A Beautiful Green

Swiss chard can compete for most beautiful vegetable.  The vibrant, brightly colored stalks always pleasantly surprise me when I pull them out.  Not many other vegetables have the same range of hues–pinks, reds, yellow, dark green.  Swiss chard is one of those vegetables that always seduces me at the farmer’s market–I buy it for the color…who doesn’t like pretty vegetables?

For my precious Swiss chard, I chose a recipe from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now. I love this cookbook–I courted it from the library for about three months before giving in and buying it.  It follows the year month by month and provides seasonal recipes.  Basically, it is a one-stop shop for creative delicious recipes for my farm box.  The “Bulgur Pilaf with Swiss Chard and Dried Apricots” is a Turkish-inspired recipe with a surprising flavor.

I had never cooked bulgur before, but was excited to give it a try.  As soon as I tasted it, I realized why I had never cooked it before.  I don’t like bulgur.  Or to be more precise, I thought I didn’t like bulgur.  I think I have had one too many bad taboulis at Middle Eastern restaurants.  This freshly cooked bulgur with cinnamon and apricots was superb.  I even put some of the grain mixture aside for the baby to eat, which she happily gobbled up all week.

Bulgur “Pilaf” with Swiss Chard and Dried Apricots

From Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

1 cup bulgar

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup roughly chopped raw pistachios (I used pine nuts)

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 shallot, finely chopped (I used the onion that was in my farm box that week)

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves chopped (I kept some stems, too pretty to trash)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Freshly squeezed lemon juice or pomegranate molasses (I used the molasses, what else am I using it for?)

1. Bring pot of salted water to boil. Add the bulgur and cinnamon and cook for about 9 minutes.  Add the apricots and cook until bulgur is tender.  Drain well and discard the cinnamon.  (I accidentally cooked for too long, but it worked out fine…the water just evaporated).

Bulgur + Cinnamon

2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter.  Add the nuts, cumin, and some salt.  Cook, stirring until golden brown.  Transfer to a bowl.  (I usually don’t waste time by transferring to a separate bowl, but this was well worth the extra step).

Following the directions to use butter

3. Wipe out the skillet (yes, still worth the extra time) with a paper towel.  Return it to medium heat and add oil, garlic, and shallot.  Add the charge, the remaining salt, and cook until chard is wilted.  Melissa Clark says this should take about 3 minutes, but it took closer to 10 for my chard.  Stir in the bulgur mixture and the nuts.  Toss over heat until warmed through.  Transfer to plates and drizzle.  Top with a fried egg to make it a full meal.

Lovely looking vegetable

Didn’t I say it was lovely

Adding pomegranate molasses to the dish

With egg on top!


Hot Summer Day Salad

Whenever you land at the airport in New Orleans, you walk outside and are immediately hit by the thick air. You wade your way through the tangible, wet heat from the terminal to the waiting area, letting the moisture soak into your skin while you take it all in.   Although I left New Orleans over ten years ago, I regularly visit my family and steep in air while I wait to be picked up.

So, last week when I stepped out of my well air-conditioned office building into this summer’s mid-western heat wave, I was hit by a familiar humidity.  Like New Orleans, Chicago’s air was wet and tangible, soaking into my skin.  It was the kind of heat that had my fellow office workers in uproar.  The people that complain about weather year-round had something to say about this.  But for me, it was rather comforting and comfortable, reminding me that I live in a city with four distinct seasons.

This evening, standing at the stove is the last thing that I want to do.  Instead, I pull all of the vegetables out of the fridge to assess the situation.  I decide to make an entree salad–filled with as many vegetables as I can fit or that make sense together.  I have discovered that Andy doesn’t mind eating salad for dinner, as long as I make it substantial enough to be filling.  Through trial and error, I realized that we need to have at least two proteins, such as avocado and black beans,  in the salad to make it an entree fit for a dude.

Tonight I made two hard-boiled eggs and added a tin of oil-packed albacore tuna to the greens–making a really substantial meal.  I also included chopped cucumber, heirloom tomato from Henry’s Farm at the Evanston Farmer’s Market, roasted red pepper, and red onion.  At the last minute, I threw in some goat cheese.  I think that there is some rule that says that you aren’t supposed to eat cheese with fish (except perhaps for lox and cream cheese), but I disregarded that rule tonight.  I had picked up some herbed focaccia at the French Market at lunch and thought the cheese would pair nicely.  I was right.  But they key to making my salad “fantastic” (to quote Andy) is the homemade salad dressed.  I read an article in today’s Slate about the importance of  homemade salad dressing versus store bought–there is just no discussion on which is better.  The homemade dressing wins by a long shot–I always make my own if I have time.

Easy vinaigrette makes the salad

Simple Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons vinegar (can use White Wine, Red Wine, or Balsamic)

1 clove garlic, chopped finely

fresh herbs, such as oregano, thyme, or rosemary

Really really good extra virgin olive oil (quality makes a BIG difference)

1. Combine the mustard and vinegar.  Whisk together.

2. Season with garlic and herbs.

3. Add enough olive oil to cut through the vinegar, about 1/4 cup.

Plated salad + Focaccia bread

Farmer’s Market Tofu

One of my favorite activities each weekend during the summer is wandering around our local Farmer’s Market in Evanston.  Since we moved to Evanston five years ago, the market has gotten larger and more developed.  This year there are even some tasty prepared foods–crepes, tamales, and smoothies in addition to several bakeries.  We now have our favorite farms and usually know exactly where to go.  This past week, we strolled by a booth that we had never stopped at, selling a range of organic micro-sprouts and this homemade tofu.

I like tofu for a quick weeknight meal–it doesn’t make a mess, requires very little cooking time, and melds well with any flavor.  I usually like making my own sauces, so when I stumbled on this Hot and Sweet Marmalade Glazed Tofu on Veggie Belly I thought it would be perfect for this fresh tofu.  One thing that really interested me with this post, is that Veggie Belly linked to a previous version of the same recipe from 2008 called Stick Orange Tofu Thins.  Veggie Belly is a lovely blog, filled with a variety of Asian-inspired vegetarian recipes that fill my “one day I’ll make this” list.  This post allowed me to see that not all food blogs start out as masterful pieces of art filled with sexy-beautiful-mouth watering-succulent-tempting food photography.  Based on the images, writing, and layout from 2008 I can see that Veggie Belly has evolved tremendously.  It gave me faith in my own efforts that one day this blog will evolve into something much better.  Everyone has to start somewhere, right?

As a new blogger, there are so many things that I have to think about as I post.  Do I need to show you all my ingredients used in my post?  (I decided no, because I never pull everything together before I start cooking and I put things away as soon as I finish with them.)  Do I need to show you a play by play of every cooking step?  Am I permitted to type out someone else’s recipe as long as I attribute it to them or do I need to get permission from them?  So many things to think about and learn…I feel like I’m in kindergarten again.

Hot + Sweet Marmalade Glazed Tofu

From Veggie Belly

1. Cut tofu into triangles.  Since my tofu was quite moist, I decided to drain it for a few minutes on a paper towel.

2. I mixed up Veggie Belly’s delicious Hot + Sweet sauce while the tofu drained.  This included:

4 tablespoons soy sauce

4 tablespoons orange marmelade

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon sriracha sauce

cilantro for garnish

3. I browned the tofu in a pan.  Unfortunately, I didn’t follow the instructions to use a non-stick pan, so my tofu stuck to the pan and did not get quite as crispy as it was supposed to.

4. I added the sauce as soon as the tofu seemed crisp enough and let it bubble and get a little bit thick.

5. I served with brown rice and a salad from the CSA farm box–lettuce, radishes, cucumber, and red onion.  I whipped up an Asian inspired salad dressing with sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and chunky peanut butter.


TIPS FOR NEXT TIME: Remember to use a non-stick pan so that the tofu can get crispy.  Use less hot sauce if you do not want it to be too spicy.

It is easy being GREEN

As the name of this blog suggests, during the summer CSA season, we consume a lot of greens.  In last week’s e-mail, Farmer Vicki told us that her grandmother always said that greens are prevalent in the spring because our bodies need revitalization and cleansing.  I couldn’t agree more!  Since our CSA box started this year, it has been so much easier to focus on healthier recipes and lighter foods with the bounty of vegetables filling our fridge.

For my first post on the Greens + Giggles blog, I thought it would be apropos to start with a greens recipe.  Kale is one of my favorite greens–while spinach wilts quickly, kale is stronger and heartier.  In the winter, I love making a hearty kale soup with white beans, but given the advent of warm weather I decided to make some tasty snacking kale chips.  Several years ago I saw an article in Bon Appetit with kale chips delicately displayed in a glass and ever since I make kale chips ever now and then.  I don’t follow a recipe–but splash some high quality olive oil and sea salt and bake at 350°F until crispy, about 15 minutes.


FOR NEXT TIME: Remember that kale chips get soggy when stored on the counter or the fridge.  Make enough to consume at the moment.  If you do accidentally make to many, you can recrisp them in the oven but you risk burning the chips.