salad argentina style, heaped on a pizza

Salad Argentina Style

I fall in and out of love with salad. When I make the effort to create a really good one, I wonder why I ever eat anything else. But when I’m lazy and do the same old same old, and I wonder why I bother.

When I travel, I expect hit and miss. Over the last few years, I’ve had great success with simple salads in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland. In Italy, surprisingly, I had some plates of green as depressing as anything I’ve seen in the US. In the Caribbean and Colombia, I resign myself to getting my fresh raw produce via smoothies. The tropics are not conducive to glorious greens; often, the only lettuce I see is a  hydroponic variety devoid of flavor and texture.

So when we decided to hit Buenos Aires for a couple of weeks this winter, I thought, well, I’m not going to expect much. Most people, including many Argentines that we met along the way, equate Argentina with beef. In fact, if you say “carne,” Spanish for meat, in Argentina, beef is assumed. I figured for a vegetable, I’d probably be offered pork.

I have never been so delighted to be proven wrong. Salad Argentina-style, at least in BA, is a glorious, creative wonder. Certainly, it helps that we were there in the height of summer. The climates of Argentina and Uruguay remind me of those in the California where I grew up: sunny, dry-ish, and fertile. Geographically, the soil is rich and good, not needing a bunch of weird treatments. Farmers get respect.

Most importantly, food tastes like it’s supposed to, and salads taste green. My first one arrived not as a salad, but as a pizza from La Pharmacie, a restaurant near our 10-day home. A crisp crust spread with a dense tomato sauce and thin slices of melted mozzarella featured a lush layer of peppery, tender-crisp raw arugula on top. Meaty, fruity olives perched on top. The great thing about this meal: I didn’t think I was ordering a salad, but I got one anyway, and I also began to completely rethink the concept of pizza. Why shouldn’t it just be a crispy base for a ton of fresh vegetables?

Salad Argentina style-a pizza topped with fresh arugula from La Pharmacie in Buenos Aires

I intentionally order a salad from Cabernet restaurant in Palermo. This beauty featured tender crisp mixed greens surrounded by paper-thin, perfectly ripe pears, sprinkled on top with hazelnuts and blue cheese. (Sorry about the light here, but perils of restaurants, etc.)

Salad Argentina style-a pear-hazelnut-blue-cheese-arugula combo

Back at Pharmacie, this Caprese was simple and stunning, with sweet roasted peppers in crimson and saffron, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and plenty of basil. (And, needless to say but I’ll say it anyway, non-optimal light.)

Salad Argentina style-the wonderful simple caprese from la Pharmacie in Buenos aires

Salad Argentina-style: A few guidelines

Here’s what the salads had in common:

  1. A base of flavorful, thoughtfully chosen greens. Optimally, get the best you can find, wash them yourself (rinsing a lot, bc the good stuff is dirty), spin them dry, and pile them on the plate—or the pizza.
  2. Something sweet. Roasted peppers and roasted cherry tomatoes were favorites, but fruit, particularly pears, were frequent add-ins as well.
  3. A little cheese. If you’re vegan, you’ll skip this. But having access to really excellent cheese is one of the reasons I never can quite commit to being a vegan. There simply isn’t a substitute for the creamy yum of farm-fresh cheese.
  4. Something savory. Olives of all kinds, or artichoke hearts, or bamboo hearts (easier to get down here). Or nuts. Usually not all of those things, which allows the flavors to shine.

It’s not so different from the directions in the salad post I’ve already done. The main thing is, Salad Argentina helped me snap my winter-dulled palate back into life. As I get back in cooking mode here, these faves from other cooks can brighten up your late winter kitchen. Because admit it: You gotta be a little tired of soup at this point.

Tieghan at Half Baked Harvest is always rock solid—I actually just typed “rock salad,” which I sort of like. This recipe for broccoli and avocado salad is excellent.

I haven’t tested this vegan salad made from spiralized sweet potatoes (from Laura at The First Mess), but the combo of chipotle with miso seems like a spectacular transition one for early spring—which, they tell me, is coming.

Yotam Ottolenghi creates such glorious, flavorful salads. If you love vegetables, get his book Plenty. This salad introduces what for me was a revolutionary idea: mix herbs with impunity. Don’t worry so much about the grams, just look at the proportions: about 2 parts cilantro (aka coriander) and parsley to 1 part basil and dill, 3 parts arugula (rocket), and 4 parts some type of young lettuce; just be sure you get something with flavor. Play with the nuts and seeds. Know that when Brits say mange tout (it means “eat all”), they mean “snow peas,” because sometimes they forget that they hate the French (which is sort of adorable). Use the recipe as a jumping off point, and discover joy and wonder on a plate.

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new-fashioned cobb salad, lunchfor my paleo experiment

My Paleo Experiment

So here’s why I undertook this paleo experiment:

I will not lie. I love carbs. As a kid, I thought meat was weird: the texture, the smell, the way it looks. But alas, a woman who lives by carbs alone becomes, at least in my case, a low energy woman. Additionally, being a woman of un certain age, as the French so delicately put it—or “cinquenta-misterio” as a Cuban friend says—I don’t love the layer of blub that collects below the ribs.

Regular readers (thank you, by the way) know or have probably guessed that I am not a huge meat fan and that I AM a huge Clean Eating magazine fan. In addition to a lot of very fine recipes, every issue features a one-week menu plan. Ooooh, I’m such a sucker for a menu plan. To this day, I have never followed one all the way through because they usually have a) too much chicken, or b) too many leftovers. Foodwise, I love novelty.

But in the January/February issue, they provided a paleo plan, and I thought, ok. My paleo experiment can begin.

Now one thing you should know is that I decided to tackle this one prior to a road trip. We went to the west side of the state to see S’s family, and we typically bring all of our food, because the part of Michigan that we’re going to isn’t exactly Clean Eating Paradise. So everything was put together the day before and orchestrated to be portable. Since the road trip was Wednesday-Thursday, that’s where I started.

Here’s what I ate, along with a very honest evaluation, and a wholly personal end verdict.

My Paleo Experiment: The Morning

Breakfast: Chia Pear Puddingchia pear pudding, breakfast for my paleo experiment

Can you tell by the way I tried to tart that photo up—flowers, a pretty bowl, photoshop—that chia pudding is just damn ugly? It’s a weird color, a slimy texture, and not much in the flavor department even with a very ripe pear added. The chia seeds are supposed to make this filling, and I guess they do, but you know what? There is way too much good food out there to subject yourself to stuff you don’t like. And I know some people totally dig the chia. They like the way it sort of slips down your throat like an oyster. So, my chia-loving friends, more for you!! I’m not making this one again.

Mid-morning snack: 2 Garlicky Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms with 1 Tbsp. Kimchi

garlic-kimchi-crab stuffed mushrooms, snack for my paleo experiment

I hate fermented food. Steve loves sauerkraut and kombucha and is altogether quite virtuous in the food department, but I think both those things are gross. Kimchi’s a little better, because the spiciness masks the ickiness. As is often the case, it’s a texture thing with me, so I chop the hell out of the kimchi. In this case, I mixed it in with the crab, which was from a can and not an insanely expensive batch of lump crabmeat, which of course I’d prefer, but I’m not insane, which I believe is a requirement if one is going to pay for lump crabmeat at something like 30 bucks a pound. This was surprisingly yummy and filling, so huzzah to a new high protein low carb snack, except I have to have the damn crabmeat. I dunno. I think a lobster tail would be cheaper.

My Paleo Experiment: The Afternoon

Lunch: New Fashioned Cobb Salad

new-fashioned cobb salad, lunch for my paleo experiment

Ok, this salad ROCKED. It’s easy for me to get out of salad mode because frankly to make a good one takes some effort, but this was completely worthwhile. The only thing I changed was to not add the water to the dressing, because as I’ve said before, adding water to salad in any way is dumb.

Afternoon snack: Chocolate Energy Bites and a green apple

chocolate energy bites, snacks for my paleo experiment

I was so satisfied from the salad and mushrooms earlier that I decided to save these for dessert, bc I do like a little sweetness after dinner. Also, obviously, I couldn’t find a green apple. When I did have them, they were also excellent. The recipe for these is at the bottom of this one for Golden Milk Cheesecakes, and those things are ridiculous and you need to make some as soon as you have the ingredients.

My Paleo Experiment: The Evening

So along about dinner time, I’m thinking, hey, I can really get with this whole paleo thing, because so far, everything but that chia pudding has been fine. And then we get to….

Dinner: Roasted Vegetables with Chicken Sausage

roasted vegetables with chicken sausage, for my paleo experiment

And this was terrible. I’m sorry, so sorry to report it. It’s partly my fault. I didn’t skin the sausage, and that’s just stupid. In trying to hew as closely to the original as possible (in the name of SCIENCE), I actually followed a recipe instead of listening to my instincts. I acted, according to the philosophy espoused by moi on the website, completely against my principles. For heck’s sake, I know how to roast vegetables. I also knew that the parsnips I was finding were absolutely horrible, but I tried to cook them anyway.

I ended up with a barely edible mess. Steve and I sort of soldiered through a little bit of it, then put it aside (I did find a way to use it by chopping it fine, which always works, and turning it into a quiche filling) and ate our little chocolate bites later. Though honestly, we weren’t that hungry, so it worked out ok.

My Paleo Experiment: Day 2

Next day: For breakfast, there is no way I’m going to bake an egg in an avocado. Also, I realized how much I hate breakfast that isn’t a smoothie. We all get into these little ruts, but honestly, we stay in some of them because they work for us. So I guess in that case, they’re not ruts so much as they’re nicely-worn paths. But I did have egg and avocado for breakfast. On the road, I had one of those cheesecakes, a reward that  I needed, because I was starting to feel that weird aggressive edginess that I feel whenever I eat too much protein. Carbs make you nicer!!

For lunch, the listed meal was a bag of broccoli slaw stir fried with pork, which I don’t eat (except for that occasional bacon temptation which I can completely live without). I had to use up the extra crabmeat, so I put that in and the result was about as good as it sounds, which is not good at all.

And then we were home, and I said, hell with it.

My Paleo Experiment: The Upshot

So my paleo thing didn’t really work. I imagine you can do vegan paleo but….you know, I just think food’s too fun to get quite that rule-bound.

But still, I have an event coming up and would like to be in a little better fighting shape. So my experiments will continue, and I’ll be reporting back to you. And if you should try this or another plan and get interesting results, please report back to me.

And in response to this post, Katie over at Athletic Muscle sent me this link. She’s collected 121 recipes that I’m mostly mostly interested to try. (I’ll skip the ones with mammal meat.) Once you’re over at Katie’s site, check out the rest of her offerings, which are plentiful.

 

 

 

bowl building: ready to roll

How to Build a Bowl

Bowls have been a thing since long before you saw “bowl” on offer everywhere you looked. I’m a grazer, so bowls are pretty  much my favorite way to eat. This super simple guide promises super easy bowl building with whatever ingredients and combos float your boat.

Bowls optimally include the following:

  • Dressing, which goes on the bottom of the bowl; for this one, I made a balsamic mustard maple vinaigrette.
  • Grain or starch: I used quinoa here, into which I grated a beet.
  • Roasted veggies; here, I diced up some sweet potatoes.
  • Raw veggies: Kale and cabbage are ideal because they’re so sturdy.
  • Protein: Mine of choice was feta cheese.
  • Something sweet: I had a pomegranate on hand.
  • Something crunchy, and if you’re traveling, packed separately: I roasted some walnuts.

bowl building ingredients

I used this recipe from Clean Eating pretty much verbatim, except that the dressing they recommend is WAY too tart for me (1/4 cup of vinegar and no oil?? that’s nuts.) So I just made your basic vinaigrette, which is pretty dark due to balsamic and maple syrup.

Now the thing with published bowl recipes is that they put them in Mason jars, which looks beautiful but has never worked for me. I like to be able to toss my salads so they really get coated in dressing, and just shaking a packed Mason jar up and down doesn’t cut it for me.

We like to do a little bowl building before a road trip, so we just layer ours in this handy plastic bowl. As noted, keep the roasted crunchiness (nuts in this case) separate and add when you eat. Soggy crunchy stuff is for the birds. Actually, watching the birds chow down on sunflower seeds right now, I must argue with myself and say birds look askance at soggy crunchy stuff, too.

Here’s how our to-go pack looks.

bowl building: salad packed and ready to hit the road

And here, taking with unfortunate night-time overhead lighting, is how our salad looks plated. It tasted really good. Please excuse the near-sepia tone.

bowl building: plated salad

Bowl Building: Inspirations and Ideas Aplenty

You can find good bowls all over online. Check out my Pinterest board for suggestions from around the web, or try one of my recipes.

Or just give bowl building a shot on your own. Enjoy!



rapini and how to make it tasty

Rapini

How do you solve a problem like…..rapini? On the shelf, it looks so adorable, bright emerald green baby broccoli flowers amid plenty of leaves that look like mustard greens, with crispy-looking jade green stems…

rapini, raw and innocent looking

You may think, well, there’s nothing to that but to pop it in a pan with some garlic, and…Yum! But should you do that very thing, you are likely to see troubled looks on the faces of your fellow diners—they trusted you, and you give them this?—and may end up barely able to swallow what seemed like a great idea.

If that sounds as if it comes from bitter (pun very much intended) experience with this particular vegetable, you have perceived correctly. I once innocently sauteed up a pan of rapini, blithely served it to Steve and Henry. I insist on honest reactions to my creations here, and I got them. Steve, normally a totally easy keeper on the vegetable front, said, “Wow. This is horrible.” Henry stood up and poured his in the garbage. Steve and I followed suit.

Rapini, you saucy trickster! You’re not broccoli at all, but a very stylish member of the turnip family. Hence the extreme bitterness. So why bother, when you could just get broccoli, which is honestly pretty hard to screw up? Because if you can get rapini right, it’s a wonderful way to zazzle up your taste buds. Tempered correctly, which you will shortly learn how to do, rapini provides a pleasant bang of bitterness, a wonderful texture—it doesn’t get mushy, but you also won’t feel like a horse chewing it—and a veritable powerhouse of nutrition. Vitamin K and C, cancer-fighting properties, anti-inflammatory, alkalizing: Read all about it at this link (though I caution against preparing the soup recipe unless you follow the de-bittering step here).

What is this magical step to render rapini ravishing? A big old pot of boiling water. Bring it to a boil, throw in about a tablespoon of salt, and blanch for about 2 minutes. (I break off any tough-looking stems prior to boiling.) The process mellows the bitterness to a manageable amount, and the broccoli stays bright green. Then simply drain, squeeze out as much water as possible, and chop coarsely. The amount shown below is the yield from the big batch of rapini at the top of the page (probably about 2/3 of a pound).

Rapini loves garlic. Heat your pan, heat some oil (olive is perfect), sauté your super thin garlic slices with a little salt for about 45 seconds so they’re just starting to turn gold. Then add your chopped rapini.

Rapini is no delicate creature. I give it about 8 minutes, but it can go longer. You’ll end up with a lovely big batch that you can keep on hand for about 3 days and throw into all kinds of things.

The night I made this up, Steve threw a big handful into some soup. I had some naan on hand, which I brushed with a little garlic oil, toasted briefly in the oven, then topped with the sauteed rapini, some leftover meatballs sliced thin, and some fresh mozzarella and a little parmesan. A heavenly little personal pizza. Don’t stop there. Throw some sauteed rapini into pasta or rice. Use it as your green in a bowl; it would be amazing as a bi bim bop component. Just one warning: Now that you know how rapini should taste, you would be wise to avoid ordering it in U.S. restaurants, and if you see it in a deli case, be sure to get a sample. Rapini always looks good. It stays bright green pretty much no matter what.

Of course, if you see it in Italy, go nuts. They kind of invented the stuff.



LCF Update: 12-22-17

Hello, pumpkins and petits chous everywhere. It’s the holiday season edition of the LCF Update 12-22-17. Around here that means:

  1. The Oscar Peterson Christmas album
  2. At least one really bad cold (thankfully, on the exit ramp)
  3. One road trip to the west side of the state to see Steve’s family
  4. Some head scratching because, while I feel the need to have something a little special for Christmas day dinner, I really don’t want to do another turkey. We don’t eat ham or rack of lamb, not in the mood for a big old fish, chicken seems kinda like a lame version of turkey. So what do we do?

Well, here, one by one are the solutions to each problem.

  1. There’s Oscar! Best Xmas album EVER. Spotify him, buy the CD, I don’t care. Just listen.

2. Doesn’t it just suck to be sick? Although, I have to say, I don’t mind having a couple of days to just veg out, read a fair amount (until I get a headache), watch stuff on Netflix (until I get a headache), and drink Theraflu. I don’t have good sick recipes at the moment, bc I feel like you should just eat what you want. I mean, I know there are things that make you feel worse and some that make you feel better, but you know them too. So you know, just take care of yourself.

3. Road food! This is our traveling bowl salad go-to, the Harvest Squash and Quinoa Salad jar from Clean Eating. But here’s the thing: While those jar salads look really awesome, they don’t strike me as being particularly practical. You pack the jar full, so when you shake it, it doesn’t really mix. And also, how the hell do you eat out of a jar? So we layer everything in a bowl, toss it when we’re there, and it’s a big woot. I’ll have details soon.

LCF update 12-22-17 jar salad

It’s kind of a big deal to me to keep the nuts separate, btw. So I keep ’em in a handy separate pouch, and they’re nice and crunchy when we add them before we eat. And you know, now you don’t have to settle for something inadequate that somebody made from a bunch of ingredients handed over by corporate.

Also, for a recent trip to Austin, TX—super cool city!—I made these, from a Bon Appetit article with the genius title “Snacks on a Plane.” As plane food, this snack ROCKS.

LCF Update 12-22-17 plane snack

Photo from Bon Appetit Magazine.

Meanwhile, if you do need snacks on a plane, just search “plane food” at Bon Appetit. Inspirations galore.

4. OK, what do we serve? I landed on a Christmas morning brunch of my son’s all-time fave breakfast, biscuits with sausage and gravy, for which you really don’t need a recipe; just saute onions and peppers and pork sausage, add some flour, add some kinda milk (but not, for heck’s sake, the vanilla flavored almond), and plenty of pepper. With a big old breakfast like that, I’m thinking an hors d’oeuvres-y dinner will be just the thing. I found this spinach artichoke dip at Rachael Ray, maybe with some sweet potato waffles, good old kale salad, and a tiramisu for Steve because he loves that stuff. I love it as long as it’s the pudding kind and not the one with lady fingers, because I just am not a sponge cake fan. Here’s a tiramisu recipe I can live with from dear old Martha.

LCF Update 12-22-1 Our Christmas Dessert

Photo from Martha Stewart Living Magazine, photographer: Ngoc Minh Ngo

LCF Update 12-22-17: Reading

I have encountered no more wonderful reading for the season than Jeanette Winterson’s Christmas Tales: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days. There are many Winterson fans out there including myself, but I was still unprepared for the beauty, simplicity ,and wonder that she brings to stories that in other hands would have carelessly turned to treacle. “The Snowmama” and “Christmas Cracker” are good old-fashioned fairy tales with just a smidge of darkness to provide the sweetness the proper depth. “Christmas in New York” and “O’Brien’s First Christmas” provide humbugs—who are really just tired and sad—with lovely, unforced avenues out of their disbelief and grouchdom. There are marvelous ghost stories, because winter can be a little creepy, sometimes deliciously so. And there are recipes. Winterson cooks in a way that warms my heart, using phrases like “a good amount” and “until it’s done.” Finally, there are her graceful and brave autobiographical insights into miracles, religion, belief, and other subjects. An absolutely lovely, wonderful gift for anyone you know.

LCF update 12-22-17 perfect Christmas gift

LCF Update 12-22-17: Watching

If you want a rollicking good time that’s not necessarily seasonal, PLEASE watch Wild Tales, Damián Szifron’s compilation of 6 short movies, all focused on some type of revenge carried out to my-face-hurts-from-roaring-with-laughter extremes. The movie starts with a huge bang, then paces itself well over an additional 4 stories, ending in the Greatest Wedding Ever Committed to Film. My son proclaimed to me not long ago, “I’m a filmmaker”—a justified proclamation as he just completed two students films in a week where he was sick and the weather was awful. We watched it together and he loved it as much I do. It’s not on Netflix. Henry asked me to buy it for him.

LCF Update 12-217

The sublime Erica Rivas in Wild Tales.

Feliz Navidad, from the bottom of my heart, my dear friends. Celebrate Big!

quinoa crust quiche

Quinoa Crust Quiche

I love quiche—or at least, the idea of it. I order it when I go out and it usually delivers my requirements: buttery crust, eggy goodness, cheesy decadence. But when I’m honest, I know that most of those buttery crusts that I’m paying other people to fill came straight out of a package. Meanwhile, I have a perfectly fine, infinitely healthier alternative on hand. That big old package of quinoa calls my name. And one of the best ways to use it up is with a quinoa crust quiche.

quinoa crust quiche

Jump to recipe.

Why, you may ask, do I happen to have said gigantic quinoa package? Well, I’m not trying to be mean, but quinoa tastes weird. I always detect this odd, sort of dusty undertaste. I know it’s not this package either, or that it’s old, or any other explanation. Nonetheless, its nutritional perks are impressive. Protein-rich, fiber-rich, chockful of vitamins and minerals—read all about quinoa’s specific health benefits here, and check out Jennifer’s terrific blog while you’re at it. Also in its favor, quinoa morphs easily as a substitute for all kinds of grains, particularly those that are already fragmented into small pieces like cracked wheat and couscous.

As a pie crust substitute, it’s super easy and SO much healthier that it’s worth a try. Just be forewarned: You are not making something that will taste like a pie crust. A quinoa-crust quiche does not flake with buttery goodness. Rather, it sits on the plate as a hearty earthy base for all the eggy-cheesy-veggie goodness you want to throw in it. These items I had on hand just begged to be added to a tasty quinoa crust quiche.

quinoa crust quiche likes veggies

(I just realized I’m writing as if I’m Kathy Najimy’s character in The Fisher King. Is she the one responsible for that thing where we add a y to the end of basically every single word? If so, huzzah to you, Kathy.)

So with the quinoa crust, you gotta remember that weird quinoa flavor that you want to camo just a tad. That means that, at the very least, you need to cook the quinoa with salt (or the no-salt sub of your choice), preferably in broth rather than water. Once all the water’s cooked in—and do make sure the quinoa’s not wet at all—and the quinoa’s cooled, add an egg. But you can add even more flavor by sauteeing and adding an onion, or lots of chopped herbs, including scallions, and—most decadent of all—a big old handful of your favorite grated cheese.

Now, simply place the mixture into a pie pan that you’ve sprayed with no-stick, or oiled, or buttered; up to you. I like to take a piece of wax paper and use that to press the quinoa into shape…

quinoa crust quiche: use parchment paper to press evenly

…keeping it even on the bottom of the pan and nicely rising on the sides.

quinoa crust quiche, the crust ready to pre-bake Then bake, and voila. Your quinoa crust is about to become a quinoa crust quiche. I used this recipe from Clean Eating as my jumping off point. When I originally posted this recipe, I had broccoli, kale, and a bunch of mushrooms on hand and quite happy to jump into the pan.

quinoa crust quiche gets filled with a mix of vegetables

This week, I did a Skype cooking session with a pal, and we both realized we could pretty much use any vegetable-ish substance. For me, that was leeks standing in for the onions, dandelion greens, kale, and asparagus; for the last, I followed the advice of a couple of vintage cookbooks and peeled the stems, making the asparagus a lot more palatable. The first go-round, I placed the veggie mix directly into the crust….

quinoa crust quiche, ready for the milk cheese mixture

…then topped with an egg and cheese mix…

quinoa crust quiche gets a layer of egg and cheese filling

…and  then more cheese. (This is actually kind of a modest amount, but I have some in the crust and also some feta mixed into the eggs. Go as wild as you like.) By the way, the speckles are from the mustard I used.

Quinoa crust quiche before going into the oven.

Here’s that one finished:

Yesterday, I separated the eggs, whipping the whites to soft peaks. I mixed the yolks and cheese with the cooked veggies, then folded in the whites. Then pour it into the crust. I actually prefer this one, so have amended the recipe below to include it.

quinoa quiche

There you have it. You’ve used up some of that sad wallflower quinoa (to use my buddy Jenny Englander’s term), and you’ve got a healthy meal you can pack up for a road trip or nosh on at your desk. Some cherry tomatoes sparkled up both the visual and flavor palates. Enjoy with your own seasonal variations throughout the year.

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Quinoa Crust Quiche: The Recipe