Zucchini fries? Uh, kinda.

Okay. Let me just preface this by saying that I never know what to do with zucchini. It’s plentiful every summer, but short of brushing it with olive oil and a) throwing it on the grill or b) throwing it in the oven, I’m usually at a loss. I don’t find zucchini all that inspiring. It’s too small to stuff anything in there (although I keep seeing recipes for “stuffed zucchini” that, honestly, look more like the poor squash is drowning in melty cheese), and although I like it and will eat it as enthusiastically as anything else when it’s grilled or roasted, it’s not my go-to vegetable side. I really prefer the cruciferous veggies: brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower… I also enjoy asparagus, which I realize is not cruciferous, but that’s beside the point. The point being: Zucchini. Confounding.

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Anyway. I’ve been having this recurring food daydream (why yes, I do have those) about having a barbecue with turkey burgers, those fancy sandwich thins I love so much, and breaded zucchini fries. But… I’ve never made zucchini fries. So I’ve been researching. Quite thoroughly, I might add. I decided to give it a shot tonight, because I had zucchini and felt like I should take a break from brussels sprouts and play around with this concept that’s been ruminating for the past month.

Of course, I didn’t have an egg. The yummiest looking recipes required at least one egg, but I used my three remaining eggs for my Saturday morning omelet. So I searched the Googles for something a little more adaptive to the ingredients I had on hand. Fortunately, I stumbled upon this recipe. Zucchini? Check. Panko? Check. Ingredients for pesto? Uhh, no. BUT. I have this artichoke pesto I got at World Market and for which I hadn’t yet envisaged a feasible use. So I said to myself, “Self, let’s do this.” And we (myself and I) got cracking on our eggless zucchini fries.

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Ingredients

1-2 zucchini (I used about 1.5)
1/4 cup panko crumbs
1-2 tbsp artichoke (or basil, or whatever you have) pesto
cooking oil (I used olive oil spray)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Prepare a plate or cutting board by spreading out the panko crumbs. Transfer pesto to a bowl or plate for easy zucchini rolling.
  3. Cut the zucchini into quarters length-wise, then eighths. Halve the eighths (I know, that’s a lot of math for a Monday night). If you’re not sure what I mean, because I’ve been known to get length-wise and cross-wise confused, see above for visual aid.
  4. Dip each zucchini piece in the pesto, one by one. Transfer the zucchini piece to a plate of panko and roll it around, making sure the panko sticks, then transfer the zucchini to the cookie sheet. Once you’re done with all the pieces, spray them with cooking oil (I didn’t do this and wish I had – it would’ve browned the panko more effectively).Image
  5. Put the zucchini fries in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the panko is browned and the zucchini is cooked through. Mine took about 20 minutes and didn’t brown due to lack of cooking oil, but they were tasty and effectively roasted, so 20 minutes would probably be enough if you don’t forget the spray.

ImageDinner: Salad with tomatoes, basil, and some other delicious things, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar; panko-crusted cod, courtesy of Waterfront Bistro; homemade aioli for cod-dipping; and, of course, zucchini “fries.”

The end product: Basically roasted zucchini (yum) with panko (yum) and artichoke pesto (double yum). For real fries, an egg is probably necessary, but these hit the spot.

Next up: Mini pies. I may or may not be completely serious, I’ve been thinking about these all day today.

Stuffing squashes!

For over a week now, I’ve been seriously considering making a stuffed acorn squash. I bought the squash last weekend at Trader Joe’s and it’s been staring at me every day since, taunting me to find the perfect recipe with which to honor it.

Now, you should know this about me: my love of squash combined with my culinary knowledge of squash has, unfortunately, not led me to actually use acorn squash in any kind of cooking endeavor. Of course, I have eaten acorn squash. I mean, I’m sure I have. I can’t say it was a staple in my household, but I just ate it and it wasn’t a brand new experience, so I must’ve eaten it at some point in my life. Right? That’s logical.

Getting back to my story, this idea for a stuffed acorn squash originated from a formerly vegetarian friend who was making dinner for a friend of hers: acorn squashed stuffed with various delicious-sounding things I don’t remember. I think there was quinoa, and there might’ve been cranberries. I only remember being jealous that I wasn’t the friend she’d invited to her house, and then being hungry.

Tonight was the night. Tonight was the night I would make the much-pondered stuffed acorn squash. There would be forbidden rice, there would be cous cous, there would be caramelized onions, there would be a sauteed portobello mushroom… there would be kale, just for some green. It would be pretty and delicious.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Forbidden Rice and Cous Cous

Ingredients

4 acorn squash, cut in half and seeded
olive oil (enough for lightly coating the squash and sauteing)
2 cups cooked cous cous
2 cups cooked forbidden rice
4 garlic cloves
2 yellow or white onions, thinly sliced
2 portobello mushrooms, sliced
a handful of kale (1-2 cups raw)
1-2 tbsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp panko or other breadcrumbs (optional)
1 tbsp Earth Balance (optional; for the breadcrumbs)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cut a small amount of the bottom of each halved squash so the halves stand level. Prepare a baking pan with aluminum foil and brush the inside of each halved acorn squash with olive oil; place the squash on the foiled pan. In the preheated oven, bake for 45 minutes.

2. While the squash is cooking, saute the garlic and onion slices in olive oil on medium-low heat until they’re limp and start to yellow, then add the mushroom slices and the thyme. Brown the mushrooms, then add the kale and saute for another 3 minutes or until it’s wilted. Remove from heat and stir in the cous cous and forbidden rice. Set aside until the squash is done.

3. Prepare the breadcrumb topping. Mix the Earth Balance with the panko; set aside.

4. Once the squash is done, remove from the oven (don’t turn the oven off yet – you’re not really done). Scoop the cous cous-rice mixture evenly into each squash, then top with the panko. Put the assembled squash back in the oven and bake for another 25 minutes.

5. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.

I gobbled it up with some yummy brussels sprouts. Hard to go wrong with brussels sprouts, as far as I’m concerned.

Beefless Stroganoff.

When I was growing up, I remember my mom making the best beef stroganoff. Of course, my mom makes the best everything, so it’s no great wonder that her beef stroganoff was also the best.

Today was one of those cold, dreary days in Seattle, the kind of day that becomes commonplace in the fall. It’s the kind of weather that makes the indoors cozy enough to make me crave comfort food – spaghetti, meatloaf, Chinese food, whatever. (Yes, Chinese food is comfort food in my world.) Tonight, while out for my post-work four-mile walk, I decided I would try to make beefless beef stroganoff. Mind you, I had never even tried to make beef stroganoff with the real thing, so there was an added challenge.

I creatively adapted the recipe from my family’s favorite Russian cookbook to suit my newly vegan needs. The book is cleverly titled Nothing Beets Borscht.

Beefless Stroganoff

Ingredients

For the sauce:
1 package Trader Joe’s Beefless Strips
Mushrooms, sliced (as many as you want – I used about 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon scallions, chopped
2 tbsp vegan butter (I used Smart Balance Lite)
6 tbsp vegan sour cream (I used Vegan Gourmet)
1-2 tbsp dill
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp white wine

For the accompaniment:
1-2 tbsp vegan sour cream
1-2 tbsp dill
Cooked rice, cooked potatoes, or my current favorite, shredded, boiled zucchini pasta (or regular pasta, if you really want it – my mom used to serve this over bowtie pasta)

Directions

1. Cook the beefless strips as directed; set aside.

2. Over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp of the vegan butter in the skillet. When the butter is melted and bubbling, add the garlic and scallions; saute until the scallions are limp and translucent (don’t let them brown). Add the sliced mushrooms now, raising the heat a bit and constantly stirring for 3-4 minutes, or until the mushrooms are barely cooked through. You may need to add more butter if it starts looking too dry.

3. Add the vegetable stock, mustard, wine, sour cream and dill, mixing well to combine. Now add the beefless strips, again, mixing well. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened and looks right (you’ll know when that is if you’ve ever had stroganoff – if not, it’s when it’s no longer watery).

4. While the sauce is simmering, prepare your accompaniment. If you opt for the zucchini, like I did, just shred the zucchini, boil it for a minute, and drain it, rinsing with cold water.

5. Top the accompaniment of your choice with the sauce. If you’re so inclined, add a dollop of sour cream and some dill.

Crêpes sucrées with chocolate, vanilla yogurt and berries.

As a self-proclaimed healthy foodie, I never would’ve dreamed that I could possibly eat crêpes for breakfast. Or for any meal, for that matter. Crêpes are made of flour and butter and egg. Flour and butter are no-nos in my world.

However, I recently stumbled across this recipe for cottage cheese pancakes, and it gave me an idea. The ingredients, all Perricone-friendly, could be combined in a similar fashion to form what a few reviewers described as “crêpe-like pancakes.” Since I no longer keep old-fashioned oatmeal handy (I prefer steel-cut), I used the aforementioned “pancake” recipe as a starting point rather than a strict guideline to construct this morning’s delicious and decadent breakfast.

Crêpes Sucrées with Chocolate, Vanilla Yogurt and Berries

Ingredients

For the crêpe
1 egg
1 egg white
1/4 cup lowfat (2%) cottage cheese
8-10 packets stevia
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp cornstarch

For the chocolate spread
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli)
8 packets stevia
1/4 cup water
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the vanilla yogurt
2 tbsp lowfat plain yogurt (I used Yami 1%)
5 packets stevia
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the filling
1/2-1 cup berries (I used 1/2 cup sliced strawberries, 1/2 cup raspberries)

Directions

1. Prepare the toppings. Boil the 1/4 cup water (1 1/2 minutes in the microwave should do it) and quickly stir in the cocoa powder and stevia in the bowl until it thickens, then adding the 1 tsp vanilla extract. You may need to use more cocoa powder if it’s too watery. Set aside.

2. In another bowl, combine the yogurt, stevia and 2 tsp vanilla extract. Set aside.

3. Chop the berries and set aside.

4. Make the crêpe. In a blender, combine the eggs, stevia, cottage cheese, 2 tsp vanilla extract, and cornstarch. Blend on low until the mixture’s consistency is smooth (like pancake batter). Spray a 12-inch skillet with olive oil cooking spray and heat on a medium setting for about a minute. Pour the batter into the skillet, using a rubber spatula to scrape the edges of the blender. Let batter sit, swirling after about a minute so it cooks evenly. When the batter is bubbling and the crêpe is set (slide the rubber spatula under it to make sure it won’t break), carefully but confidently flip the crêpe. After about 30 seconds, transfer the crêpe to a plate. Both sides should be a little brown.

5. Assemble the crêpe. Once it’s cooled a bit, spread the chocolate as evenly as possible over the crêpe (it was not that easy for me to spread, so don’t worry if it puts up a fight). Next spread the yogurt, then the berries or any other toppings you’re using.

6. Fold the crêpe as shown.

This breakfast absolutely made my morning. As the French would say, bon appétit!

Stir-fried scallops with spinach and forbidden rice.

I keep thinking one of these days would be the perfect day to stay home from work and bask in my own laziness. I don’t know which day yet, but I feel like Seattle’s gloomy, fall-like weather calls for at least one long, slovenly day of laying on the couch in front of the fire, watching old movies. Doesn’t that sound cozy? And baking pies. Pumpkin pies. Lots of ’em.

Contrary to some of my less-than-angelic foodie tendencies, last night’s dinner, while very special and preceded by an oh-so-deserved lazy Sunday, was quite nutritious, not to mention thoroughly delicious. After much pondering and searching of the vast interwebs, I decided on a recipe out of Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, a cookbook by fellow blogger Grace Young. Although I had purchased the cookbook many months ago (during my stir-frying kick back in April), I had had yet to test out a recipe. Last night was the night. I bring you: Stir-Fried Chili Scallops with Baby Bok Choy Spinach. (I did not happen to have baby bok choy on hand at the time.)

Stir-Fried Chili Scallops with Spinach

Ingredients

6 ounces medium fresh sea scallops
1 tablespoon chicken broth
1/2 tablespoon chili bean sauce
1 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups baby spinach
1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips (about 1 cup)
2 chopped scallions

Directions

1. Rinse the scallops under cold water, removing the muscle and any visible bits of shell or grit, and set on paper towels. With more paper towels, pat the scallops dry. Cut the scallops horizontally in half so all the pieces are about 1/2 inch thick. In a small bowl combine the broth, chili bean sauce, soy sauce, and cornstarch.

2. Heat 12-inch skillet over high heat until very hot. Swirl in 1/2 tablespoon of the oil, add the ginger and garlic, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry for 10 seconds or until the aromatics are fragrant. Push the aromatics to the sides of the skillet. Carefully add the scallops and spread them evenly in one layer in the pan. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the scallops begin to sear. Sprinkle on 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and stir-fry 30 seconds or until the scallops are opaque but not cooked through. Transfer the scallops to a plate.

3. Swirl the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil into the wok, add the spinach and bell peppers, sprinkle on the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, and stir-fry 1 minute or until the spinach just begins to wilt. Return the scallops with any juices that have accumulated to the wok. Restir the broth mixture, swirl it into the wok, and stir-fry 1 minute or until the scallops are just cooked. Stir in the scallions.

4. Serve over 1/2 cup cooked forbidden rice. Yes, I added this step. Forbidden rice is kinda my new favorite thing.

The wonder that is cottage cheesecake.

I just donated $80 to the Seattle Public Library. And, by that, I mean I just paid my library fines because they sent me a very threatening email. Well, a threatening email by library standards. Fortunately for them, I’m easily intimidated and don’t like paying bills late. Unfortunately for me, I am now $80 poorer than I was ten minutes ago. Le sigh.

Work was unusually stressful today, as is almost always the case the day after a three-day weekend. I had done some serious baking this weekend, which produced, among other things, my first cheesecake. Prior to the cheesecake creation, I finally procured my first set of springform pans, courtesy of Ross, of all places. $9.99 for three springform pans! It would be a miracle if Ross happened to be a more pleasant place to shop. Alas, it is not, but I’m not above conducting a treasure hunt for cheap housewares.

This, however, was not just any cheesecake. This was a cottage cheesecake. Why use cream cheese when you can use cottage cheese?

Cottage Cheesecake

Ingredients:

For the crust
A bunch of leftover cookies (I used a chocolate cookie recipe I’d invented on Sunday)
1/2 to 1 cup olive oil, adjust depend how many cookies

For the cheesecake filling
2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
1/2 cup almond milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup stevia or Splenda
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the chocolate cheesecake swirl
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2 tablespoons almond milk
1/2 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup stevia or Splenda
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F.

2. Crumble the cookies in a small bowl. Mix the olive oil into the cookie crumbs until the crumbs are close to the consistency of dough. Tightly pack mixture to the bottom of the springform pan.

3. Pour all the ingredients for the cheesecake filling into a blender and blend for about 2 minutes, or until the mix becomes a liquid consistency. Pour over the crust.

4. Pour the chocolate cheesecake swirl ingredients into the blender. Blend for about 2 minutes, until the ingredients are completely mixed and there are no lumps. Pour in the center of the cheesecake.

5. Swirl the chocolate center with a knife, making a circular pattern (or really, whatever you want – but I’m a fan of circles!).

6. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, or until filling is firm. Allow to cool completely before removing the pan from the cake.

This was devoured by my coworkers today, but I sampled – I had to! It’s my obligation as a self-proclaimed chef to test my own creations. It was delicious, and because it was cottage cheese, I didn’t feel quite so guilty about eating it.

I’ve been blogging quite a bit lately about sweets, I’ve noticed. I’ll try to diversify. I recently invented a new(ish) chicken recipe, so… maybe that will be my next post.

Scallops with fresh tomatoes, herbs and white wine.

I had a friend over for dinner last weekend in an effort to be social without eating junk food or drinking alcohol (believe me, this is a challenge in my world). Lucky her, it was scallops night – lucky me, I have access to this fabulous cookbook.

In my cooking adventures, I’ve discovered that it’s difficult – if not impossible – to mess up scallops. You can saute them in olive oil and garlic, you can dress them up with fancy sauces, whatever – they’re low-maintenance molluscs. I’ve used recipes from my favorite Asian stir-fry cookbook, Fine Cooking, and the bag of scallops from Trader Joe’s, and I have never had bad scallops. In fact, they’ve always been fantastic. So I figured last Saturday was a good opportunity to make a delicious dinner for someone other than myself.

The only scallop recipe in my Cuisine of California cookbook is Scallops with Fresh Tomatoes, Herbs, and White Wine. Perfect. That’s what I ended up serving, along with steamed green beans.

(Serves 2 as a main course – recipe halved from original)

Ingredients:

1 lb. sea scallops
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch of finely ground pepper
1/2 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)

Directions:

1. Remove small white muscle at the side of each sea scallop. Cut sea scallops in half horizontally.

2. Heat 1 of the tablespoons oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute for 3 minutes, or until soft. Add tomatoes, wine, herbs and garlic. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until slightly reduced. Add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning.

3. Pat scallops dry. Sprinkle with flour; shake off excess.

4. Heat remaining oil in a large skillet. Place scallops in the skillet and saute over medium-high heat, turning frequently, about 2 minutes per side, or until lightly browned and tender.

5. Spoon scallops onto serving plates and pour sauce over each serving. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.