Beautiful Baby Bok Choy

We have had a lovely, hot summer here in New Mexico. The temperatures have soared beyond “toasty” with the bluest skies and the sweetest smelling air.

I have been seeking the quick and easy menu with minimal cooking and preparation.

One of my favorite veggies is baby bok choy because it is sweet and light and looks beautiful. But the stems are so much thicker than the delicate leaves. If you want them to cook evenly you would have to separate them and cook them for different times, right?

No, I have found a way to bypass all that work and come up with a super easy and fast way to prepare baby bok choy and present it in a pleasing way that showcases their natural beauty.

First wash the baby bok choy whole. You will need to let the water run down into the base of the plant to allow all the small particles of dirt wash away.

THOUROUGHLY WASH BABY BOK CHOY

Next, stand them up on end and loosely tie them so they stay put. You may have to trim the stem at the base so they stand up.

LOOSELY TIE THE BOK CHOY UPRIGHT.jpg

Steam the baby bok choy whole in an upright position. This takes a fairly tall steamer pot. The concentration of heat will go to the base and the leaves will steam with less intense heat. Perfect!

STEAM.jpg

I like to cut the baby bok choy vertically in half to show off their beautiful composition and add some drama to the serving plate!  We love to eat these and often just pick them up with our fingers and eat them. You will find they are super sweet cooked this way and don’t need a single thing added like salt or oil. However my husband found that a thin slice of watermelon eaten with the bok choy really sets off the flavors!

BEAUTIFUL BOK CHOY

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What you don’t see . . .

What you don’t see on this blog are all the meals I make from day to day for myself and my husband.  So I thought I’d share a little of that with you.

I am no different from most of us in that from day to day, I do not always have time to make a full blown gourmet meal. Sometimes I am literally cooking on the run, throwing together whatever I’ve got and calling it done.

I always strive for deliciousness no matter what though, and sometimes I hit on something surprisingly tasty!

The other day, I was driving home from work—hadn’t done any food shopping—and came up with something based on what was in the pantry.

Can you say Mediterranean/Mexican?

This turned out to be a real taste sensation and we’re still savoring the last little bits.

MEDITERRANEAN LAYER CAKE PAINT

Maybe I could get away with calling this “Mediterranean Layer Cake.”  With Salsa.

Whole Wheat Couscous cooked in water and salt with diced carrots and organic corn kernels. Turn the couscous out onto a baking pan, flatten it out and let t cool. You’ll be able to serve it in neat squares.

Hummus can be store-bought or homemade. Mine was made in a hurry with a large can of organic cooked chickpeas, about 1/3 cup of tahini, juice of one large lemon and 3 cloves of garlic.

Here you see the couscouse layered with hummus and decorated with medium salsa. (So many many great salsa’s here in New Mexico!)

But in reality, this whole thing gets put into a bowl and gobbled up with a spoon or crammed into a food container and taken to work and then gobbled up with a spoon!

Sweet and Savory Apricot Salad

apricots in basket

Apricot Harvest!

Our first apricot harvest was quite a surprise. We just walked out back one morning and there they were, ready to be picked! Literally two days before they were not ready.

They turned out to be very good eating so I didn’t want to cook them. I opted for a simple fruit salad but with a little twist.

The apricots were washed, pitted and cut into halves. I added some blueberries and dressed them with a drizzle of olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, chopped raw almonds and topped with coconut flakes. You could easily imagine an herb in there such as a touch of sage. A pinch of sea salt would enhance the sweetness, too.  I didn’t add salt this time because I didn’t want the salt to pull out more purple blueberry juice than I already had!

Fresh, light, sweet and slightly savory!

SWEET AND SAVORY APRICOT SALAD PAINT

Sweet and Savory Apricot Salad – not just for breakfast.

Inspiring and Refreshing Summer Cooking

It was love at first sight when I spied their cute little round white heads peaking out from a cluster of delicate verdant leaves.

All it really takes for me to get inspired is a single outstanding element and an entire meal results. And what better time than early summer to find that inspiration! These baby turnips ooze summer, light refreshment!

REFRESHING SUMMER LUNCHEON

Baby turnips and greens with summer squash dressed with fresh ginger and coconut white balsamic vinaigrette.  

 

Cooking method for turnip and greens salad starts with the tiny turnips cut in halves and dropped into salted boiling water until just bright and slightly tender then take them out. Next the sliced summer squash is dropped into the same water for just a few seconds and removed. Finally the greens, sliced, get dropped into the water and removed as soon as the color turns bright green—less than a minute!  Drain and let it cool.

The vinaigrette consists of freshly grated ginger, coconut white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sea salt.

The rest of the meal soon followed: Easy BBQ tofu, leftover radish pickles and corn and quinoa medley.

BBQ TOFU

Barbecued Tofu made with quick-grab-what’s-available homemade BBQ Sauce.

Barbecue sauce has got to be tangy, slightly sweet, slightly (or more than slightly) hot and its got to be thick and finger-lickin’ good.  No measuring occurred here – just thrown together country barley miso, barley malt syrup, aged balsamic vinegar, chipotle pepper sauce, garlic and a little mirin. It came out real good! Tofu doesn’t have any flavor on its own so these firm tofu triangles were marinated in the sauce for half an hour and then the whole shebang got baked at 350 for 30 minutes.

QUINOA AND CORN

Quinoa, corn and scallion medley.

While my tofu was marinating I washed up a cup of quinoa. Quinoa has a coating of saponin on it and that stuff tastes very bitter. So wash the quinoa thoroughly before cooking. I use 1 1/2 cups of spring water for one cup of quinoa and once it’s brought to a boil, simmer until all the water is cooked away — 20-25 minutes.  I cooked mine with 2 crushed and sliced garlic cloves and a pinch or two of sea salt. At the end I added the corn which has got to be organic. The sliced scallions and some roasted chopped almonds were tossed in last along with a bit of olive oil.

And the radish pickles?  See this post. Only this time I didn’t include the radish greens.

A note on choosing your inspiring vegetable or fruit

The later we get into summer, of course, the less “baby” veggies we’re going to see because, well . . . those little sprouts sure do grow fast don’t they? You can go ahead and make this turnip salad with regular turnips and turnip greens no problem. It can be just as refreshing as long as you choose your veggies wisely and that’s what I want to talk to you about.

As you’re shopping or harvesting from your garden, know that bigger is not always better. Vegetables that are allowed to grow really big are less flavorful, have more seeds and can even be pithy. You might be impressed with that giant baseball bat of a zucchini, but the little skinny one is going to taste better and sweeter.

I don’t pick the biggest onion or the biggest of any veggie or fruit. I pick what is not overgrown and not harvested too late.  I can’t think of any example where it’s better not to do that.

Happy inspiration and Happy Cooking!

 

 

Gentle Cleansing with Hato Mugi

 

HATO MUGI SPRING STEWI decided to go a bit Asian with my menu and cook with Job’s Tears—in Japanese “Hato Mugi.”  Hato Mugi resembles barley and is sometimes called “Pearl” (not “pearled”) barley. But it is actually not related to the grain known as “barley.”

Hato Mugi is great for spring because it is said to be a cleansing grain. I am not into big, dramatic cleanses or fasts for spring but prefer to adjust my cooking, starting in early February, toward spring and toward not only lightening up the menu, but choosing foods that do help the body get rid of excess fats, dairy and other animal products that may have been consumed over the winter.

Hato Mugi is an ancient grain that has not been hybridized as far as I know and it is gluten-free.

It is purchased dried and should be soaked for as long as twelve hours to make cooking easier. Before you cook Hato Mugi, sort through the dried grains for any dirt or stones or whatever. Wash it quickly in cold water and then soak it in spring water until it has expanded and softened somewhat.

I am using some other mildly cleansing foods with this dish including kombu seaweed and shiitake mushrooms—both of these can help break down excess fat and dairy.

Hato Mugi has a rich, earthy flavor and I love to pair it with young spring vegetables such as leeks, scallions or dandelion greens.

Hato Mugi Spring Stew

  • 6 inch piece of dried kombu seaweed
  • 1 cup of Hato Mugi (Job’s Tears)
  • several dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 cup of cooked black beans
  • shoyu (soy sauce)

There’s a lot of soaking you’ll need to do in advance.  Sort through the hato mugi removing any stones or other items that don’t belong (yes it does sometimes happen!) and then wash thoroughly in cold water. Soak the hato mugi in spring water for several hours. Overnight is fine.

Brush off the dried kombu and soak it in a medium-sized pot in a little spring water. The kombu will expand as it softens. When it has done that (takes maybe 10 minutes) then remove it from the pot leaving the soaking water there. Cut the kombu into bitesize pieces (any shape you like—squares, strips, etc.) and put the cut kombu back into the bottom of the pot.

The mushrooms also get soaked in spring water. I just grab a small bowl for that. When the mushrooms are soft enough to slice, remove any stem parts because they are tough and don’t soften in cooking. Then cut the shiitake up into bite size strips.

While things are soaking you can wash and dice a large carrot.

Next is the cooking method which is layering:  the kombu is at the bottom along with the water you soaked it in, then add the shiitake mushrooms and you can use that soaking water too, then the hato mugi on top of that. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it all simmer with a lid on it. Cook it for about 30 minutes. You don’t stir it around, you leave it cooking in layers. If the water cooks away but the dish is not finished you can add a little more water.

Toward the end of cooking is when I like to add the carrots because in spring and summer I’m not looking for stewy soft vegetables. I like the carrots to keep their bright color and cook until just soft enough to fit in with the other ingredients..

I used a can of organic cooked black beans for this and added one cup at the end of the cooking time so the beans would heat up.

Once everything is done, season with some soy sauce and now you can stir it up to distribute the seasoning.

Garnish with some ginger, some parsley, slivers of scallion or whatever you wish. I did serve this with a side of fresh spring dandelion greens sauteed in olive oil and garlic and a side of salad.

Hearty and filling, yet not heavy.

Where to buy Hato Mugi?

I have seen hato mugi in Asian grocery stores but I can never tell for sure if it is organic. My primary requirement for food is that it is labeled organic which also encompasses the question of whether it is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism). Organic includes being non-GMO.

My local natural food stores don’t carry hato mugi. If there is a store near you that has a really good selection of macrobiotic foods, you might find it there. Otherwise I highly recommend ordering online from Gold Mine Natural Foods. They have all the good healthy stuff that the commercial natural food stores are no longer willing to carry. This is because enough of us aren’t demanding the very highest quality and variety of foods and so they don’t use shelf space for it. But it doesn’t hurt to continually ask for things to be brought in and create a little ruckus over the fact that natural food stores (not naming names but you probably know which ones) are becoming more and more “homogenized” — to put it politely.

It’s easy to say, “They are only interested in making money.” Well, of course they are. It’s a business and they are supporting as much of the healthy choices as they can and still make a profit. But that’s the point. They are CHOICES as in, yours and mine. If we don’t choose healthy, there is no way the stores are going to be able to make money stocking healthy. Right?

Another Pretty Thing

Finding pretty things for spring is what I do—in the clothing store, on my outdoor ventures and in my kitchen. I hope you liked my bright red strawberry pancake sauce! Here’s another pretty thing I whipped up for a whole-grain salad. This time I chose a gorgeous ripe mango to make a piquant sauce for quinoa and black bean salad.

MANGO SAUCE ON QUINOA SALAD

Sweet and Sour Mango Sauce

Find a ripe, un-bruised mango and remove the meat. Throw the mango into a high-speed blender or food processor with juice of half a lemon, a pinch of sea salt and a flavored white balsamic vinegar of your choice. (I used a Hawaiian coconut white balsamic and it was absolutely fabulous!) If you don’t have a flavored vinegar, it is still going to be delish with just a well-aged white balsamic.

The quinoa salad is simply cooked quinoa, black beans, celery, red onion and quite a bit of parsley. I know you’ll improvise here as well!

The outcome? Couldn’t get enough of this! It was nearly gone before I even had a chance to take a picture.

Cauliflower Cassoulet

Hello!  Spring is here and I have emerged from hibernation. Over the last three months we have been moving our household and getting the new place set up. I am loving my new kitchen that actually has counter space, cabinet space, pantry space and a lot of other great features.

I’ve been inspired, cooking-wise to create some new things! Here is a great dish for transitioning from winter to spring. It has just enough warmth and comfort food quality to satisfy when the air chills at night and just enough lightness and freshness to energize us.

Cauliflower Cassoulet

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 cups chopped fresh parsely
  • 1-2 shallots
  • 2-3 tablespoons sweet white miso
  • 1 umeboshi plum
  • whole wheat bread crumbs (or if you can’t eat wheat, use roughly ground almonds or non-gluten crumbs)
  • herbs of choice–I used oregano, garlic powder, sea salt, pepper, crushed anise seeds, celery seeds
  • olive oil
  • (Optional) vegan shredded mozarella

CAULIFLOWER CASSOULET INGREDIENTS

I started out with a head of cauliflower I wanted to use and looked through my refrigerator and pantry for some likely ingredients. I decided on a tofu cream sauce, shallots and parsley. On the left there are umeboshi plums–a Japanese traditional pickled plum that has both a salty and a sour taste. On the right in the little tub is sweet white miso–another traditional Japanese delight made with fermented soybeans.

TOFU CREAM SAUCE

Combine a package of firm tofu with 2-3 tablespoons of sweet white miso and the meat of an umeboshi plum. If you don’t want to try umeboshi plums, you can substitute a bit of red wine vinegar and a little sea salt. Blend these up until you have a creamy sauce. You can add a little water if the mixture seems too thick.

SWEAT THE SHALLOTS

Slice 1 or 2 shallots and put them into a hot pan with some olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. You just need to sweat them a little. They glisten with the oil but will not be completely limp.

CAULIFLOWER WITH SHALLOT AND PARSLEYBlanch pieces of cauliflower for a minute or two, chop up parsley and add the cooked shallots.  Oil a casserole or baking dish and put the veggies in.

CUSTOM BREAD CRUMB TOPPING

Customize your bread crumb topping. I used whole wheat bread crumbs and seasoned it with salt, pepper and herbs/spices of choice. I prefer seasoning bread crumbs myself so I can control the amount of salt and the taste. Can’t do whole wheat? Try topping with roughly ground almonds or gluten-free bread crumbs.

READY FOR THE OVEN

Pour your tofu cream sauce evenly over the veggies.

Sprinkle the crumb topping over the top of the cassoulet.

You’re ready to bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft and everything is all bubbly good.  The last five minutes of baking, I added a sprinkle of vegan shredded mozarella. Vegan cheeses don’t appeal to me a great deal but they look nice as a garnish sometimes and they help when your family is transitioning away from dairy foods. Just know that vegan cheese is basically congealed oil and doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own.

FINISHED

Finished! Very delicious and very satisfying served with a salad.

Creamy Celery Root Soup

Sometimes when you meet a new vegetable, you take one look and think you know what it’s going to be like.

Take this celery root for example. This is the same one we saw last week.

CELERY ROOT CLOSE UP

Interesting looking . . . different in a big brown sort of way . . . not something you’re supposed to actually cook, right?

Yes!! Yes!! It is something you’re supposed to cook—eat—and you’ll love it!

Creamy Celery Root Soup

  • Two or three large celery roots (AKA celeriac)
  • Mirepoix (fine diced onions, celery and carrots)
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • pinch of crushed anise seeds
  • coconut milk
  • soup stock of choice

Peel all the brown skin off the celery root and remove any dark spots or ingrown roots. Cut the peeled roots into 1-inch chunks.  Steam the celery root in a little water until it is tender. Blend the steamed celery roots with a little coconut milk. I use a power blender to get a super creamy consistency but any blender will work fine as long as you blend it long enough.

Saute the mirepoix in olive oil and sea salt and add some soup broth – start with about a cup.  I used a simple broth of kombu seaweed simmered in spring water because I wanted a mild broth that would not overwhelm the taste of the celery root.  Add in the garlic, the anise seeds. Add more salt, pepper, broth and or coconut milk until you get your desired thickness and taste.

You will have the richest, thickest soup with a sweet and delicate flavor!

CELERY ROOT SOUP

Simply Green

FRESH COLLARDS

In the cooler months, dark leafy greens start to show some muscle. Just look at these big collard greens! They’re dark, they’re hearty, and their chock full of calcium, vitamin A, vitamin K and many other vitamins and minerals.

Remove the stems (save for later) and lightly boil the whole, uncut leaves in water with a pinch of sea salt until they are just tender and still very bright. It is important not to overcook them. I look for them to be pliable but with lots of body,  Al dente!

Spread the leaves out on a flat tray or dish so they can cool without continuing to cook and soften.

READY TO ROLL

Use a sushi mat to roll the leaves. You’ll have to fold the leaves to fit the rectangular shape of the sushi mat.

ROLLED

Squeeze any excess liquid out of the rolls and slice them. Try angle slices as well as straight ones. I like to dot each section with umeboshi plum paste, giving the greens a salty and sour garnish and a punch of beautiful red color!  Power-packed bite-sized deliciousness. Enjoy!

Sweet and Savory Root Vegetable Casserole

When I was driving to my natural food store this afternoon to do my weekly shopping, I was thinking about turnips and cranberries.

You know how it is — you get some stubborn ingredient in your head and you have no idea what you’ll do with it, but nevertheless, there it is waiting to become your latest creation.

Sweet and Savory Root Vegetable Casserole

I don’t usually go for “casseroles,” but I didn’t know what else to call this. It’s not exactly a pie even though it does have a bottom crust.

You can leave out the crust altogether if you want to. I included it because I am busy over here making vegetable dishes more appealing to my Hubbin’ who generally loves the food I make for him. I also included it because I didn’t want a heavy, gooey filling. Instead, the crust kept the dish somewhat together.

As you know, I use organic ingredients whenever possible.

  • Whole wheat single pastry crust of your choice, uncooked
  • 2 Medium turnips
  • 1 Yam
  • 1 Yellow onion diced
  • 1 Cup Cranberries
  • 1 Granny Smith apple diced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 Cups toasted Walnuts
  • Fresh thyme

Slice the turnips and yam into half-inch slices. Pre-steam them (just plain – no salt or seasonings) for about 12 minutes until they are tender but not falling apart.

Mix the diced onions, cranberries and apple with olive oil, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon and spread them on a baking dish in a single layer. Roast them in an oven at 350 degrees, turning them every so often so they are evenly done, about half an hour.

Roast the diced onions and green apple and the cranberries in olive oil, sea salt, cinnamon and nutmeg for about 30 minutes.

Roast the diced onions, green apple and the cranberries in olive oil, sea salt, cinnamon and nutmeg for about 30 minutes.

Grind the toasted walnuts to a rough crumble – about 3 pulses in a processor or 10 seconds on a low speed in the Vitamix. Or just chop them up. Mix the ground walnuts into the roasted onion/apple/cranberry mixture.

Layer the turnips onto the crust, then a layer of the onion/fruit/walnut mix. A layer of yams next and then the rest of the onion/fruit/walnut mix. Sprinkle fresh thyme on top. All seasonings are according to your taste! Some of you know what you like and the rest of you will become much better cooks if you start using your own intuition and knowingness and find out what you like.  😉

You can also use other kinds of root vegetables. As you know, I had turnips on the brain today.

Bake the casserole for 15 – 18 minutes until the crust is done. That’s the advantage of pre-steaming the root veggies—it doesn’t have to bake for long. Let the casserole sit for a few minutes before slicing it.

The result? Very satisfying yet not heavy and overly filling. Loved the tart accent from the cranberries!

The result? Very satisfying yet not heavy and overly filling. Loved the tart accent from the cranberries!

I served mine with Brown Rice and Hokkaido Azuki Beans, Very Lightly Boiled Kale and a side of Sauerkraut. Perfect Sunday Supper!.