I set the salmon skin-side down on a buttered baking dish. I squeezed fresh lemon juice over the filet and brushed it with melted butter. I sprinkled flour, smoked paprika, and a little sea salt over the top. I baked it for ~14 minutes at 350˚F and then broiled it for a minute.

baked wild salmon
Ready to go into the toaster oven.
refried bean quesadilla
Ready to serve with mixed vegetables.

To finish out the meal, I microwaved some mixed vegetables and – Voila! – dinner was served. Super easy, super healthy, and delicious.

According to statistica.com, U.S. residents and visitors ate a staggering 27.3 billion pounds of beef in 2019. I’ve discussed the deleterious environment impact of this culinary obsession in a post entitled The Trouble with Beef. Yet much as we might love Mother Earth, we’re rather entrenched in our culinary habits. Meat and potatoes – and especially burgers and fries – are as American as Mom and apple pie.

Plant-based burger alternatives have been around for decades. They typically involve some combination of beans, grains, vegetables (e.g., mushrooms, kale), nuts, seeds, and/or tofu. I’ve tried a bunch of these recipes with varying degrees of success. None have come close to replacing a good-old-fashioned beef burger that sizzles on the outdoor grill… until now.

In 2011, Stanford emeritus professor Pat Brown founded a company called Impossible Foods with a mission “to save meat and earth.” A biochemist and pediatrician by training, Dr. Brown was alarmed at the collapse in global biodiversity as a function of our excessive use of animals for food. He recognized that folks wouldn’t readily give up what they love to eat. So, he decided to create a plant-based product that tasted, smelled, and acted meaty.

impossible burger mealAfter years of research and development, the company’s signature product – the Impossible Burger – was launched in July 2016. Version 2.0 was released in January 2019. Impossible Burgers are available in select grocers and fast food restaurants. We found them in our local WalMart and decided to give them a try. They look like hamburgers and are quite tasty. Were we to serve them at the next backyard barbecue, I doubt we’d get complaints.

From a nutritional standpoint, the Impossible Burger compares favorably with lean ground beef. A 4-ounce patty provides 240 calories, 19 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbohydrate, and 14 grams of fat. They’re roughly a third more expensive than a conventional burger. But if it turns out that these products make the planet more habitable for the generations to follow, I think it’s worth the price.

roasted veggiesOur Winter Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has helped us get in the habit of eating vegetables that are in season. As a result, we find ourselves feasting on Roasted Vegetables quite often. While the basic preparation stays the same, the contents vary as a function of what our wonderful farmers harvest. This week featured boro beets, satina potatoes, and delicata squash with the nutritional dense outer rind left on.

I’ll confess that to make things interesting, I like to make a tasty squash to pour over our vegetables. Homemade curry tops my list.

Ingredients:

Olive oil
2 large red peppers (or a red and an orange one) diced
2-6 jalapeño peppers diced, to taste
4 cups vegetable broth
2 or more tablespoons grated fresh ginger
6 or more garlic cloves finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground caraway seed
1 can (13½ ounce) unsweetened coconut milk
Cayenne pepper and salt

Directions:

  1. Heat some oil in a large skillet; add the peppers, chilies, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne. Sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add vegetable broth, as needed, to moisten the pan.
  2. Add the ginger, garlic, and spices and sauté for about 5 minutes. Then add the remaining vegetable broth and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. Decant the curry into a blender and puree until smooth. Add the coconut milk and blend everything together.

roasted veggiesI typically microwave some broccoli and/or cauliflower to go along with the roasted vegetables. I like them al dente, and roasting often makes them too mushy while the other vegetables cook through. (Yes, I could add them to the roasting pan after the other vegetables have cooked for a while, but it’s just easier to do it my way!) Anyway, I assemble my meal by lining the bottom of the bowl with broccoli and/or cauliflower, followed by the roasted vegetables, and then covered in curry. Delicious!

Today’s lunch required a measure of culinary creativity, a skill that I’d like to cultivate. I found myself with two small, rapidly-aging heads of bok choy and some comparably geriatric broccoli crowns. As I keep tempeh on hand, I thought the three ingredients ought to get acquainted.

stir fried tempeh, broccoli, and bok choyI started by creating a marinade with the following ingredients:

1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
6 smallish cloves garlic, also minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil

I chopped an onion and sautéed it in extra virgin olive oil with broken-up pieces from a package of tempeh. After about 5 minutes, I added the broccoli crowns and some of the marinade to the mix. After another 5-10 minutes, I added the boy choy and the remaining marinade and continued to stir fry the concoction until everything was cooked through.

The resulting dish packs a punch nutritionally. As a soy product, tempeh is a complete protein, which means it contains all of the essential amino acids. Broccoli is a rich source of vitamins C and K and contains moderate amounts of several B vitamins and the dietary mineral manganese. Bok choy is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K and contains respectable amounts of folate, vitamin B6, and calcium.

Best yet: This dish only dirties one pan and a cutting board. Fast clean up!

This winter, my husband and I signed up for a share in Community Support Agriculture (CSA). It’s an arrangement in which members buy a share of a local farm’s production in advance of the growing season. In return, they receive regular distributions of the farm’s bounty throughout the season. It’s great for us because we get 18 weeks of fresh, healthy, organically grown produce. It’s great for the farmers because they get working capital, risk-sharing for their harvest, and better crop prices.

While we could look through posts from prior seasons to predict what we’ll get each week, we’ve opted for receiving our weekly basket of goodies and figuring out what we’ll do with them on the fly. Fortunately, that task is made easier by having spent the last 5+ years experimenting with lots of recipes.

Here’s what came in this week’s share:

CSA winter share
Left-to-Right: Sage, thyme, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, fennel, acorn squash, delicata squash, beets, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, lettuce, and kale

Here’s what we made:

salad
Nightly salads that used the lettuce, carrots, celery, and beets
roasted vegetables
Roasted vegetables using the spices, carrots, fennel, delicata squash, beets, sweet potatoes, and brussels sprouts
lentil stew
Lentil Stew with sweet potatoes
acorn squash
Roasted acorn squash

Though not pictured, we used all of the kale in a variation on Fava Beans with Greens where we substituted a package of tempeh for the fava beans. It’s delicious, filling, and really good for us.

This basic pattern has worked well for each week’s batch of vegetables. I’m working on creating sauces to add interest to the meals, especially for the roasted vegetables.

We have signed up for the Spring/Summer/Fall season with the same farmers and will get an additional 26 weeks of produce. What a great cooking adventure!

Growing up, the family dinner typically consisted of meat, vegetables, and a starch. With great regularity, rice filled the starch bill. White rice. The kind that took very little time to cook on the stove top. Unfortunately, white rice doesn’t pack much of a nutritional punch. Here’s how 1 cup of cooked white rice stacks up against a comparable amount of brown and wild rice:

Glutinous
White Rice

Medium-Grain
Brown Rice

Wild Rice

Calories
Protein
Dietary Fiber

169
3.5 g
1.7 g

218
4.5 g
3.5 g

166
6.5 g
3.0 g

% of Recommended Daily Allowance

Thiamin
Riboflavin
Niacin
Vitamin B6
Folate
Iron
Magnesium
Phosphorus
Potassium
Zinc
Copper

2%
1%
3%
2%
0%
1%
2%
1%
0%
5%
4%

13%
1%
13%
15%
2%
6%
21%
15%
4%
8%
8%

6%
8%
11%
11%
11%
5%
13%
13%
5%
15%
10%

wild riceThough I don’t eat much rice these days, I generally opt for wild rice. It’s second only to oats in protein content and adds a respectable amount of dietary fiber to a meal. It has 10 times the antioxidants of white rice. It contains phytonutrients (phenolic acid and sinapic acid) that are protective against heart disease, stroke, and cancer. It’s also alkaline-forming and gluten free.

Nutrition makes the case for wild rice, but taste and texture seal the deal. When cooked properly, it has a chewy outer sheath that covers a tender inner grain with a slightly nutty taste.

When serving wild rice with a meal, give yourself a lead time of roughly 50 minutes for preparation. You won’t be fussing with it much, but it needs time to cook.

Put 3 cups of water on the stove top with a bit of salt and get it to a rolling boil. Add 1 cup of dried rice, put a lid on the top, turn the burner to low, and simmer for about 45 minutes until fully cooked. Fluff it up when finished.

Once cooked, wild rice can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week or for a few months in the freezer.

As a general rule, I really enjoy cooking. It’s especially gratifying when I can invite friends over and share fellowship over a delicious meal. But now that we’ve been in COVID-19 quarantine for 7 months, my enthusiasm for this activity has waned. So, I’ve looked for ways to create an easy-peasy, healthy meal that gives me a break from kitchen duty. A quesadilla with a side of fresh veggies does the trick!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 package of tortillas: Use gluten-free if you’re gluten-sensitive. I generally use a corn-flour blend.
  • 1 can refried beans: We use either the Wild Harvest organic vegetarian refried beans or their organic refried black beans.)
  • 1 package of shredded cheese: We use Miyoko’s Creamery Pepper Jack cultured vegan cheese; it’s the tastiest of the vegan cheese that we’ve sampled. (Check out nutritionfacts.org and search for “dairy” to see why we prefer vegan over dairy cheese.)
  • Broccoli florets
  • Salsa
refried bean quesadilla
Ready to go into the microwave.
refried bean quesadilla
Ready to eat with steamed broccoli and salsa.

Place the broccoli in a glass container with  a small amount of water on the bottom. Cover and cook in the microwave for ~3-4 minutes until just cooked. You may need to experiment with timing on your microwave to vary cooking time based on the quantity of broccoli you’re cooking and the relative strength of your microwave. You want your al dente broccoli, not mushy broccoli. Set aside when finished.

While the broccoli is cooking, lay your tortilla flat on a microwave-proof plate and spread 1/4 can of the refried beans on the top. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Microwave until the cheese melts. (It takes about a minute in our microwave.)

Add a little salsa to the cooked quesadilla and fold it in half. (Note: If the salsa has been in the refrigerator, add some to the quesadilla about halfway through cooking to heat it up.) Place some broccoli florets on the side and add some salsa to the top of the quesadilla and broccoli.

Enjoy!

I began my cooking adventure five years ago this month. To date, we’ve sampled ~1,500 new recipes from 10+ cookbooks, a handful of magazines and websites, and recommendations from friends. Suffice it to say, I’m feeling rather comfortable in the kitchen.

ready to cookI’ve learned that there’s no end-all-be-all cookbook. Each has its relative strengths and weakness. I’ve generally found no more than 25-35% of the recipes in a given cookbook worth repeating. The others weren’t bad. (Only two recipes proved inedible and wound up in the garbage disposal!) Rather, we opted to set the bar high with respect to taste and level of effort in preparation. Nonetheless, I remain a proponent of cover-to-cover cookbook exploration. That commitment creates an opportunity to explore a lot of ingredients and recipes that you otherwise might bypass. It makes dining more interesting and improves skills and confidence in the kitchen.

With all this experience under my belt, I’ve ventured into Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) this year. These arrangements support local farmers by providing advanced funding for a weekly allotment of fresh fruits and vegetables, generally over the course of 18-20 weeks. By looking at posts from past seasons, you can get a pretty good idea of what you’ll get each week. However, things may vary a bit depending on how the crops fare during the current season. As such, it has been helpful to have a lot of proven recipes on which to draw when each week’s bounty comes in.

Given this year’s pandemic quarantine, I’ve opted to be less adventurous with cooking. I’m limiting visits to the grocery store to every other week. And, of course, we can’t entertain as we once used to do. I miss cooking for others and the companionship that came with enjoying good food. I’ll admit that the rigors of eating every meal at home has worn a bit thin, too. But I’m grateful for all the farmers, wholesale distributors, and retail grocers who make it possible for us to continue eating healthy food. Thank you so much for your hard work!

fava beans in the podMy husband and I signed up for a share in Love Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program this Spring. Every Monday afternoon from June through mid-October, this share entitles us to receive 8-10 servings of farm-fresh vegetables. Of course, week-to-week, we never quite know what we’re going to get.

Fava beans arrived a couple of weeks ago. Until Dr. Hannibal Lector’s infamous line in The Silence of the Lambs (i.e., “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”), I’d never even heard of them. I’ve since made a few recipes with dried fava beans, but I’d never had my hands on the real deal right off the vine… until now.

I was smart enough to know that the beans had to be liberated from their pods. Then, I consulted good old Google. I learned that I needed to drop the little darlings into boiling, salty water for one minute. Then, I drained the hot water and put the beans in ice water to stop the cooking process. Finally, I removed the tough outer skin to reveal the vibrant green beans. Yep – it’s a bit time-consuming, but you can always check out The Silence of the Lambs while doing it!

fava beans
Fava beans right out of the pod.
fava beans
Fava beans after they’ve been boiled and peeled.

Now I was ready to actually make something! Here are the details:

Make a Smoky-Maple Sauce in a small bowl using 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup vegetable broth, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon liquid smoke, 1 tablespoon lemon (or lime) juice, 1 tablespoon tomato paste (or Thai Red Curry paste), and 3-4 cloves finely chopped garlic, and set it aside. (Note: If you really like the sauce, you can up the recipe by 50%.)

fava beans in the podChop an onion and sauté in oil until translucent, about 5-8 minutes.

Add boiled, peeled fava beans and sauté for an additional 2-3 minutes. Pour in the Smoky-Maple Sauce.

Add 1 good-sized bunch of fresh kale with ribs removed and leaves torn into small pieces. Continue cooking until the leaves wilt.

Serve immediately.

The resulting dish is high in nutritional content and quite delicious!