Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

My favorite kitchen tool: a sharp knife. If asked if I have a tomato corer or a garlic peeler or an onion chopper, I just pull out my ten inch chef’s knife. No gadgets for me. Kitchen gadgets just take up space, and I am not willing to share my limited space with silly little unitaskers. If the item only serves one function, it does not deserve a spot in my kitchen.


I honestly don’t remember much from culinary school, (sad) but I use my knife skills daily, so that alone almost makes the money spent worthwhile. Almost. I remember as the instructor of Cooking 101 passed out the black knife bags complete with straps and zippered pockets. I opened my brand new knife kit, ripping the Velcro straps apart to reveal shiny steel blades in evenly spaced pockets. I reached in to pull out one of the shimmering blades, and sliced my finger open. Stupid boning knife. The giant bandage on my hand certainly reminded me to act with caution around these tools during the first few weeks.


But, sharp knives soon changed from alien beings that I feared to absolute necessities that I could not cook without. Learning how to cut quickly, cleanly and correctly takes time, and lots of practice, but makes such a huge difference in all cooking. Food cooks unevenly when cut unevenly, herbs bruise when minced with a dull knife, and bread just squashes into a lumpy mess instead of falling into clean slices. Expensive knives are not necessary; my favorites are Forschner brand, only about thirty dollars for the larger knives. Very reasonably priced for tools that last for years.


Why am I talking about knives when the title of this post is carrot, cauliflower and coconut curry? Because the vegetables need to be sliced thinly and evenly so they cook evenly. Such an easy dish to make, don’t ruin it with giant, uncooked clumps of cauliflower! Take the time to really prepare all your ingredients, as the dish is so fast and easy to cook. I chopped up everything first, then started heating the pan.

Carrot, Cauliflower and Coconut Curry

Serves 2 to 3 people

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp sesame oil

4 large cremini (or button) mushrooms, quartered

1/2 cup thinly sliced onion

1 cup carrots, peeled, thinly sliced on a bias

1 cup thinly sliced cauliflower florets

1 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk

1 Tbsp green curry paste (Green is my favorite, it is vegetarian and the ingredients include ginger, garlic, and lemongrass, yum! Red and yellow curry pastes will also work. If you are sensitive to spicy foods, start with just a bit of the curry paste, and taste as you go. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out!)

2 green onions, sliced on a bias

Heat a wok or large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the vegetable oil and then the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onions and sauté until softened. Add the sesame oil, garlic, carrots and cauliflower. Reduce heat to medium and add coconut milk and curry paste. Cook until sauce bubbles vigorously and thickens, and vegetables are crisp/tender. Stir in green onions. Serve with brown rice, rice, coconut rice, rice noodles, soba noodles, whatever you have!


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Yoga and Quinoa

My sister, the graphic designer, the yoga-student, the vegetarian, the concert-obsessed, does not cook. She can heat leftovers or make herself a bagel or cheese sandwich or burrito, but if it requires more than five minutes of prep time, she gives up. So many sad little recipes wanting to share their nutritious, delicious flavor combinations with her, but they remain only pretty photos and lists of ingredients, never to experience the real world.

So, when her yoga instructor announced to the class that their final would include a potluck of vegetarian dishes, guess who little sister ran to? Great guess, her big sister, the chef and professional home kitchen-messer-upper. She asked me to make a quinoa salad I prepared for her friend’s wedding a year ago. She promised to in return do the dishes, and she did not go back on her word. She returned from the yoga class with a huge grin stretched across her face and demanded that I add that recipe to my blog, as several people had requested the recipe. So, finally, here is the much requested recipe for quinoa and black bean salad with jalapeño vinaigrette.

Quinoa Salad with Jalapeno Vinaigrette

1 cup quinoa (I used red, but regular quinoa works just as well)
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, cleaned and small diced
3/4 cup Jalapeno Vinaigrette
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 green onions, chopped
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1 Tbsp minced cilantro

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt to the water. Add the quinoa to the boiling water, reduce heat to medium high and boil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Stir occasionally. I under cook it slightly because it will soak up the dressing and soften more over time. Not a fan of mushy quinoa! The grains will puff up and be tender, but they should still have a bite to them if cooked properly. Drain the quinoa well, then return it to the pot it was cooked in and add the vinaigrette, black beans green onions and chopped bell pepper. Mix well and refrigerate, uncovered, until cooled. Add the tomatoes and cilantro, stir to combine, and add salt and pepper to taste. I like this salad a little saucy, so I sometimes stir in a little more vinaigrette before I serve it, but that is just a personal preference. My sister prefers it drier! I also like to add corn, but my sister doesn’t like it, so I left it out. Feel free to experiment and add other ingredients, that is the best part of cooking!

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My sister, a vegetarian, loves the bean and cheese burritos we ate growing up. A flour tortilla spread with canned refried beans, sprinkled with grated Tillamook cheddar, micro waved for a minute and rolled up. An easy recipe even my sister can make! (Just kidding, Diana!) Very simple and ingenious, but I associate canned refried beans with the taste of vomit. I just can’t stand them. I also prefer to stay away from shortening-filled, white flour tortillas. I love corn tortillas, which typically consist of just corn masa, water and salt, but sometimes I just want a burrito.

I decided to try a fat-free whole wheat tortilla recipe with my kind of ingredient list: short! Just whole wheat pastry flour, water and sea salt. The fewer ingredients and steps included in the recipe, the more likely I am to try it. If you love store-bought white flour tortillas, this recipe may take some getting used to. I love the nutty taste of whole grain products; I will always choose whole grain over white when presented with an option. So, this recipe worked out perfectly for me. Simple, quick, easy and no added fat.

Finish off the tortilla with some of my favorite items: pinto beans, queso fresco, and avocado pico de gallo. A yummy, slightly more time-consuming version of the menu staple of my childhood. Not that time-consuming if you think ahead though! I soak the beans overnight, cook a large batch, and use them throughout the week in many applications. I can do that, because of my love of beans, but cooked beans also freeze well if your family or stomach complains of bean overload. The rest really comes together quickly, although I am less likely to attempt the long versions of these items during hot summer days. The less I turn on the oven or stove top, the better. Prepare for many blog posts involving green salads and fresh fruit during the summer!

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

Yields about 4 large tortillas

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 to 3/4 cup water

1/4 tsp sea salt


In a large bowl combine the flour and 1/2  cup of water. Mix well. Add more water if needed, to get the mixture to a dough consistency. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is soft. Make it into balls (4 to 6 depending on size). Roll each ball out as flat as possible on a floured surface.  Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the rolled out tortilla to the pan and cook for about 45 seconds to 1 minute or until it is bubbling and starting to brown. Then turn it over and cook for another 45 seconds. Wrap each tortilla in a clean kitchen towel as soon as it comes out of the pan.  Serve immediately. These tortillas are better freshly cooked, they don’t reheat as well.

Fill with warm, cooked pinto beans, queso fresco and avocado pico de gallo. Enjoy!

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A month straight of Oregon rain really starts to get depressing after a while. I actually love the rain (as long as I’m not stuck walking in it!), a good thing considering where I live. I can’t stand hot weather, and the more rain I see, the longer I get to avoid hot, sweaty, sleepless nights. But, after a dreary May filled with windstorms and flooding, the sun finally burned through the clouds and even I rejoiced.  I ignored the pile of soaked socks in the laundry basket and skipped past the sink of dirty dishes. I could not stay inside on such a lovely day. No, today needed celebration, sun and food. Time for a picnic. The refrigerator still bulged with leftovers from the Mexican fiesta we threw for my boyfriend’s family, so I decided on a menu not involving the traditional sandwiches and salads. I grabbed as many ingredients from the refrigerator as I could, and chopped them up into a couple different salsas. A bag of organic corn chips, a couple of bottles of water, and a picnic table next to the river completed the meal. We feasted on avocado pico de gallo, mango-radish salsa, tomato-cucumber salad, and slices of juicy mango. Yes, my boyfriend asked for meat as I pulled the food from the cooler, but as he polished off the last salsa-topped chip, he admitted he did not even have room for a chicken wing. The sun continued to shine as we walked along the river and as I took some time to photograph the nature around me. A wonderful day, a wonderful meal, and a small dent in the products in the refrigerator. A very productive and mood-lifting day!

Avocado Pico de Gallo

Yields about 3 cups

1 avocado, peeled and small diced

4 roma tomatoes, cored and small diced

1/4 cup minced red onion

1/2 jalapeño, seeded, stemmed and minced

2 Tbsp minced cilantro

1 tsp olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve immediately.

Mango-Radish Salsa

1 mango, peeled, and small diced

4 large radishes, stemmed and small diced

2 Tbsp minced red onion

2 tsp minced cilantro

1/2 jalapeño, minced

1/2 tsp olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve immediately.

I added 1 diced roma tomato to this when I made it, but I prefer it without. I just needed to use up some tomatoes fast!

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I finally found time to for a trip to my local farmer’s market! Not even the lively Oregon rain could keep me away this time! I can’t wait for all the summer harvests of corn, berries, tomatoes and stone fruit! But in the meantime, I found huge displays of tasty root vegetables and leafy greens. I didn’t buy much this time (I need to clean out my refrigerator first!) but I couldn’t ignore the rainbow of carrots, baby turnips and beets. I love waking up early and having a fresh carrot to crunch on! No comparison to the grocery store variety. So much sweeter and crispier.

I also picked up a quesadilla from the Canby Asparagus Farm booth for my boyfriend. Filled with cauliflower, a rainbow of bell peppers, onions, zucchini, grilled chicken, and of course, asparagus, this local treat always satisfies. The way they throw the cheese directly on the grill until it melts and gets a little crispy, plus their chipotle-spiked salsa, really makes this quesadilla special. It gets a little messy if you try to eat it with a plastic fork while you walk, but who cares? Can you really wait until you arrive home?

I started my morning with a bowl of homemade granola and organic milk, so I skipped the market lunch, but did pick up a marionberry lemonade. They squeeze the juice right in front of you, and offer endless combinations of fruit to add to your tart-sweet drink. Very refreshing, even in the rain!

Find a farmer’s market near you and support your local economy!

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I grew up in the land of canned beans. Black beans, re-fried beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, great northern white beans, even green beans, all from the can. I helped my mom can peaches, pears, cherries, green beans and plums in the summer heat. We took out our frustrations on large batches of strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, smashing them into submission with generous quantities of sugar for homemade freezer jam. We peeled and sliced apples in the fall for homemade chunky applesauce and my mom’s famous apple pies. So much work, but so worth it. My mom conquered these challenges with grace, but found dried beans intimidating. She found them too time consuming (right, homemade canned pears take no time!), and thought they never tasted right. Funny to me now, that such a simple ingredient can scare even those with the greenest thumbs and greasiest elbows. Now, guess my favorite kitchen staple. Yes, dried beans. So versatile, tasty, nutritious, satisfying and inexpensive! Even my mom no longer fears cooking this wonderful nutrient source.  Currently, black beans, pinto beans, great northern white beans and pink beans all line my shelves. If I cook the beans myself, I control the amount of salt and flavorings added, not some giant corporation. I can cook the beans with onions and garlic, and let them absorb all the wonderful flavors. Just don’t add salt or anything acidic (tomatoes, vinegar, lime juice, etc . . .) until the last five minutes of cooking, after the beans soften. Salt and acid toughen the beans if added too early. Smash pinto beans with sautéed onions and garlic for homemade re-fried beans not even close to the canned variety that always taste like vomit (at least to me). Puree navy beans with roasted garlic or roasted red peppers for a delicious mayonnaise replacement. Stir great northern white beans, spinach and homemade pesto into chicken soup instead of  pasta. So many possibilities, I never need to make the same recipe twice. My latest bean adventure includes homemade tomatillo salsa, diced tomatoes and avocados, cilantro, green onion and queso fresco. Serve with chips for a yummy dip, or on top of spinach leaves for a cold taco salad. If your bean fear stems from a less than desirable side effect (to put it nicely!) that only means you need to eat more beans! Believe me, the more you eat, the more your body builds up a tolerance to them. So, step away from the canned food aisle and into the land of heavenly, homemade beans.

Pink Bean and Tomatillo Salsa Salad

Yields 6 to 8 servings

1 cup beans (I used pink beans, but pinto beans or black beans work too)

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Cover the beans with water and soak them overnight. They will expand, so make sure to use plenty of water and a large container.  Drain the beans and rinse them well. Place them in a large pot and cover them with water. Add the garlic cloves. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook them at a fast simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking for 5 more minutes. Drain the beans, but do not rinse them. Discard the garlic. While the beans are cooking, prepare the tomatillo salsa.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

1/2 lb tomatillos, soaked in water and husks removed

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 bunch green onions, washed and roots removed

1/4 bunch cilantro leaves, washed

1/4 cup water

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roast the tomatillos and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet for about 15 minutes, or until tomatillos soften slightly and change color. Remove from oven and cool briefly. Puree the tomatillos, garlic, green onions, cilantro, water and salt and pepper until smooth. Pour the warm salsa over the warm, drained beans, and refrigerate until cold. Combining the salsa and beans while they are still warm lets the beans soak up more flavor. While the beans are cooling, prepare the rest of the salad ingredients.

1 poblano pepper

2 roma tomatoes, diced 1/4 inch

1 avocado, peeled and diced 1/4 inch

1/4 bunch cilantro, minced

1/2 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

6 oz queso fresco (1/2 of a wheel)

Roast the poblano pepper under the broiler, turning occasionally until the skin is black and blistered. Immediately put the pepper in a plastic bag and refrigerate until cool enough to handle. When cooled, peel off the blackened skin and remove the stem and the seeds. Cut the pepper into 1/4 inch dice. Combine the diced pepper, tomato, avocado, cilantro, green onions, and queso fresco with the salsa-marinated beans. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with corn chips.

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When did pizza turn into a greasy pile of cheese, soggy dough and too many low-quality toppings? Such a beautiful concept turned ugly by millions of crappy restaurants and cheap chains. Trader Joe’s to the rescue! Wandering through the aisles, I spotted gooey balls of whole wheat pizza dough. I couldn’t help but put a couple in my cart, along with a bag of arugula, some heirloom grape tomatoes, a log of mozzarella and a bottle of olive oil. I love planning dinner this way. I don’t need a recipe or website for help, just the inspiration of fresh and inviting ingredients. Okay, maybe I cheated a bit. I can make pizza dough, and better pizza dough than they sell in stores. But, I try to avoid my nemesis (flour) at home where no dishwasher (human!) awaits to sweep up my mess. Pathetic, yes. Lazy, definitely. But, after a day of cooking for other people, sometimes I need a shortcut. At least this shortcut includes whole wheat flour! Healthier, and tastier. My first attempt did not turn out the way I planned. Do not attempt new recipes while starving! I sprinkled cornmeal on my baking sheet, but did not grease the pan, or line it with anything. Stupid, stupid, stupid! The smell of garlic and roasting tomatoes wafted through my apartment as I attempted to scrape the pizza off the baking sheet with a spatula. I succeeded, partially. The crispy part of the crust remains stuck to the pan, and the pan still sits in the sink taunting me. “Do not even attempt to clean me! Only failure awaits you!” The top of the pizza tasted wonderful, but did not include the contrast of a crispy crust. My next try included lining the baking sheet with foil, and greasing it liberally with pan spray. The result: a perfectly crispy crust topped with sweet roasted tomatoes, melting mozzarella with just enough of a caramelized crunch, and pungent arugula for a fresh contrast. So good I ate it three days in a row. Freshly made each time, of course.

Tomato, Mozzarella and Arugula Pizza

Yields 2 servings

1 tbsp cornmeal

1 lb pizza dough (you can find this in most grocery stores, or you can make your own! I prefer whole wheat dough)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

8  slices of mozzarella from an 8 oz log

16 grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup arugula, cleaned

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

flour (I used whole wheat)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil, spray generously with pan spray, and sprinkle with 1 tbsp of cornmeal. Heat the pan in the oven while you assemble the pizza. This will help crisp the crust. Meanwhile, sprinkle a cutting board with flour  and roll out the pizza dough to a quarter inch thickness. Make sure the dough does not stick to the cutting board. Add more flour if necessary. You can also divide the dough in half and make two individual pizzas. Brush the dough with 1 tsp of olive oil and sprinkle with the minced garlic. Top with the sliced mozzarella and the halved tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove the preheated baking sheet from the oven, and carefully slide the pizza on it. Put the baking sheet in the oven, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Let the pizza cool for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, toss the arugula with 1 tsp of olive oil and salt and pepper. Top the pizza with the arugula, slice the pizza and serve.

You can also use a pizza stone instead of the baking sheet, but if you have a pizza stone, you probably know how to use it! I do not own one . 😦

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Driving to my parents’ house on a wonderfully sunny day (rare enough in Oregon, right?), I realized the temptations awaiting me in fifteen miles. Two of my brothers still live at home, and my mom always keeps the pantry (or garage in her case) stocked with enough junk to satisfy two teenage boys. Not a good idea to show up hungry. I would head straight for the frozen pizza or mac and cheese. Very sad, I know, but something about Kraft and Totinos evoke great childhood memories. My mom cooked us three meals a day, healthy and portion appropriate. Only occasionally did she pop a frozen pizza in the oven or stir powdered cheese into butter, milk and noodles. We looked forward to those days (pathetic, I know) because of their rarity. My poor mom. Slaving away daily to offer us healthy, home-cooked meals, and her ungrateful children only thanked her when packaged crap ended up as part of the meal. I know better now the standards by which to judge a meal, but I still have a hard time avoiding those chemically enhanced treats when in my parents’ house. So, I stopped by Spicer’s, a year-round produce stand on the way to see the folks. April in Oregon means limited local produce items, but at least I could buy from a local business. Piles of apples, pears and citrus greeted me as I entered the canopy-covered part of the store. I grabbed a few Opal apples, a new variety for me, and then noticed the local asparagus. So versatile, so delicious. I immediately grabbed a bunch and decided on stir fry. I supplemented my finds with a small head of broccoli, a few large button mushrooms, green onions, an all natural stir fry sauce (I felt lazy), and a bag of Bob’s Red Mill brown rice. I love Bob’s Red Mill! The best store ever. I purchased my finds and continued on my way. Fresh apple slices and a filling vegetable stir fry prevented me from even craving any of the junk within easy reach.

Vegetable Stir Fry with Brown Rice

Yields 3 to 4 servings

1 cup brown rice

2 1/2 cups water

1 tsp kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 to 55 minutes, or until rice is tender.

1 bunch asparagus

4 large button mushrooms

1 small head broccoli

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

1 tbsp vegetable oil

2/3 cup stir fry sauce (I used Soy Vey brand Veri Veri Teriyaki)

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp cold water

Cut the tough ends off of the asparagus bunch (about the bottom two inches), then cut the remaining tender section into 1 inch pieces. Cut the broccoli into small florets. Peel the tough outer skin from the broccoli stalk, and cut the rest into 1/4 inch pieces. Thinly slice the mushrooms. Heat a wok or large sauté pan over high heat. Add the oil and then the mushrooms. The key to golden brown mushrooms is in not moving them around much. Add them in an even layer and don’t touch for a couple of minutes. Stir when you can see the edges of the mushrooms start to brown. Add garlic, cook for 30 seconds. Add the broccoli, asparagus, stir fry sauce and water. Bring to a boil and cook briefly, until vegetables are crisp-tender. Combine the cornstarch and water until smooth and then stir into boiling stir fry mixture. Bring back to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in green onions. Serve over brown rice.

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