Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Squash and Feta Tacos with Salsa Verde

On nights when I just want to disconnect from it all—whether it's a stressful day at work or family banter via text—I find that cooking really grounds me. The jazz goes on, the wine gets poured, the cutting board gets put on the counter and BAM! I'm in my happy place.

Cooking from scratch brings Charlie and I such joy. We live in such a fast-paced, technology-driven world. The art of making, using your hands, feeling the textures of food—these are the things that ground us. It's a reminder of who we are and where we are.

So let's talk Mexican Tortilla's, guys.

Vegan? Yes.

Gluten Free? Yes.

Are they difficult to make? No.

Seriously. Make tonight "taco night".

If you have corn flour and water—surprise!—you can make tortillas. It's a 2/2 ratio: 2 cups of corn flour (masa harina) to 2 cups of hot water. (I also added 1 tsp salt.)

1. Knead mixture into a ball
2. Let the dough sit for 30 minutes
3. Mold smaller balls from the rested dough
4. Press to form your tortilla (this part helps relieve office stress)
5. Toast on a skillet

The fact that these are so easy will make you never want to buy store bought again. Ever. And think of the economics: That one bag of masa makes a LOT of tortillas.

My farmers market (shoutout to DC's FreshFarm Markets) has some really great vendors. The stand where I like to buy most of produce from (Garner's Farms) has the coolest stuff. And organic, too! Plus they are just super nice people—always willing to answer questions that one might have. Last week, they had this basket of gorgeous squashes. People, we are talking magazine-cover type stuff. In the bag went two types: Kabocha (Charlie's favorite) and a Red Kuri (the color blew my mind—I had to have it).

If you have not cooked with either of these before, I highly recommend that you do. Acorn and Butternut are popular for a reason, but there are so many more types of squash to sample. The Red Kuri, in particular, had a very chestnut-like flavor. Who could say "no" to that? Move over, Butternut.

My taco filling was a mixture of feta cheese with the above squashes roasted. (You could easily replace this with avocado to keep it all vegan.)

Now let's talk Salsa Verde, guys. In fact, let's talk hot peppers. Scared? I know, me too. I was chicken to touch it and used a sandwich bag in lieu of gloves. Did it work? Yes—so you should try it too. What a difference from canned. They were fresh, smoky, and vibrant. I used half a Serrano, no seeds or ribs. (I told you I was chicken.) That amount provided just enough heat.

A friend of mine has recently been using cashews in what she cooks. I was inspired. Having cooked for my lactose-intolerant cousin, I have been educated on the power of cashews, and nuts in general. Using soaked cashews, I pureed this along with leeks and chard to make my Salsa. That's right: Chard. Chard is great and everything, but aren't you all tired of the tried-and-true sauté with garlic and oil? I know I am. This was a super cool way to use the vegetable, keep it raw, and not know that you're eating leafy greens. Trust me. You're vegetable-phobic friends will never know.

Salsa Verde: Puree 1/2 bunch of de-ribbed Swiss Chard with 2 Tbs leeks (washed and chopped), 1-2 tsp cumin, 2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp oregano, and 1/2 cup of cashews (soaked in hot water for 30 minutes). It's delicious and it's vegan. Again, you're friends will never know.

And that's how I spent my glamorous evening off in the city: cooking. Sometimes pressing out a batch of tortillas (along with some tunes and wine) is all you need to wind down from the day's stresses.

Monday, August 26, 2013


Hailing from Nice, France, socca is a hidden gem for those on a gluten-free (and dairy-free) diet. I cannot imagine a better project for the Piccolo Gourmet. Socca is a cracker-like crepe made from gram (chickpea) flour. The Italians from Pisa and Genoa have their version as well, farinata, and is made in a similar way.

Our research led us to find that, in France, they are usually cut into triangles and served plain. In certain parts of Tuscany, Italians add toppings like a focaccia. Tonight, I tried both ways. Many thanks to David Lebovitz's Parisian blog for providing the recipe. Gluten-free vegans rejoice!

Socca or Farinata
1 cup gram flour
1 cup water
1.5 TSP of olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
some crushed black pepper

1. Blend all ingredients into a bowl and let rest for 30-45 mins. (I went for a jog and came back.)

2. Preheat broiler and place a non-stick cookie sheet (with a lip) in the oven to pre-heat for 10 minutes.

3. Pour batter onto the hot sheet and (using a mitt) roll dough around to coat the surface as evenly as possible.

4. Place under the broiler until it has blistered in spots and set.

5. Cut into squares, triangles, whatever, and enjoy warm.

The socca were sooo good plain with a glass of white wine. Also good with toppings, though try to stay on the lighter side. I topped my farinata with a roasted tomato slice, fresh chopped basil, and sliced olives (see photograph). The tomato was very heavy for such a delicate base. It held up fine, but something lighter (like caramelized onion slices or just some chopped herbs) would have been preferable.

The dish is so simple to execute. Weeknight fare for sure. However, like most gluten-free dishes, it requires some trial and error before hand. Did it turn out edible? Absolutely. I'm bringing leftovers to snack on tomorrow at work. However, I would love to squeeze in a couple of more trials before my cousin comes over next week. (He has gluten and lactose allergies, so this dish is PERFECT for him.) A second post with further experiments are in order, so keep your eyes peeled. Happy cooking!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Savory Tarts

Tomato-Herb Galette

Summer Squash Galette

Sweet Potato-Spinach-Goat Cheese Tart

Spring is here, which means chilled white wine, dining al fresco, and time spent in the sunshine. Light meals are on the horizon. And the French know how to cook light. Well, just filling enough, let's say. Vegetarianism, I have written before, is challenging when dealing with French cuisine. It is not a secret that I have been on a tart kick, perhaps because they are so versatile. And easy. Finally I am writing on this trend in our kitchen.

In past weeks, I had made a type of tart which almost mimics a custard. The dough is extremely wet, however, when poured into a smoking hot dish, it puffs up, and cooks quickly. The other type that I had become an expert at making is a galette. The dough is presented in an extremely rustic way. Mistakes are ok. In fact, they might even make your galette look better. Both dishes are versatile, easy to make, and can be altered to suit your taste. 

I must give credit where credit is due. I used this dough recipe ( Um, fabulous. Whole wheat flour was added, though. My proportions were 1 cup white, 1/4 cup whole wheat. My tomato tart was seasoned with sea salt, garlic, and basil. 

Another challenge is making this a complete meal—and at the current moment I have no protein in this tart. Plus, I wanted this galette to be cheese free. My answer was adding legumes. I added shell beans that I soaked and cooked earlier to a puree of sauteed farmer's market vegetables. It looked like a Mediterranean hummus, but it served as a great base. All liquid from the tomato would be caught in this spread—It served a dual purpose. Protection and nutrients.

Tomato-Herb Galette (Serves 3-4)
Slice and sauté 1/2 large onion in olive oil with 4 garlic loves (chopped). Add a nice handful of washed, de-stemmed chard. Add 2 Tsp. of dried basil (don't forget to grind these dried herbs in between your palms to extract the oils and deepen the flavor.) Add a pinch of chili flakes and salt to taste. Puree this with 1 cup of pre-cooked shell beans (or use canned).

Spread the puree on the base of your galette. Fan out thinly sliced plum tomatoes (about 3) and fool up the sides of your galette dough. Cook for 50 mins. at 350. Broil on low for 10 minutes but keep a watchful eye that this does not burn. You want your tomato edges to darken and your dough to toast. Cool on a rack and sprinkle liberally with coarse sea salt. 

Other notes on past tarts can be read in posts earlier last month. Making this one again for sure. Enjoy and have fun!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tarte de basilic et légumes grillés

 Slice of Tarte

In the pan

More notes on this to come, but we wanted to share some visuals in the meantime. I am extremely confident in the making of this dough. It is the filling(s) that I still need practice with. However, if you have 45 minutes and some pantry staples, a savory French tarte is an easy (yes, easy) light dinner. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tarte aux patates douces et fromage de chèvre

The Piccolo Gourmet had a great time tonight. This bread was so much fun to make that we might try it again tomorrow. This tarte base is only three ingredients: 3 eggs, 1-1/2 cups flour, and 1-1/2 cups milk. To it, you could add some salt, some fresh herbs, whatever! The trick is to oil your pan extremely well and to have it heat in the oven on its own for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. When your pan is smoking hot, add your batter and whatever toppings you wish. We were hesitant adding our toppings to such a wet, raw batter, but everything sets up beautifully! We won't tell you what kind of tarte to create—the possibilities are endless. Be creative! Our crust tonight was a combination of Whole Wheat and All-Purpose flours. Though the majority of our dish consisted of sweet potatoes and goat cheese, we also included spinach and caramelized onion. We seasoned it with garlic, sage, sea salt, and crushed black pepper. If you have all your ingredients ready to go, this dinner can be made in 45 minutes. An easy, healthy, after-work treat.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Torre de Batata

April has been colder than we would have hoped. Despite the chill, we decided to start Spring with a salad—but a roasted vegetable salad instead of jumping into the lettuce catagory. There will be plenty of time for that later. Besides, we had some great surprises show up in our produce delivery this past week!

It is no secret that The Piccolo Gourmet loves to roast vegetables. Inspired by our favorite local spot, we hope you enjoy this warm, Mexican-influenced salad.

This recipe is as delicious as it is foolproof. Big flavor with a minimal amount of prep time.

2 sweet potatoes
1 bag of fresh brussel sprouts
1 cup of white (or black) beans
olive oil
sea salt
chipotle powder
ancho chili powders
goat cheese* (optional)

Peel and slice potatoes in 1/4 inch disks. Clean the brussel sprouts and slice in half. Toss the vegetables in olive oil and lay (cut-side down) on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and toss liberally with sea salt. Lightly dust the vegetables with both chili powders (Ancho can be quite hot, so add this powder to your taste).

Lay one slice of potato on a plate and top with 2 or 3 of the brussel sprout halves. Continue adding layers until a mound is formed. Top with a spoonful of white beans and drizzle olive oil over the dish. Enjoy.

*note: I originally ate this without the cheese. I added a crumble of goat cheese on top to balance out the heat of the chili powder on my second helping. It tasted fabulous, (when is adding goat cheese a bad thing?) but, this can be easilly left out to keep the salad vegan. It is delicious either way.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Couscous Blanc

Oh, the mighty artichoke. I love you, artichoke, but you stress me out. Thank goodness Julia Child takes you step-by-step—she's a life saver. This is my third attempt at cooking artichokes.  Yes, I'm still intimidated. Yes, they are time-consuming. However, you feel proud of yourself when you are done. And, come on, who doesn't love a fresh artichoke? I'm home alone. This means more artichoke for me (and I can pig out all by myself). 

Oh yeah. That's happening. 

And sorry, I'm not going to tell you how to cook artichokes because there are many others that could explain the process FAR BETTER than I. You should see my kitchen—it's a complete mess. I am obviously not a pro. The only advice I can give you is: Be prepared to work. Leave time for yourself, be patient, and try to enjoy the experience. 

Coincidentally, most of the items I set out to cook with tonight were "white" in color: White mushrooms, white beans, white wine. Thus, "Couscous Blanc" was created. The wine I had on hand was Spanish (shocking, I know), and I was referencing Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The result was a mediterranean-inspired dish combining Spanish and French cuisines. 

After my meal, I wrote some notes. I liked what I made, but it needs some work. Or maybe just more salt. Next time, I am going to add more oil and: 1.) finish with fresh squeezed lemon juice or 2.) add a some cheese (crumbled chèvre or shavings of queso de cabra borracha). Perhaps both. 

1 cup of pre-soaked, pre-cooked white beans
2 globe artichokes
2 glasses of white wine (I used a 2011 Garnacha Blanca)
5 garlic cloves (2 whole, 3 sliced)
1 Tbsp of each dried herb: thyme, basil, sage
1/2 of a medium-sized onion
1 pinch of saffron
8 oz. organic white mushrooms (cleaned and sliced)
3 Tbs. minced fresh parsley
1 cup couscous (I used Red Mill brand)
olive oil (don't be shy)
sea salt (don't be shy)
cracked black peper

Steam the trimmed and cored artichokes with 2 inches of salted water and 1 glass of white wine. Add 2 whole cloves of garlic and a bay leaf for aromatics. Steam for 40 minutes. Personally, I felt that this was too long of a time. Try 25 and check for doneness. 

While the artichokes are cooking, sauté the onion with a pinch of sea salt in olive oil. Once this is caramelized, add your garlic and the other glass of white wine. Let this simmer and cook down. When most of the alcohol has burned off, add your herbs, saffron, and mushrooms. Once the mushrooms have let out some of their juices, turn off the heat. Add the beans, cover with a lid, and let the mixture rest.

Reserve 1-1/2 cups of the artichoke cooking water. Keep the aromatics in the water. Heat this back up to a boil and add your couscous. Take off off the heat, cover with a lid, and wait 5 minutes. When the couscous has absorbed all of the liquid, remove the bay leaf. Add the mushroom mixture to the couscous. Test for salt and add freshly ground black (or white) pepper. Sprinkle with the fresh, chopped parsley, and stir.  Let the leaves wilt with the steam of the dish. Serve.