Thursday, August 23, 2012

Almost-Autumn Roasted Eggplant Soup

Well, folks, I've done it again.  Not only did I get the stamp of approval from my brother, but I even impressed myself tonight.  Roasted Eggplant Soup.  I don't know where I come up with this stuff...okay, that's a lie.  I got the idea at work today since the soup of the day was a roasted eggplant soup.  But it's not like that!  See, when I came in this morning I saw the soup up on our specials chalkboard and got really excited, but then I found out it was full of cream and served with a giant glob of goat cheese on top - don't get me wrong, I love goat cheese, but body isn't as big of a fan as I'd like it to be.  However, after hearing my coworkers and customers rave about the soup all day, I decided that I needed to give it a taste.  I poured a tiny sample cup with a pinch of goat cheese.  It was delicious, but a little disappointing - I thought it was too heavy and rich with all the cream and cheese.  I wanted something lighter that really highlighted the eggplant.  My mind immediately starting reeling with possibilities of how I could put my own spin on it to make it vegan and, well, better.  Thankfully I had a pile of Gravity Hill baby eggplants waiting for me at home which allowed me to put everything that was swirling around in my head down on paper down on cutting board in a pot.  It turned out even better than it was in my head.  Topped with some roasted sun gold tomatoes, it was the perfect "almost-autumn" soup - all the flavors of fall with the lightness and freshness of summer.

Note: I used baby eggplants, but you can substitute those with 3 medium eggplants or one very large one.

Almost-Autumn Roasted Eggplant Soup
15 baby eggplants
1 head of garlic (at least), cloves slices
1 cup dry white wine 
1½ cups vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk
1 tbp Thai red curry paste
1 tsp red curry powder
olive oil

+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
+ Slice each eggplant carefully down the middle, making sure just to create a slit and not slice all the way through the eggplant.  Stuff each slit full of garlic slices (I mean it, get as much as that garlic in there as you possibly can).
+ Place the garlic stuffed eggplants in a large baking dish, then drizzle generously with olive oil.  Bake for about a half an hour or until the eggplants have begun to shrivel.  Then, pour white wine (one cup or enough so that the eggplants are in about an half inch of liquid) into the bottom of the pan.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until eggplants are soft and wine has reduced.
+ Once the eggplants are done, allow them to cool for a few minutes.  De-stem them, but leave the skins on, and place them in a large pot, along with the garlic slices and any wine and juices left in the bottom of the pan.  Using a stick blender, break down the eggplants until smooth and creamy.  Add a little of the broth to make blending easier.
+ After the eggplant is broken down, turn on medium-low heat, and add the remaining vegetable broth, mix well.  Once incorporated, slowly add the coconut milk, stirring after each addition.  Add the curry paste, curry powder, and salt to taste.  Stir well.
+ Cover and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, or until ready to serve (though the longer you cook it, the more the flavors develop).  Garnish with some roasted tomatoes and a sprig of basil flowers to really meld summer and autumn in one bowl.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Throw-Together Thai Salmon

Have I mentioned that I am the Master of the Throw-Together Dinner?  I have?  Oh good.  Well, last night was one such night where the spontaneous nature of creating a meal on the fly drew out the culinary genius within.  It all started with some yellow beans...

For the past couple of Sundays I've been volunteering as a cook and baker at Gravity Hill Farm (follow the link and scroll down for photographic evidence).  Its been an absolutely amazing experience, because 1) if you know me you know that I'm obsessed with Gravity Hill and their produce, 2) it's my first time in a real kitchen cooking for people other than my family, 3) I get to work with unbelievably fresh ingredients - I hand pick the raspberries in the morning for the raspberry lemon corn muffins, and the eggs arrive direct from the hen house in a hay filled basket where they lay still warm and covered in feathers.  And on top of all that, Gravity Hill offers a lovely, warm, inviting, creative and unique community of people sharing food, ideas, experiences, and talents.  Despite having to be at the farm at 7:00 AM Sunday morning, I absolutely love every moment of my time spent there.  But I digress...
in the kitchen prepping husk cherry salsa.
Yellow beans.  Right.  That's what I was talking about.  So since I'm only volunteering at Gravity Hill, I get paid in produce - which let me tell you is a dream come true.  I come home every Sunday with a giant bag overflowing with everything from spring garlic to Sun Gold tomatoes to baby eggplant to husk cherries to summer squash.  This past Sunday, my haul of the day was a brown bag full of these beautiful yellow beans - a pale greenish-yellow, so translucent you could almost see through them, like little ghost beans.  I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with this unique ingredient, but the universe again sent me a little culinary gift.  I follow a number of blogs and their post automatically pop up on my home page.  One such blog is 101 Cookbooks, and guess what this week's blog post happens to be about?  Yellow bean salad.  I knew immediately that that was what I wanted to do with those beautiful beans.  I thought salmon would be a nice pairing with the beans, but again, wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do with it.  However, I decided to let go, open myself up, and hopefully allow myself to be influenced by the culinary muses.  And boy did that wallop me with some inspiration.  I ended up using leftover coconut milk from the bean salad dressing to make a marinade that I then poured over the salmon before I baked it - the fish absorbed most of the liquid, so the salmon was incredibly moist and full of flavor, and left a rich, thick glaze on the outside.  I have to say, it might be some of the best salmon I've ever made, and I've made some pretty damn good salmon.  Just another throw-together meal that ended in delicious, spontaneous brilliance.

Throw-Together Thai Salmon
1½ pounds wild-caught salmon
1 cup coconut milk (the canned kind)
2 tsp Thai red curry paste
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
a big hand-full of basil leaves
½ lime, juice and zest

+ Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
+ Place the salmon, skin side down, in a deep baking dish.  
+ Put the remaining ingredients in a food processor.  Pulse until the garlic and basil leaves are broken down.  Then pour mixture over the salmon.  
+ Bake until salmon is cooked through, about 30-40 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.  Serve along side the yellow bean salad.   

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

PB&J Oatmeal

For the past couple of months I've been on a bit of a breakfast smoothie kick (See: Green Berry Smoothie and Eat More Kale for reference).  However, this kick has fizzled out these last few weeks, and I've found a new obsession - oatmeal.  I feel like oatmeal gets a really bad rap.  Most people think of oatmeal as grey, mushy, and bland, but I'm here to tell you, that's not the case.  Oatmeal is the perfect blank canvas that you can color with the palate of your fridge and pantry to create something beautifully delicious.  The possibilities are endless - cinnamon and honey oatmeal topped with fresh blueberries, zucchini bread oatmeal (here's a phenomenal recipe from Oh She Glows), strawberry blueberry oatmeal,coconut ginger lime oatmeal, chocolate banana oatmeal, sweet curried oatmeal (yes, curry and it's amazing), any and every combination of ingredients you could possibly think of.  Still think oatmeal's bland and gross?

...You do?  Well, that's why I'm going to give you the recipe that will change your mind about oatmeal forever - peanut butter oatmeal with a strawberry blueberry compote.  I mean, who doesn't love peanut butter and jelly?  By taking the peanut butter off the bread and into the oats, and by elevating the jelly to a simple compote, this sandwich transforms into a soul-satisfying, childhood-reliving, smile-inducing way to start your day.

Note: There are different types of oats that you can use to make oatmeal - rolled, steel-cut, and quick oats are the most common.  I usually use rolled, since they are fairly low maintenance and cook quickly, without getting mushy like the quick oats.  I recently discovered Old Wessex 5 Grain Cereal that's a mixture of oats, rye, triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid), barley, and golden flax - it cooks just like the rolled oats, but has a heartier texture and a slightly earthier flavor that I've found I really like.  I also add chia seeds to my oatmeal 1) because it's ridiculously good for you - protein, fiber, and essential minerals like calcium and magnesium - and 2) when soaked in liquid, they get a gelatinous coating around them, which not only thickens the oatmeal, but gives it a pudding-like texture that I love.

PB&J Oatmeal
makes one serving

⅓ rolled oats
⅔ almond milk (or whatever type you'd like)
a pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp chunky peanut butter
1 tbs chia seeds
4 fresh strawberries, quartered
2 hand-fulls fresh blueberries1 tbs honey

+ Put milk and oats in a medium sauce pan.  Turn heat to medium, add the salt, cinnamon and honey, then give oats a quick stir.  Bring to a low boil.  Immediately turn heat to low and allow to simmer gently.  Add peanut butter and chia seeds, then stir well.  Cook until thick, or desired texture is reached, stirring occasionally to make sure it isn't sticking to the bottom of the pot.
+ While the oats are simmering, combine berries and honey in a small sauce pan.  Bring to medium heat.  Stirring occasionally - you can even mash them with a fork or potato masher if you like a smoother texture.  Cook until the berries have broken down and created a thick syrup.
+ To serve, layer oats and compote parfait style.  Eat warm out of a big bowl with a tiny spoon while sitting on the couch reading the morning paper.