Kitchen Sink Chickpea Salad

garbanzo bean saladWhile the light is beginning to change and speak more strongly of autumn, our local produce bounty is just now reaching its peak. Harvest and crush is already in full swing in the wine world, and tomatoes are so bountiful, the kitchen is saturated in their heady scent.

I happened across a recipe from PBS that featured chickpeas and fresh produce, and wonder of wonders, I had a can of garbanzo beans in the cupboard., so I thought I’d give the salad a shot. Of course, I wasn’t content to leave it as it was. I had to add to it a bit, as I had some feta that wanted to be used and some mache, and oh, an avocado that had refused to ripen for a week and a half until I decided to make this salad. Like so many instances with me in the kitchen, if there’s a chance for a dinner filled with produce, I’ll opt for even more produce.

We paired dinner with a dry Riesling. It went pretty well, but nothing like last week’s pairing. There were no fireworks, but sometimes, when you have a dish that incorporates a whole host of flavors like this one does, pretty well is good enough.

Kitchen Sink Chickpea Salad


Serves 4

1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 lemon cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup of green olives, sliced
1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
1 avocado, cut into small cubes
1 cup mache or green salad mix
2/3 of a red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 of a red onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
juice from half a lemon
drizzle of lemon-infused olive oil
drizzle of champagne vinegar
salt and black pepper to taste
20 mint leaves, chopped

Put everything in a large bowl. Using tongs, or your hands, toss until everything is well mixed. Cover and place in the refrigerator. For best results, save it for dinner the next day, as it gives the beans time to absorb all the flavors, but if you’re hungry NOW, it can be eaten fresh, too.

Not-so Traditional Panzanella

panzanellaYou have a sourdough loaf that’s a couple days past its prime, a whole lot of tomatoes, and a grumbling belly. What do you do? Make a bread salad for dinner!

The reason this post is titled, “Not-so Traditional Panzanella” is because traditionalists usually only create it using bread, basil, tomatoes, and onions. Like the way I feel about making stock, I think you should make your meal with what’s already in the kitchen. If that means you open the refrigerator door and spy, say, olives and a bit of mozzarella — and maybe there’s an avocado sitting on the counter that has to be used today or it will be too old for anything but guacamole — well then, use them! If the flavors seem like they’d meld well, go for it. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but the best way to stick to a food budget is to eat what you buy. Wasted food is money down the drain, or into the compost heap, so make sure to figure out how to use those random leftovers you have hanging around the kitchen.

I paired the panzanella with a Dolcetto, and it was phenomenal! It’s the type of pairing one dreams about, that perfect harmonizing of food and drink. There was a lovely counterpoint to the tomato, basil, avocado… even the olives. If I had more Dolcetto in my collection, this would be our meal for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately, I only have one more bottle, and it can be a hard wine to come by in California. People don’t know what it is, so they’re hesitant to try it. It’s a beautiful wine, but because folks won’t buy it, winemakers don’t make it. Please, don’t be scared! Search it out, and have it with this recipe.

Not-so Traditional Panzanella


Serves 4

Most of a leftover sourdough baguette, cut in one-inch pieces
pinch of dried sage
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
drizzle of olive oil
3 tomatoes, cut in chunks
1 avocado, cut in chunks
4 ounces of mozzarella
7 ounces of kalamata olives
20-30 basil leaves
drizzle of olive oil
drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Warm a skillet over medium heat. Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Toss in bread, sage, and pepper and stir until bread begins to golden.
Remove from heat and toss the bread, with the rest of the ingredients, in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and set in the refrigerator for a couple hours so the flavors have a chance to combine well.
Remove and serve.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

stuffed green bell pepperIt’s pepper time in our neck of the woods. The summer’s presented us with a few heat waves, and while that might not be all that pleasant for us, it is for our local produce. When making a dinner of stuffed peppers, you may want to wait for a gap between hot days. Who wants to turn on the oven when it’s 100 degrees F outside? Certainly not me, but even on a warm day, this is a quick to prepare dinner, with a minimum of oven time.

What goes well with green bell peppers? I thought sausage mixed with rice pilaf and some blue cheese seemed like just the ticket. Then I paired dinner with a Cabernet Sauvignon, one with a bit of bell pepper characteristic but not too heavy on the tannins. It was a good match. ***One other thing, you’ll have stuffing left over. Save it for the next morning, scramble some eggs, mix it all together, and make into a frittata. Waste not, want not!

Stuffed Bell Peppers


Serves 2-4

4 green bell peppers, tops cut off and seeds and ribs removed
1 lb sausage
1 cup rice pilaf (I used a local company’s — though they’re offered all over — Wild Porcini Mushroom pilaf. You can also make your own.)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Warm a skillet over medium heat and cook sausage. Set aside.
Cook rice pilaf to package directions.
Stir together pilaf, sausage, and blue cheese. Stuff mixture into each pepper until nice and full. Set tops of peppers back onto the rest of the bell.
Place peppers onto a wire rack set into a baking pan and cook for 30 minutes. About 20 minutes in, take the pepper tops off and set onto the rack in the baking sheet so the stuffing browns a bit.
Remove pan from the oven and let sit about five minutes. Place peppers on plates and serve.

Eating While Moving

veggiesSelling a house is a new one on me. I wasn’t quite prepared for the moving squared effect of buying a house, packing, moving, and prepping a house to sell. So far, it’s been one heck of a ride, to put it mildly.

While I still haven’t unpacked all of my pots and pans — honestly, most of our possessions are still in boxes — I have been able to keep Charles and I fed on more than just burritos from the local taco joint. Though, those burritos have been the saving grace on many a night. Never underestimate the draw of a good burrito, people.

Here are my tips to having a healthy dinner, even if you’re so exhausted, you feel like you’re going to dissolve into a puddle of goop and pain.

Always have vegetables on hand.
Vegetables can be turned into a salad, a stir-fry, combined with a cheese plate, tossed in an omelet, or added to pasta. Keep in mind, bags of frozen veggies won’t go bad, so it’s always a good idea to have a few bags in your freezer.

Speaking of pasta…

Always have a package of pasta available.
Carbohydrates are good when you’re clocking in tens of thousands of steps a day, carrying boxes up long staircases, or painting walls. I’ve been using dried cheese-stuffed tortellini a lot. It’s available in the bulk department and has so many uses. Toss those aforementioned veggies in your colander, so they get a hot water bath as you drain your pasta — instant soft vegetables. Pasta is also nice to toss into a green salad, or just stir in some cheese with your noodles. Carbs!

Have a couple types of cheese.
I always have a Parmesan in the fridge to dress up pasta, sprinkle on salad, grill into a sandwich. Plus, there’s always the cheese plate! Along with the Parm, I also have one or two soft cheeses on hand at any given time.

Eggs are a must.
Easy protein that can be scrambled, hard boiled (add to your salad), made into an omelette, etc.

Have sandwich fixin’s.
Rarely am I too exhausted to slap some fillings into two pieces of bread. Roasted red peppers and goat cheese? Bread? Boom — sandwich. Scramble an egg, cook it flat, flip, add to bread — egg sandwich. Some tuna with mayo and topped with salad greens and sandwiched between two slices of bread … you get the idea.

This is how I’ve been surviving the chaos of the past two months — a lot of salad, some pasta, a cheese plate or two, sandwiches galore, and honestly, a weekly burrito. Now to get that house sold so we can focus on the new one, and get back to creating recipes!

Nectarines and Arugula on Filo Dough

Nectarines and arugula on filo doughMiss me? I’ve been pretty busy with some house hunting/packing/moving of late. Dinner usually comes after a long, exhausting day, and I’ve been gravitating to a few standbys to get me through the evening cooking process. I’m going to give you the low down on how I cook healthy meals while being super swamped, but for today, I have slightly fancier fare.

Nectarines have just come into season in California. They’re one of my favorite fruits, and I love to incorporate them into both sweet and savory meals. I decided to take them and some other in-season ingredients and plop them on some filo dough for a crispy — though rather messy, dinner. I discovered this meal in its open-faced layout required a knife and fork to eat it. If you’d like something a bit easier to eat, fold over the filo into square or triangle pockets so you won’t need a knife. (You’ll just need to add the arugula before folding.) Either way you go about it, pair with a rosé, and enjoy a quick meal after a long day.

Nectarines and Arugula on Filo Dough


Serves 6-8

3 white nectarines, sliced
1 package of prosciutto
15 ounces of ricotta cheese
a few dollops of soft goat cheese (I used my Farm to Table shipment of laychee with chive flowers.)
handful of fresh arugula
8 sheets of filo dough
walnut oil (or olive oil)
black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, roll out the 8 sheets of filo dough. Drizzle, or spray if you have an oil sprayer, a fine layer of oil over the filo. Spread the ricotta in a nice, even layer, followed by the dollops of goat cheese. Lay the prosciutto evenly over the cheese, followed by the nectarines. Drizzle or spray a little more oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
Cook for about 10 minutes or until the edges of the dough turn golden brown. Sprinkle on the arugula and return to the oven just long enough for the arugula to wilt, three to five minutes more.
Remove from the oven. Let sit for five minutes, then cut with a pizza cutter into eight pieces, and serve.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

strawberry spinach saladToday’s post is a quick one, as every spare moment has been filled with busy work this week. I’ll be telling the whole tale on my other blog, but for now, why don’t we take a break and enjoy a superb salad?

There are a lot of strawberry spinach salads out there, and for good reason. They’re a wonderful mix of flavors, and they’re good for you, too. Mine has the protein upped a notch with the addition of pecans and thin slivers of Pecorino cheese. After a little drizzle of papaya poppy seed dressing and a glass of rosé, this salad was ready to be a sensational supper.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 2

2 cups baby spinach
4-6 strawberries, sliced
1 Tablespoon coarsely chopped pecans
1 avocado, sliced into small pieces
2 Tablespoons thinly sliced Pecorino cheese
salad dressing (I used Annie’s Papaya Poppy Seed)

Arrange the spinach on two plates. Layer the other ingredients. Drizzle the dressing and serve right away.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

asparagus soupAbout a gabillion years ago (okay, maybe closer to 10) I worked in a coffee house. We baristas also served food, things like toasted bagels and cream cheese, blueberry granola, and soup. I fell in love with the cream of asparagus soup we served. It was an interpretation of the Moosewood Cookbook recipe and was made in large batches by my boss. This was my first introduction to, “Hey, vegetables can taste amazing as soup!” Before that, I was mostly about salads, and as a starving college student, I honestly saw most veggies as something above my income level.

But here we were. This soup was amazing, and I wanted more! I had graduated from college (again) and was working two jobs, one at the coffee shop and one at a grocery store. Not only was I able to afford creating something I considered fancy, I worked at a place where I could get part of it for free. The perks of working in grocery mean that you never starve. Keep that in mind, college students! I got a bunch of asparagus that was too old and ugly for the buying public, as well as an onion that had seen better days, and was on my way to making my first batch. Full disclosure — this soup was part of the first meal I ever made for Charles, and my first attempt at making it, so it has a very special place in my cook’s heart.

These days, I only work in grocery, and my position is a bit higher up the ladder. The coffee shop, though I still miss being a barista, is long gone. While the shop may be a thing of the past, I continue to think this soup is all that. It’s tasty and filling, and it’s a great first course or even a good meal, depending on how hungry you are. Serve it with a Sauvignon Blanc, though in my opinion, it’s best to stay away from the gooseberry characteristics of a New Zealand style. Oh, and even though I no longer take advantage of the free for staff as often as I used to, that doesn’t mean I’m not still frugal. This batch was made with the leftover asparagus after my naan pizza creation. The best way to save money when buying food is to eat all of it.

Cream of Asparagus


Serves 4-6

2 cups stock
1 onion, chopped
6 Tablespoons of butter
6 Tablespoons of flour
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 bunch of fresh asparagus, chopped
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper

In a pot over medium heat, cook asparagus with onions and butter.
When the onions are clear, about eight minutes or so, sprinkle in the flour.
Lower the heat to low and continue to cook for five to eight more minutes, stirring often.
Add stock, salt, dill, and white pepper and cook about ten more minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently.
Puree the mixture bit by bit with the milk in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
Return soup to low heat until it begins to bubble.

Morel, Asparagus, and Pancetta Pizza

naan-pizzaSuddenly, it’s April. No one I know can quite figure out how we got here already, but hey, it’s the fourth month of the year.

Spring has sprung, and so have morel mushrooms. Morels should be cooked before being eaten, and many people enjoy them sauteed in butter with a bit of salt and pepper. I’m all about sauteing mushrooms in butter — and I did that as part of my preparation — but I thought a pizza that showcased the first flavors of spring would be just perfect. Along with morels, the first asparagus is presenting its green, tender shoots. With the warmer weather, Pennyroyal Farm is also back to making their Laychee cheese, the light, fluffy stuff that they make from new milk. To finish off the flavors, this pizza-of-the-spring was put on a “crust” of garlic naan, given a white sauce cover, and graced with some pancetta. It was incredibly delicious. Pair it with Pennyroyal’s sister ranch, Navarro Vineyard’s, Pinot Noir (2011 was a very good year) and toast the fresh, new world.

Morel, Asparagus, and Pancetta Pizza


Serves 4

White Sauce
1 pat of butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup milk
dash of white pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1⁄4 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, shredded

2 pieces garlic naan
8 asparagus tips
6 pieces of pancetta
3 morels, sliced thinly and sauteed in butter
12 dollops of Laychee cheese (or chevre)
balsamic vinegar (in a spritzer if you have one)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
On the stove top, put milk and butter in a small pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Stir until flour is mixed thoroughly. Mix in white pepper and garlic. Add cheese and remove from heat. Whisk until cheese is melted and set aside while you cook the morels.
Place naan on a pizza stone, pizza pan, or cookie sheet. Spread white sauce evenly over each piece. Place pancetta on top, then follow by scattering the asparagus and morels. Dollop each naan with the cheese, placing strategically so each bite will have some gooey goodness.
Put naan pizzas in the oven and cook seven to 10 minutes or until the asparagus begins to brown. After about five minutes of the pizzas being in the oven, spritz the tops with balsamic vinegar.
Cut each pizza in pieces and serve right away.

Slow Cooker Vegetable Bean Soup

Vegetable Bean SoupWell, hello there! Things were a little quiet on the blog last week because I was on a short vacation, enjoying the wildflowers in Death Valley. Charles and I don’t do complicated camp food. Our cooler is reserved for beer, so everything else is just boil-in-a-bag. After a few days of eating Tasty Bites Jaipur Vegetables for dinner, I was in the mood for anything different.

It was a busy week for us after our break, as the reality after trips often is. I wanted something healthy and inexpensive, and I didn’t want to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen, since I didn’t have a great deal of time. That’s where my favorite kitchen tool — other than my Japanese chef’s knife, the slow cooker came into play. After a night of soaking beans, it was a day of slowly cooking a mishmash of ingredients, and by the time I got home from work, soup was on!

One of the best things about soup is it’s not an exact science. I tend to eyeball the amounts when I’m making it, so don’t feel freaked if you only have 30 ounces of tomatoes or vegetables. It will still be tasty.

What’s even better, there are plenty of leftovers. We’ll have more soup tonight, probably paired with a Zinfandel or Sangiovese, and I’ll freeze the rest in two-serving containers for more easy, soup-filled evenings in the future.

Vegetable Bean Soup

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 10

1 cup dried Orca beans (Black turtle beans or little navy beans would also work.)
water
32 oz canned, fire-roasted tomatoes
32 oz (2 bags) of frozen, assorted vegetables (Buy these while they’re on sale and hoard them for whenever you need a veggie addition to a meal.)
2 cups of stock (You know I always have plenty in my freezer.)
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried parsley
roasted red pepper flakes to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

In an eight quart slow cooker, soak the beans in water overnight.
The next morning, drain the beans in a colander. Return them to the slow cooker and add the rest of the ingredients. Add water to the pot until it’s 3/4 of the way full. Put on the lid, turn the slow cooker onto low, and let cook eight to ten hours.
Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Serve with some crusty bread, if you’re into that.

Happy Pi Day

pieHappy Pi Day, everyone! To celebrate this illustrious occasion, I decided to make one of my favorite pies — banana cream — so custardy, so sweet. I was going to attempt to improve upon the epicurious recipe, but it was pretty perfect as is.

So instead of sharing a new recipe, I thought I’d tell you why I like the first piece of pie. As many pie aficionados know, the first piece of pie, like the first pancake, is often a sacrifice. It’s difficult to keep the first piece beautiful. It wants to cave in on itself. It doesn’t want to let go of the other pieces around it, but finally it slides away, allowing the rest of the pieces to be served whole.

I used to work in a bakery, so I ended up learning the trick of keeping each piece pretty, at least when they’re baked uniformly and cut equally. At home, though, I’ve never bothered. I’ve always loved its mushy yielding to the spatula. It may not be bonny, but it tastes just as good, and because it yields its solidity to either end, the person who gets the first piece usually ends up with a tad more of the treat than anyone else.

That’s why it’s the piece for me. It sacrifices for the greater good, is just as sweet, and offers a couple more forkfuls in the end. Happy Pi Day, everyone! Try to take the first slice — unless I’m serving.

And as far as pairings go, consume this baby with a good cup of coffee. I’d recommend an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Its floral aromas and lemon notes in the cup are what make it my all-time favorite. Just make sure to get a light roast to experience its full flavor profile. That’s a must! Have I ever mentioned I used to be a barista? It made me very particular about my coffee. In fact, learning coffee flavor profiles and attending many cuppings was actually what led me to my wine tasting obsession. Every single day still begins with an amazing cup of craft coffee, and I’d be a sad soul without it.