4-Star Date Hot Spot

Just a reminder that we eat mostly meatless…meaning I do cook dinners with meat a few times a month.  Fish is nearly always my go-to meat because it cooks up super quick and it’s so versatile.  And of all the fish I normally grab salmon because of its potassium, vitamin B12, and Omega-3 essential fatty acids.  And it just tastes really, really yummy.

This is an easy oven-roasted salmon with buttered leeks and a bright and sassy lemon quinoa on the side–oh man, such a rich and decadent meal that will make you feel like you are eating at a 4-star restaurant.  The salmon is rich and bright from the lemon, the leeks just melt into this buttery, warm and rich topping, and the quinoa adds more lemony brightness.  And, just because, I’m also throwing a breadcrumb gremolata on top of the leeks.  A typical gremolata is an herby citrusy Italian topping for pasta or meat.  In addition to parsley and lemon zest, I’m also adding breadcrumbs to my gremolata, for a bit of crisp crunch on top of the buttered leeks.

Forget the restaurant–make your kitchen the 4-star date hot spot, and give yourself the tip!

salmon from oven salmon with buttered leeks and lemon quinoa


OVEN ROASTED SALMON WITH BUTTERED LEEKS AND LEMON QUINOA

  • Time: 20 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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I’ll be honest, I don’t know the weight of the filet; I purchased a full salmon filet and cut it in thirds.  I used one third for this meal, and it was about 6 inches in length.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6-inch salmon filet (the filet I purchased had the skin on, but you can also use fish without the skin)
  • 1 leek, cleaned and sliced thinly
  • 1 slice whole grain bread, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 lemon, zested, sliced, and seeded (reserve the zest for the breadcrumb topping, and use the slices for the salmon)
  • 1/2 cup red or rainbow quinoa, rinsed
  • 1/2 carrot chopped
  • 1/2 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup vegetable broth

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare the fish filet by patting dry with a paper towel, and lay on baking sheet with parchment paper (makes for easy clean up).  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and arrange the lemon slices on top.  Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes.  The fish will flake in the middle when done–keep an eye on it so it won’t be overcooked and get dry.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat.  Saute the carrot, celery, and onion with a little salt and pepper until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the rinsed quinoa and saute until the quinoa is slightly toasted, then add the vegetable broth.  Let come to a boil, then immediately cover and turn the heat to low.  Let simmer until the quinoa is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.  If the quinoa sticks to the bottom of the pot from cooking a little too long, turn off the heat, add 1-2 tablespoons of water, cover, and let sit for a few minutes, it’ll fluff right up.
  3. While the quinoa is simmering, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the cleaned and sliced leeks with salt and pepper to taste and saute until the leeks are translucent and sort of melty, about 10-15 minutes.  Set melted leeks aside in a bowl and in the same pan, back on medium heat, add another tablespoon of olive oil, and toast breadcrumbs to make the gremolata.  When toasted, put in a bowl and add the chopped parsley and lemon zest and stir together.
  4. When salmon is done, pull out of the oven and let rest.  Pull the lemon slices off the salmon and throw in the pot with the cooked quinoa.  Smash the lemon slices with the quinoa to release the roasted lemon juice.  Also add one quarter of the buttered leeks.  Stir together, then pull out and discard the lemon rinds.
  5. To serve, slice the salmon into 4 portions (or two very large portions if you are starving), top with the buttered leeks and the toasted breadcrumb gremolata, and serve with lemon quinoa on the side.

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Fried Green Tomato Caprese Salad

Grocery stores do not typically carry green tomatoes.  Purple, yellow, orange heirloom tomatoes, yes; tart green ones, perfect for making faux tomatillo sauce or fried green tomatoes, no.  Last summer I thought I’d try a fried green tomato caprese salad, and it was really, really fun.  Breaded and pan-fried crispy tart green tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and sweet basalmic vinegar–it was a caprese salad 2.0.

This summer we moved.  We don’t have a garden yet.  We don’t have a yard, yet.  We have plans, though–really big, gorgeous garden arbor, raised beds, garden wall, natural blackberry and raspberry fence plans.  I can see it, and it’s going to be really great.

But right now, in the thick of summer, I really wanted to make that fried green tomato caprese salad…so I asked some new friends if they would loan me some green tomatoes.  Ok, more like give me to have and devour green tomatoes.  I luckily had some willing green-tomato givers.

When I pan-fry something, I always use panko breadcrumbs; I think the results are crispier.  But when I reached for my panko container, it was totally empty.  Rats.  So I made do with what I had (and the more traditional southern pan-fry coating): cornmeal.  I decided to mix cornmeal and flour, to help the cornmeal not be a burned-too-crunchy-cornmeal texture, and they turned out great.

fried green tomato beginningsfried green tomato salad 1

I also had a SWAT team helper, taking a break from duty to help me arrange tomatoes and fresh basil leaves on the plate.  That’s the funny thing: my little guys love helping me in the kitchen, love stirring and mixing and scooping, and they always tell me it “smells so great” and “looks so “bee-you-tee-full”, mommy”, and “I am so excited to taste it, mommy”.  And then I prepare a bowl for them, and they take one look and walk away.  Some day…some day they will eat me out of house and home…

fried green tomato caprese salad

fried green tomato caprese salad 2


FRIED GREEN TOMATO CAPRESE SALAD

  • Servings: 2-4, if you are willing to share
  • Time: 10-15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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You can make this salad as big or as little as you would like.  If your green tomatoes are large, I would estimate one tomato per person; if they are small, two per person.  

SALAD INGREDIENTS

  • 6 small green tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 large red tomatoes sliced, or a mix-match of mini heirloom tomatoes, cut in half
  • Fresh mozzarella medallions
  • A handful of baby basil leaves, or larger leaves julienned
  • Drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar

PAN-FRY ASSEMBLY LINE INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour in one shallow bowl
  • 2 eggs, beaten in another shallow bowl
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1 tsp italian seasoning, and 1 tsp each of salt and pepper mixed together in a third shallow bowl

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan.
  2. Dab both sides of the green tomato slices dry with a paper towel.  Working with 3-4 slices at a time, first coat both sides of a slice with flour, then move to the egg bowl and coat both sides, then move to the flour/cornmeal mixture and coat both sides.
  3. Gently place in the frying pan.  You should be able to comfortably fit 3-4 slices at a time.  Watch until they are golden brown and flip.  Once they are browned on both sides, let them rest on a cooling rack.  They will stay crispier on the rack vs. just laying them on a paper towel or a plate.
  4. Continue until all your green tomatoes are fried.
  5. Arrange your salad however you would like!  You can make fun towers alternating fried green tomatoes, red tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella; just layer the fried green tomatoes and mozzarella, and cluster the mini tomatoes on the plate, etc.  Sprinkle the fresh basil over top and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  You can also sprinkle more salt and pepper, if desired.

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Girls Night Out with a Roasted Beet Salad

My bff and I have an annual girls night out tradition.  We take a girls-only staycation, eat out at a fancy-shmancy restaurant, sleep in the next morning, hit up the outlets, and last year we spontaneously joined a 5k after we ran into the racers at the hotel breakfast nook.  The 5k is now part of the tradition.

Last year at the restaurant we shared a beet salad and polenta fries.  I am still trying to get my polenta fries to be the same perfectly pillowy creamy inside and crispy crunchy outside.  But the salad–I think I have created a great replica (at a fraction of the cost, I might add)!  You can’t beat (haha) roasted red and golden beet salad with a few other crunchy fixings–very satisfying and totally delicious.  I had radishes on hand for this salad and thought I’d try pan-roasting them–it was amazing!  They were sweet, not the usual peppery bite of a radish, and the texture was like a pan-roasted potato, minus the starch.  The restaurant topped their salad with a perfect little lemon panna cotta; I topped mine with a simple lemon vinaigrette.

As a side note, I remember the first time I ate beets–I was in Brazil and the region I was in had this sort of potato salad with cubed beets in it.  Not the typical American potato salad you’re thinking of, loaded with mayonnaise.  It’s just cubed potatoes and hard-boiled eggs and beets, maybe some peas, all sort of steamed together, no dressing, really.  The beets were from a can, so they had this tinned pickled flavor, and although I didn’t dislike the flavor, it was just a new flavor and…interesting.

But it wasn’t a roasted beet.  Now roasted beets, that’s a whole ‘nuther story, I have since learned.  I love roasting vegetables–they give a more rounded, deeper, and fuller flavor when you add roasted veggies to soups, sauces, dishes, etc.  Roasting brings out the sweetness in a vegetable.  And beets, that maybe smelled or tasted a little like dirt before being roasted, turn into these deep ruby red and golden gems of sweet earthiness.  Although your (my) kids may not eat beets and greens, this salad definitely ensures your husband will!

roasted beet salad 1 roasted beet salad 2


ROASTED BEET SALAD WITH LEMON VINAIGRETTE

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 1 hour to roast the beets, quick assembly after that
  • Difficulty: easy
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Inspired by the lovely Roasted Beet Salad from Riverhorse Restaurant in Park City, UT

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 red beet
  • 1 golden beet
  • 4-5 radishes, quartered
  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced (include the celery leaves for more flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup roasted/salted pistachios
  • Sprinkling of feta cheese
  • 4 cups mixed greens
  • Vinaigrette: one lemon, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare the beets by washing them clean, then place–whole and unpeeled–in a bowl and drizzle a couple tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place on a shallow roasting pan.  Roast in the oven for about one hour, or until soft/firm (not mushy) when poked with a knife.
  2. While the beets are cooling, heat a saute pan with a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat.  Season the quartered radishes with salt and pepper and pan-roast them, stirring on occasion so they don’t burn, until their whites turn golden brown.
  3. Once the beets are cooled, peel and cut them into cubes or triangles–whatever shape you think will make your salad taste better.  If you are going to cut the beets on the same cutting board, you might want to do the golden beet first, as the red beet will stain whatever comes after it.
  4. Place the remaining ingredients, the sliced celery through mixed greens, in a large bowl, add the pan-roasted radishes and the beets, and gently hand toss.  Place on your serving dish.
  5. Whisk all the ingredients for the vinaigrette and spoon overtop the salad.

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No-Brainer “Not Dry” Dinner

We moved this summer, the first week of June.  We spent the last week of May gradually packing things, including the kitchen, and we ate off paper plates and used paper cups, and meals were mainly of the cupboard-non-perishable variety.  And then we spent the first two weeks of June unpacking and getting settled.  I knew it was taking me too long to get things “settled” when I asked my boys what they wanted for breakfast, and my oldest replied, “Dry stuff and water.”

So.  We went grocery shopping the next day, and I grabbed a few items to make a No-Brainer “Not Dry” Dinner.  We all need one of these every so often, right?  Something that’s fast, easy, nutritious and not a bowl of something microwaved…and not dry stuff.

I’ve heard and read this phrase often in the food world: “If it grows together, it goes together.”  I was feeling a bit Mediterranean, so I beelined it over to the olive bar and filled a cup of marinated artichoke hearts and a cup of Calamata olives, then from the produce section grabbed a fresh bunch of parsley, tomatoes, and a lemon, and knew I had the rest of the non-perishable ingredients at home to throw together a pretty good no-brainer pasta salad.

I found a great tip in an Eating Well Recipe Magazine:  A great pasta salad takes 5 steps:  1. Pick and cook a pasta.  2.  Load up on veggies.  3.  Add a lean protein (this doesn’t have to be meat, by the way–could be beans, nuts, seeds, hard-boiled eggs, etc.).  4.  Boost flavor (dried fruit, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pickled vegetables, etc.).  5. Dressing.  (You don’t need to have a mayonnaise or cream-based dressing to make a pasta salad satisfying–make an easy vinaigrette with an acid, oil, salt and pepper.)

not dry pasta salad


No Brainer Mediterranean Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 8-10mins
  • Difficulty: no brainer
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This recipe is for a Mediterranean Pasta Salad, but remember the 5 Pasta Salad steps to turn any ingredients of your choosing into a great pasta salad: 1. Pasta 2. Veggies 3. Lean protein 4. Flavor 5. Dressing.  If it grows together, it goes together!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 pound pasta, cooked
  • 8 oz mixed Calamata olives, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 15oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup roasted/salted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • Vinaigrette: 1 lemon juiced, 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

  1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and divide among serving bowls.
  2. Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients and drizzle over the salads.

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Cauliflower Corn Cream Sauce

I truly and sincerely believed I had been the first one to stumble upon creamy, alfredo sauce goodness in the form of cauliflower a couple summers ago.  I was ready to call the patent office, or Gordon Ramsay, or the Food Network, or whoever controls food recipes today, because I had just invented the world’s best veggie alfredo sauce.

And then I Googled it.

You know how Google works–confirming all your fears and dashing all your hopes…Not only was creamy cauliflower sauce already in existence, but I also discovered cauliflower “pizza crust”, cauliflower “mac&cheese”, cauliflower “rice”, cauliflower “buffalo chicken bites”…I’d had no idea the cauliflower craze was out there in full swing!  I have found many different variations of the cauliflower alfredo sauce, so I don’t know who to credit, but this is my version: Cauliflower Corn Cream Sauce.  I use this white sauce as alfredo sauce for noodles, lasagna, mac&cheese, the white sauce for a pot pie–the list can go on.  It is delicious and creamy and full of veggies.

cauliflower corn cream sauce


CAULIFLOWER CORN CREAM SAUCE

  • Servings: makes 4 cups
  • Time: 20-30 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 head cauliflower, trimmed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups of corn, fresh or frozen
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2-3 tablespoons of half-and-half
  • 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
  • Optional: you can also add 1/2-1 whole red bell pepper or a handful of fresh parsley; this will turn your sauce an orange-ish or greenish hue, respectively.  Also, if you wish to make this vegan, omit the half-and-half and use nutritional yeast instead of the parmesan cheese–it will still end up creamy and sweet and delicious.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the cauliflower, onion, and corn (and red pepper, if using), and salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Saute until the cauliflower is golden, then add vegetable stock until the vegetables are covered and allow to simmer until the cauliflower is just tender.
  3. Load everything into your blender (a BlendTec is nice because it all fits!), and add the half-and-half, parmesan cheese, and parsley, if using.  Blend until you get a creamy consistency.  Play around with adding water/stock/half-and-half until you get the consistency you want.

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Faux Tomatillo Sauce

I love the lemony-limey tartness of tomatillos.  We grew them in our garden a few years ago–I was so excited to have the little stalks growing the husked green balls I was planning on turning into my favorite green sauce.  At the end of the season, though, I think I harvested enough tomatillos to make only 4-6 cups of sauce!

Our tomato plants, though, they were producing like crazy.  It was getting cooler outside and we still had so many tomato plants with pounds and pounds of green tomatoes.  I thought, “Why not treat the green tomatoes like tomatillos?!  They have the same tart flavor profile!”  Thus was born my Faux Tomatillo Sauce–I never use tomatillos anymore, as long as I have a garden I have an abundance of green tomatoes!  And I always make extra to freeze and enjoy all winter long!

So easy to make–you just roast everything together in the oven, then add a few more ingredients in the blender, and voila, you have a green sauce ready for enchiladas, chips and dip, or quesadillas.  I even jarred this up for festive Christmas presents one year–green faux tomatillo sauce and red cranberry-orange syrup.  You are going to look forward to having a ton of leftover green tomatoes from your garden!

tomatillo ingredients 1

tomatillo ingredients 3

tomatillo sauce


FAUX TOMATILLO SAUCE

  • Servings: makes 4 cups
  • Time: 1 hour for roasting, a quick 60 seconds for blending
  • Difficulty: easy
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I love roasting vegetables to add an extra depth of flavor to sauces or soups.  I usually make at least two batches at a time and freeze some to enjoy all winter long–one whiff of this freshly made sauce and your mouth will start watering for those Black Bean Sweet Potato Enchiladas!  This would also make a really delicious fresh salsa if you wanted to blend all the ingredients raw.

INGREDIENTS

  • 20 small green tomatoes, green tops cut off and sliced in half
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut in a large dice
  • 6-8 large garlic cloves, whole
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and ribbed, cut in a large dice
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp ground cumin (to taste–you can add more or less)
  • 2 tsp ground coriander (to taste–you can add more or less)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (to taste–you can add more or less)
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place first group of ingredients (tomatoes through poblano pepper) in a large bowl, cover with olive oil (about 1/2 cup), salt and pepper.  Pour into a shallow pan and roast in the oven for 45-60 minutes; keep an eye on things so they don’t burn–if the garlic cooks too quickly and burns, it’ll turn bitter.
  2. Pour roasted ingredients into a blender (BlendTecs are great because everything fits!) and add the second group of ingredients.  Pulse until desired consistency–you can have it as smooth or as chunky as you like.  Add more or less water to help your consistency.

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10-Grain Whole Wheat Bread

You know how you’re always searching for just the right homemade whole wheat bread–nutritious and soft and squishy?  I ran across a Bosch 9-grain recipe, but it was always dense and sort of non-pliable when I made it.  Then I ran across a whole wheat bread recipe that had a surprise ingredient–Vitamin C (?!), and a ton more wheat gluten than I’d ever seen in a recipe, and it turned out amazing.  But I missed the whole grain element…so I decided to fuse the two recipes.

The 9-grain Bosch recipe called for millet separately; I found a 10-grain cereal that included millet, so I use that instead.  I also added wheat germ.  This recipe is a great one to try for first-time bread makers; unlike most yeast breads you don’t have to bloom the yeast or let it double rise, and it still turns out great!  You just mix everything together, form it into loaves, let it rise in the pans, and bake.  I don’t know if it’s the wheat gluten, or the vitamin C, or the combination of both, but it’s always turned out whole-grain-y and chewy and soft–great for sandwiches, french toast, or fresh from the oven and smothered in homemade jam!

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10-GRAIN WHOLE WHEAT BREAD

  • Servings: makes 4 loaves
  • Time: about 20-30 minutes to mix and knead, 1-2 hours to rise, 30-45 minutes to bake
  • Difficulty: easy, if you're a bread maker, medium if it's your first time trying out a yeast bread
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I have a large “Pullman loaf” pan, so this recipe yields three loaves for me: one in the large pullman pan, and two in regular 5×9 bread pans.  Without the pullman pan, this recipe will yield 4-6 loaves, depending on if you use 4×8 pans or 5×9 pans.  I have made this recipe using 100% whole wheat flour (I grind my own wheat), half wheat and half white flour (if my wheat is running low), and 100% white flour (if I’ve totally run out of wheat), and they’ve all worked great.  Freezes well!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/3 cups 10-grain cereal (uncooked)
  • 2/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3 cups flour (white or wheat)
  • 2 tablespoons yeast
  • 3 cups flour (white or wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1000mg Vitamin C (this could be in the form of crushed pills, or Vitamin C powder.  I have the powder, just because I think it’s easier to scoop the powder than crushing pills.  For me, the powder works out to 3 1/2 teaspoons)
  • While kneading, an additional  1 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups flour (white or wheat)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Add the first group of ingredients (the cereal through hot water, in the order listed) in a large bowl.  Stir with a wooden spoon and let sit for five minutes.
  2. Add the second group of ingredients, in the order listed, stirring to a paste.  Let rest for a few minutes.
  3. Add the third group of ingredients, in the order listed, stirring until the mixture starts to pull from the sides of the bowl.
  4. Sprinkle a little flour on a hard surface and dump out the dough for kneading.  While kneading, occasionally sprinkle flour on the dough to prevent stickiness.  Only add enough flour to make the dough soft and supple, don’t add too much or it’ll become dry and tough.  Knead for about 10 minutes.
  5. Divide the dough into equal-sized balls to fit the number of pans you have.  Form each ball into a loaf by first rolling out each ball into a rectangle, then roll up the rectangle, pinching the seams as you go so air pockets don’t form.  Place the bread rolls in the loaf pans and cover with a thin, damp towel and let rise.  Depending on how warm your kitchen is, it’ll take 1-2 hours to rise about 2 inches above the pans.  Preheat the oven to 350 while the bread is rising, and bake for 30-45 minutes, until bread is golden brown.  Another trick to know when they are done baking:  The loaves will sound hollow when you tap them outside of the bread pan.

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