Sunday, September 29, 2013


Quinoa, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
I had this paltry remnant of quinoa lingering in my pantry from a previous Rainbow bulk binge. It would still be there if I hadn't opened up my goop newsletter today. GP has a lot of good rice bowl concoctions in which she combines brown rice with quinoa and then tosses in or tops it with any number vegetables and what-not. Somehow I bounced myself around the blogosphere and ended up jotting down the steps for "How to Make Quinoa Without a Recipe" from a source I forgot to note. I thought it was Food52 but I couldn't find it anywhere.
It goes something like this:
First and super important: RINSE! I forgot to do this once and the result was  bitter.
Put the dried quinoa in a mesh strainer and blast well with water.
Whatever amount of quinoa you're cooking, you'll want to double that volume with water or stock (I love Better than Bouillion Low Sodium Chicken). One cup of dried quinoa yields 3 cups cooked.
I start by boiling a kettle of water and pouring it into a pyrex measuring cup. Stir in the bouillion,
Add a smashed but in tact garlic clove and a good pinch of salt. I drop in a sprig of rosemary and let it steep for about 10 minutes. Fish out the rosemary and pour the liquid into a pot. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the little white rings have popped up. Turn off the heat. Fish out the garlic (you can chop it up and add it back in) and stir in some finely chopped scallions (1 for each 1/4 cup of dried quinoa).
Add a couple of generous splashes of vinegar, about 1 tablespoon per 1/4 cup of  dried quinoa.
Fluff with a fork. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
Let it sit until cooled and the add in more finely chopped herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and some black pepper.
This is great on its own and left in the fridge to have on hand.
Combined with cooked brown rice, it's a great host for:

chopped roasted or grilled vegetables
corn kernals
chopped cherry or heirloom tomatoes
chopped cucumbers
avocado or peppers
marinated vegetables
toasted pine nuts or pepitas
crumbled feta or blue cheese
My favorite thing is to have cooked rice and quinoa on hand for any greens like kale and chard that I can rescue from the produce bin at work. I just cut up the greens and sauté then with garlic, olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes and I've got a meal in just minutes.
The next morning a poached egg and shaved parmesan make an awesome breakfast bowl. I made pesto thanks to a basil rescue a couple of days ago.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

20 Cookbooks

20 Cookbooks, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
This is what it comes down to as I've attempted to tame the beast. It seems funny that 10+ years ago, when I first took over this little kitchen, I rarely cooked at all. I had five times as many cookbooks. Books I started collecting 25+ years ago, then paying the postage to ship them when I moved to New York, accumulating more and then U-hauling it all back across the country to end up here and onto a very tall Ikea bookshelf that I had shoved up next to my refrigerator, where they continued to grow.
Once I really started to cook, I realized the unwieldiness of it all, started  a very traumatic purge and a somewhat successful moratorium on the acquisition of new or used cookbooks. Fortunately, I live two blocks from my library and manage to get my mitts on as many new and amazing cookbooks as I can carry.
Now I ask myself: why did I hold onto the ones I did and what provoked me to bargain my way out of the moratorium ( promise to self : new one in an old one goes)  and purchase new cookbooks (there was the occasional Amazon browse after one too many margaritas)?
Only two cookbooks have survived all the purges. They came my way forever ago during my Cookbook Club phase some 20+ years ago when I wasn't even thinking about healthy cooking, much less vegetables. Both by Deborah Madison: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Local Flavors.
What I find amazing, if not down-right ironic, is that the subject of both of these cookbooks are a huge part of my life now. A greater knowledge of vegetables and local produce are a central focus of my job.
So, I have only just decided that I will (when not just tossing together something from my own head)cook only from my shelf books starting with my Madisons. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Not quite an old shoe...

roasted vegetable magic, originally uploaded by michele wynne.

...but close. Here is where I obsess over illustrate the amazing transforming powers of my favorite roasted vegetables.

I can't think of anything that brings me more joyful anticipation (well, besides Disneyland) than shopping at Rainbow, a not-so-nearby, ginormous, grocery co-op that features an impressively massive bulk foods area.

This is just way cool.

Once I get home with my bags of beans, lentils, flours, teas, spices and nuts, I have to go to town on the pantry. The afternoon is spent freeing up big jars, transferring remnants into smaller jars and making new labels. I love making new labels. Yes, I'm a geek.
I'm also left to ponder the fates of questionable remnants.  You see, until today, I've neglected to date anything. So whilst scrounging for containers, I found a jar holding a mystery whole wheat ziti. First off, I have no idea what on earth even possessed me to buy whole wheat ziti to begin with. Perhaps it was back in the day before I thought that Whole Foods was the devil and found it on sale at the same fleeting moment I went on a healthy eating mini-tangent and thought whole wheat pasta was a good idea. I have no idea how long it's been sitting on my shelf. It wasn't even in the pantry, it was on a shelf by the window. Sitting out in broad daylight for what has to be at least a year. I think I put it there for decoration, although I can't imagine why I thought ziti, the color of wet cardboard, would be decorative. I almost tossed it, but thought better of that because I loathe throwing food away, so I cooked it. I had no plan for it when I threw it into the pot. I just wanted to see if it was palatable. It was. Just barely. It wasn't great but it didn't suck either. It wasn't quite an old shoe.
I hesitated this next move, sacrificing my dynamic duo, but what the hell. I chopped up and stirred in the last of my roasted peppers and tomatoes <sniff>, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, a couple of pinches of salt, a few grinds of black pepper and fresh basil. It was pretty damned good.
This would just KILL on homemade pasta! Oh yeah, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the other great thing about these roasted vegetables is the olive oil that you use to store them in is super flavorful. It's already sauce.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

roasted pepper medley

roasted peppers, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
On the heels of my previous post, having used up The Three Amigos and feeling a little lonesome for any one of them, three sad peppers appeared before me.
The market where I work has a big grey plastic box of free, sad produce. It sits by the time clock, sometimes spilling over with produce past its prime, a final plea for a chance to be part of your dinner tonight. Occasionally it's odds and ends of produce that just didn't pass muster from the get-go,  technically fresh but not so pretty, the rest is pulled from the floor when it gets a little too funky for the gorgeous bountiful harvest in the market, but not funky enough for the compost bin. The best of the funky get nabbed by the produce peeps, the rest gets left for any staff willing to give it a go. I always snatch up the peppers, hoping to accumulate enough for a pepper roasting. This bunch almost got away from me, forgotten in the produce drawer and suddenly requiring CPR. I was pondering bedtime just prior to flipping on the broiler. 15 minutes later, these amazing roasted peppers began life anew. 
The very next day, as luck would have it, I was in the right place at the right time when my produce gal turned me onto a bunch of sad plum tomatoes.
This dynamic duo could make an old shoe taste good.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

polenta with slow roasted tomatoes...

The upside to being broke is the surge of creativity poverty evokes. The work week pretty much takes care of itself but the days off are where the challenge lays. Typically on those days the little kitchen is a flurry of activity. First the big clean up, fridge and pantry are assessed, cookbooks tagged, foodie websites scoured and email newsletters are perused for more inspiration, and lists are made. 
In the lean times, The Three Amigos are a girls best friend in the kitchen.  This is an amazing trio of condiments that include slow roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. They are cheap to produce and once the prep is done and the peppers are roasted, you can leave the rest alone and go do something else. So for all of about $6.00 I bought 4 pounds of cheap supermarket plum tomatoes (super low and slow roasting transforms cheap flavorless tomatoes), 5 large yellow onions and 3 red bell peppers.  
I like to roast peppers in the broiler. I cut the top and bottom off the pepper, slice the pepper open, remove the seeds and rib, and cut the pepper into 3 or 4 pieces so that they lay down flat in the broiler and will blacken evenly. Remove the green stem from the top piece and lay the two ends in the broiler as well. Keep an eye on them, checking them every 5 minutes. When the skins are all black, remove them and turn the oven down to 250 degrees. Put the peppers into a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap and let them steam for about 5 minutes. Lay the pieces on a cutting board and peel the skins off. I use a cheap serrated steak knife and scrape the skins off while using a fork to hold the piece in place.
To roast the tomatoes, slice them in half lengthwise, brush with olive oil and sprinkle a bit of salt on top.  Lay them on parchment  lined baking sheets and roast in a 250 degree oven for about 3 hours. This really depends on the size and quality of your tomatoes. The larger and more watery the tomato, the longer it will take. They will shrink significantly, but there should still be a little burst of super delicious, intense juice when you bite into it. I cooked this batch a little too long and many of the edges were tough. They wouldn't be so great on a sandwich, but were perfect cut up and mixed into this polenta.
The peppers and tomatoes can be stored in airtight jars covered with olive oil for up to a week. I love to use the flavored olive oil for scrambling eggs.
In a moment I can only attribute to serendipity, I opened up my weekly America's Test Kitchen newsletter the next morning to find a gorgeous Creamy Cheesy Polenta staring at me. Oh yes. I pictured the jar of polenta in my pantry, made a couple of notes and I high tailed it home. I took 2 tips from ATK. I used more water and added baking soda (this apparently works on polenta the way it does with beans). It wasn't until the polenta was done, that it occurred to me to add some chopped up roasted tomatoes. I didn't think polenta could get any better. 
I like to cook polenta in a broth made with Better Than Bouillion (low sodium) and a sprig of rosemary, both optional
Creamy Cheesy Tomatoey Polenta
adapted from America's Test Kitchen
7 1/2 cups water
 1 1/2 tablespoons Better Than Bouillion (optional)
sprig of fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups dried polenta (don't use the quick cooking kind)
1 teaspoon sea salt
a couple of grinds of pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup parmesano reggiano
5-6 roasted tomato halves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped roasted peppers
a bit more salt to taste
a bit more pepper to taste
a poached egg perhaps 
finely slivered basil for garnish
a little shaved parmesan for garnish
Bring the water to a boil, stir in the bouillion to dissolve and toss in the rosemary sprig. If using store bought rosemary (which can be dry and prone to start shedding spindles), lower the heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes to extract some flavor  from the rosemary then remove it and any errant spindles before adding the polenta. If you've just snipped it from the garden it will stay in tact and you can fish the whole thing out later, there may be a few spindles, I turn up the heat and bring to a boil again, stir in the salt and baking soda. Slowly pour in the polenta while gently stirring with a flat edged wooden spoon. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot and leave it alone for 5 minutes.  Remove the cover and whisk out any lumps. Cover again and leave it for 20 minutes, or until the polenta has absorbed all the liquid and is tender.
Stir in the butter until it melts. Stir in the cheese. Taste. Add a few pinches of salt, stir and taste until the cheese really sings. You can stop right there...buuut if you're me, you toss in those tomatoes and roasted peppers. Stir, taste, salt, stir, taste until the tomatoes shine through and you've convinced yourself of your genius.
Try to resist just shoveling this into your gob straight from the pot while still standing over the stove.
Poach yourself an egg and slice up a little basil. Spoon the polenta into a bowl, top with the poached egg, crack some pepper on top, shave a little cheese over that and finish with a sprinkling of basil. Done. Done. And. Done.
Oh and purely pure coincidence, after this post was done, I Googled slow roasted tomatoes to get a fix on oven temps and lo and behold,  number one was Smitten Kitchen with this gorgeous post from her archives.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

a tale of two kitchens

a tale of two kitchens, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
I've endured months of construction as the old house outside my kitchen window was gutted and glammed up to it's current asking price of 2 million dollars. It's show-time, the weather is currently perfect and the realtor flings the patio doors wide open.
I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, especially on my days off. I can spend an entire day there. I crank up the music while I plan, create and eat and while I'm eating, I'm thinking about what I'm going to cook next. My kitchen is a disaster...most days. I can, and have, used every pot and bowl and mixing tool I own. The dishes, pots, and pans pile up precariously in and around the sink, on the stove top and around my cutting board. I'm like the Tazmanian Devil in the kitchen. When I run out of surface space I create new ones by putting a cutting board or baking sheet on the stove top or on top of my dutch oven. It's ridiculous. Of course, that means I spend a lot of time at the kitchen sink...looking out of this window...into a very  different kitchen.
A few feet away, is a mega-modern, brand spankin' new, Architectural Digest worthy kitchen. Along with it's fancy Thermador appliances, walnut cabinets, stone counters and track lighting, it's all tricked up for show- complete with a cookbook propped up in it's clear acrylic stand along side a tall, thin green bottle of olive oil in the middle of an expansive grey stone counter top. That kitchen is perfection with it's open plan and breakfast bar. It tries to mock me, but I won't let it.
The little kitchen is old...really, really old. It looks like a rustic little farm kitchen. Just to the right of the window, is my pantry cupboard. It's narrow and runs floor to ceiling. It used to be an ice-box. The little kitchen needs an industrial power clean and a paint job. The tiles are cracked, the grout is black and the cupboards either stick or slowly creak open. The windows don't close properly and the refrigerator puddles and generates loud rumbling farts in the middle of the night.
It's a crappy little kitchen but it suits me. I wonder how my Madonna sing-alongs will go over with new neighbors.