Thursday, October 16, 2014

Arugula, Walnut, and Bleu Cheese Stuffed Portobellos and Food Day

I am honored to have been invited by Food Day, a food advocacy group that focuses on food justice and food education, to take part in a panel discussion about healthy eating. The panel discussion and breakfast are a part of the Food Fight Write conference in Las Vegas, which is in association with the World Food Championships. I'm so excited about all of this because I'm always thrilled to talk about food and how it doesn't have to be greasy and over the top to be delicious. Food Day shares our belief that real food simply prepared can be amazingly delicious and also fuel your body. (Find out more at www.foodday.org.)

Lately, we've been cooking simply… I mean really simply. The oven is cranked up to 350, we drizzle some corn or asparagus or sweet potatoes with olive oil, hit them with a little salt and pepper, and roast them for our side dish. 

Over and over again, I keep making this kind of old-school, comforting stuffed mushroom as a main. It seems almost too simple to share, but the flavor and texture are just right, even though it's made with just a few ingredients. 

Arugula, Walnut, and Bleu Cheese Stuffed Portobellos

4 large portobello mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup champagne vinegar
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 shallot (diced, about 1/4 cup)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 5-ounce container fresh arugula
2 large eggs (beaten)

Chopped tomato and fresh parsley (to garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350. (I always use the convection mode because I think it cooks everything more evenly. Use it if you have it.) Remove the stems from the mushroom and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle each with the olive oil and vinegar lightly coating both sides. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Place the mushrooms gill-side-down on the parchment and place into the oven for 15 minutes. While they cook, go ahead and prepare the filling.


In a large bowl, toss together the bleu cheese, walnuts, shallot, lemon zest, arugula, and eggs. Remove the mushrooms from the oven and pour any juice that has rendered from the mushrooms into the filling mixture; it's good flavor that you don't want to waste! Toss the mixture together one more time. Place the mushrooms gill-side-up on the parchment and divide the filling between them. Return the baking sheet to the oven for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and garnish with chopped tomato and parsley. (Serves 4.) 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

TCV Cancer Shake: A Spice Blend with LOTS of Antioxidants

The idea for a mix of spices that each contain antioxidant properties came after my dad's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer this past March. I was busy hammering him about juicing and eating all the right things -- but what he really needed at the time was to eat for comfort because his digestive tract was so messed up both before and after his Whipple surgery.

So eventually I figured out that I needed to come up with something that tasted good and could be added to any dish…something that would up the cancer-fighting ability of the food he was eating. A quick Google search of the top antioxidant spices in the world and a visit to my well-stocked spice cabinet led to the first container of TCV Cancer Shake.

I sprinkled a good bit on a sweet potato I was having for lunch one day and thought, this isn't bad at all! I actually kind of like it. It's reminiscent of a mild curry powder -- because that's basically what it is. The ginger and cinnamon add warmth while the sumac, a middle-Eastern spice made from ground sumac berries, adds a nice lemony touch. Each ingredient adds either earthiness or sweetness.

It's great on everything from salads to grilled vegetables to fish (so I'm told!) to stir-fry; my dad has used it on all of those things and asked me to make him some more of it.

At this point, I am so thrilled to share with you the news that he's alive and well with no evidence of disease, as reported as his most recent scan at the end of August. It takes faith, the support of family and friends, some very talented doctors, and likely some luck to get to this point, and we are grateful for all of it.

TCV Cancer Shake

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sumac*
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder*
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, simply mix all the spices until well incorporated. I like to run the whole mix through my spice grinder to break down the larger oregano and sea salt flakes. Keep mixture in an airtight container in the cupboard for up to 6 months. Sprinkle on everything!

*These spices are available at specialty food stores like Whole Foods.

Fresh Cucumber Noodles with Cashews and Mint

Here in the South, we are about to be completely overrun with cucumbers. Summertime yields so many pounds of them from the few plants that we have at the farm; we really have to try hard to use them all, even after sharing. Pickles, cucumber lemonade, summer salad, raita…and don't forget Kool-ickles

So this is a new idea that'll have you scooping up all the cucumbers you can get your hands on this season. It uses a great new gadget we got from good old Walgreens. It's called a Vegetti, and it easily cuts cucumber and other vegetables into spaghetti-like noodles. This cold, spicy dish goes great alongside sushi or curry. Best of all, it comes together with no cooking at all and only takes a few minutes to make.

Fresh Cucumber Noodles with Cashews and Mint

1 large English cucumber (about 14 inches)
1 small Serrano pepper (very thinly sliced)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon plum vinegar
1 teaspoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup crushed cashews
1 tablespoon sliced chives


Run the cucumber through the Vegetti or break it down using a serrated peeler. (Alternately, it would be just fine to thinly slice the cucumber or to cut it into matchsticks. It's your call.) In a large bowl, toss the cucumber, Serrano pepper, ginger, soy, vinegar, mirin, and sesame oil together until everything is well-coated. Place onto a plate to serve family-style or divide between two bowls for individual servings. Garnish with mint, cashews, and chives. (Serves 2.)



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thai-Inspired Green Curry With Eggplant and Peppers

Our favorite gardener, TV host, and author  P. Allen Smith (see us cook with him last summer here and here!) issued us a challenge at the beginning of this summer: grow a collection of vegetables and herbs in one pot and at harvest time, use it all to make one cohesive dish. We came to refer to it as the Patio to Plate Challenge. It was so fun to start from the most elemental point and see it all the way through for, you know, that certain type of heady and pride-filled locavore experience.

We started in the garden center, where we found a just-big-enough container that measured about 2 feet across and also procured some organic gardening soil. We then picked out our Bonnie Plants vegetables and herbs: 2 sweet basil plants, 1 bunch of white onions, 1 Italian oregano, 2 white Gretel eggplants, and 2 Big Bertha bell pepper plants.



Back at the house, we planted the taller eggplants in the center and the shorter peppers and herbs on the outside; this allowed the oregano to spill over the side and followed Allen's classic rules for an attractive container garden.


We did run into a few bumps in the road. We might've needed to pick a deeper container than this one, which was so shallow it required watering every day that it didn't rain. Also, if you'd like to try the challenge out yourself, make certain you have a sunny enough spot! Once we recognized that we didn't, we moved our Patio to Plate container garden from mostly sunny to full sun -- and then it really flourished!

The recipe was a no-brainer for us. We both love green curry from places like Bhan Thai and Jasmine here in Memphis, so we wanted to create our own version that was flavorful and delicious. As a bonus, this dish is fast, gluten-free, and vegan. Feel free to add a fried egg or crispy tofu if you'd like, but it's still great as is. 

So, readers, what would you grow in your own Patio to Plate garden?

Thai-Inspired Green Curry With Eggplant and Peppers

2 cups fresh basil leaves (more for garnish)

2 portions of rice noodles (for serving)
1 sprig oregano (stem discarded)
1-inch knob ginger
1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon sambal 
1 lime 
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 teaspoon champagne or rice vinegar
2 cups sliced Japanese eggplant (1/4 inch slices)
2 cups sliced green bell peppers 
(1/4 inch slices)
1/2 cup sliced green onion (white and green parts)
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric

Kosher salt and black pepper (to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil (or coconut oil)

The secret to the bright green curry sauce is blanching the basil. Don't skip this step or you'll have a black sauce. Get a large pot of salted water up to a boil. You'll use this both to blanch the basil and to cook the rice noodles. With a bowl of ice water at the ready, drop the basil into the boiling, salted water and wait for it to turn a bright green -- this only takes a few seconds. Using a spider tool, fish the basil out and drop it into the ice water. Once it's cooled, collect the basil and squeeze it dry.

Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drizzle drained noodles with olive or coconut oil to prevent sticking, cover, and set aside until ready to serve.


Make the green curry sauce by blending the blanched basil, oregano, ginger, garlic, sambal, the zest of the lime, can of coconut milk, and vinegar together until smooth. Set aside.


In a large bowl, mix together the sliced eggplant, peppers, and onion with the coriander, cumin, and turmeric. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Next, get a wok or large sautĂ© pan smoking hot. Add the oil and allow it to smoke. Once it starts smoking, carefully add the vegetable mixture and be sure to toss it every minute to allow it to brown evenly. Add the green curry sauce and allow it to heat through. Once it's hot, place the curry in a serving bowl and garnish with a few basil leaves and lime wedges before serving. (Serves 2 to 4.)


Monday, September 22, 2014

Beaujolais-Poached Pears with Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola and Honey-Lemon Ricotta

Arguably, the best part about fall is the fruit, and we celebrate it two times over by poaching fresh pears in Beaujolais and topping that with honey-lemon ricotta and crunchy spiced pumpkin seed granola. 

Beaujolais-Poached Pears with Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola and Honey-Lemon Ricotta

4 pears (peeled, halved, and cored)
1 bottle Beaujolais wine 
1/3 cup honey
8 dried juniper berries
2 cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf
knob of ginger (about one inch, sliced)
pinch of kosher salt
Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola (recipe follows)
Honey-Lemon Ricotta (recipe follows)

Place pear halves cut-side-down into a 12-inch stainless steel frying pan. Pour in the bottle of wine and the honey. Add juniper, cinnamon, bay, ginger, and salt. Place frying pan on the stovetop over medium heat and allow liquid to begin to reduce. Cook for 45 minutes;  be sure to flip the pears halfway through this cooking time. When the liquid is syrupy and coats the back of a spoon, remove the pan from the heat. Place pear halves on a serving dish and strain the wine syrup. Reserve the syrup for serving. 
To serve, place a heaping tablespoon of Honey-Lemon Ricotta into the cored section of each pear. Add Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola on top. Drizzle with the wine syrup. (Serves 4-6.)

Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola

2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk the brown rice syrup, oil, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until well-incorporated. Pour in the oats and pumpkin seeds and mix until well-coated. Spread granola mixture into a thin layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes; be sure to take out the granola and turn and stir it up halfway through the baking time. Place granola on a plate to cool. 


Honey-Lemon Ricotta

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
pinch of kosher salt


In a medium bowl, whisk ricotta, honey, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt until well-incorporated. Set aside until ready to serve. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Roast Beast: A Vegetarian Holiday Main Dish That'll Steal the Show

You never know what the weather will be like during the holidays in the South. One year we’ll be huddled up inside around our family dining table and hoping the temps rise above freezing, and then the next year, the nephews and nieces will be running barefoot around the backyard while the grown-ups soak up the sun on the patio. On the years when it’s nice out -- and please let’s all keep our fingers crossed for 2014! -- it’s a crying shame to be stuck inside cooking the same old thing. So we’ve created a lightened-up and super-easy main that can be prepared outdoors on the grill. 


We call it Roast Beast. We took inspiration from the infamous turducken. What in the world would be a vegetable version of that be? we pondered. What we came up with was a giant and flavorful stack of meaty vegetables with a presentation that bests the turkey or ham or whatever it is everybody else is eating. 

Roast Beast

(Special equipment: 3 large metal skewers)

2 large red bell peppers (roasted and peeled)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 head garlic (peeled, about 10 cloves, smashed)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 cups parsley (about one bunch)
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
4 large portobello mushrooms
1 medium Italian eggplant (sliced into 1/2-inch rounds)
1 large white onion
4 slices of provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups cooked orzo
Balsamic vinegar (for drizzling)

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. Prepare the roasted red peppers by charring the skins, letting them rest, then peeling and seeding them. Set aside until ready to assemble the dish.

In a small frying pan over the grill grates or on your side burner, heat the olive oil and add the smashed garlic. Cook until just browned. Into the work bowl of your food processor add the olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, parsley, and vinegar. To make the pesto, process ingredients until well-incorporated, but still a little chunky. In a large bowl, toss the portobello and eggplant in with the pesto until well-coated. Reserve the pesto left in the bottom of the bowl.

Add salt and pepper to taste to all ingredients. Thread the vegetables onto a skewer: start with a mushroom and then add a slice of eggplant, half of a roasted red pepper, a slice of provolone, and a slice of onion. (You basically will be making a giant kabob.) Repeat this pattern four times. Press the stack tightly together and pierce it at an angle with the two other skewers.


Grill on a rack positioned slightly above the grill grates for 40 minutes and turn every 10 minutes. Some of the cheese will drip out, but that’s fine. Much of it will melt into the vegetables and add a ton of flavor.

Remove the Roast Beast and allow it to rest for 10 minutes while tented in foil. Serve on top of a bed of orzo. Drizzle with the leftover pesto and some balsamic vinegar. (Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish.) 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Grill 'Em All! A Vegetarian Labor Day Grilling Guide

We have one trick, but luckily, it's a pretty good one: we treat vegetables like a piece of meat. From butternut squash to carrots to Japanese eggplant, we try to find the methods that yield the absolute best textures and flavors for each vegetable or fruit. Almost without fail, grilling wins! This method adds that subtle smoke flavor and, if done right, yields a sweet and tasty treat that's surprisingly possible with regular old produce.

There are so many options this time of the year. Summer crops are still available, and fall crops are starting to appear in the stores as well. So fire up the grill, invite some friends over, and have a great time cooking together. Here are some simple grilling recipes to get things started. Hope y'all have a beautiful Labor Day weekend!

Spaghetti Squash Ribs

Sweet Potato Almondine

Charred Carrot Hot Dogs

Butternut Squash Steak with Smoked Garlic Chimichurri

BBQ Eggplant Sliders

Grilled Peach Ice Cream

Grilled Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Italian-Style Eggplant Sausages

BBQ Portobello Mushroom 
Sandwich

BBQ Artichoke Heart Tacos

Grilled Vegetable Sandwich with Smoked Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli

Berbere-Spiced Grilled Okra

Grilled Andouille Eggplant Po Boy

Grilled Anaheim Peppers with Cotija Cheese

Friday, August 29, 2014

Foil-Pouch Brussels Sprouts and Apples

Cooking simply yields such a great reward when it's done right. You've spent little time in the kitchen or manning the grill, but you've prepared something from scratch that's delicious and good for you. This is a great example of a dish that requires little hands-on time, but rewards you and your family with the amazing aroma of butter-roasted Brussels sprouts and apples.


I love this combination because it really hits those sweet, sour, rich, and spicy notes that we all love. We are already fans of Brussels sprouts, but if you or someone you know is a sprout-doubter, try this recipe to see how great they can be. 


Foil-Pouch Brussels Sprouts and Apples

1 pound Brussels sprouts (halved)

1 apple (like a pink lady or jazz, diced)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 small white onion (diced)

1 1/2  tablespoons unsalted butter (small dice)

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. Toss Brussels sprouts, diced apple, onion, vinegar, butter, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. On a long piece of aluminum foil, place the mixed ingredients in a single layer, fold another layer of foil over the top, and then fold all sides to seal. Add one more layer of foil to make sure everything stays in the pouch.


Grill foil pouch for 10 minutes per side and allow to rest for at least another 5 minutes before serving. Cut the pouch open with a knife being careful not to steam your hand as you open it. Transfer to a serving platter or just eat it right out of the pouch. (Makes 4 servings.)


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sweet Potato Almondine

My buddy Kelly English just won Esquire TV's chef competition, Knife Fight. I watched as he cooked simply and from the heart and presented updated, modern takes on Southern classics that won over the judges. The one thing that caught my eye was his first dish, an almondine of heirloom carrots. Yes! He recently shared that recipe in The Local Palate.

With spring past and summer (we can hope) almost gone, I wanted to take this dish with me into the   fall -- and possibly all the way to the Thanksgiving table. I decided to substitute in grilled sweet potatoes to see what would happen. Turns out that if you put buttery almonds on anything even kinda good, this last step instantly makes it delicious. So, this one's for you, Kelly! Thanks for the inspiration and congrats on your well-deserved Knife Fight win.

Sweet Potato Almondine

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sliced almonds
1 peeled shallot (thinly sliced)
1/4 cup torn parsley leaves (to garnish)
1/2 lemon

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin, slice sweet potatoes into 1/4-inch slices. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato slices with the olive oil and the vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Grill slices of sweet potato for 5 minutes per side or until well-marked by the grill grates. Remove and cover.

In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the almonds. Cook until nutty and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Assemble the dish by shingling the sweet potatoes on a large platter and topping with the buttery almonds. Garnish with shallot and parsley. Squeeze lemon over the whole dish and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main dish.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Young Coconut Meat Crudo with Lemon, Olive Oil, and Basil

So there I was cracking open a young coconut -- you know, the kind that are all white and are carved into a point at the top, for a post-bike-ride smoothie. I had poured the coconut water off and was scraping out the inside of the coconut with a spoon when all of the sudden it dawned on me: this meat is really meaty. I know it sounds silly, but it really was a moment. I immediately started to imagine other uses for it.

There's no cooking here and no real measuring involved, so it's almost a farce to call this thing a recipe. What it is is an idea, and I think it's a dang good one at that. I'm not attempting to be self-congratulatory; I'm just saying that it tasted good, really good, on the first try. That almost never happens.

I arranged one layer of the coconut meat on a plate and squeezed a lemon on it, drizzled it with really good olive oil, garnished it with aleppo pepper, Maldon salt, basil, and thinly sliced hot peppers. The wife and I shared the plate. She called it "freaky" and eerily similar to an Italian raw fish dish, crudo.

This is something we'll do again. It's so simple and stunning that you have to try it. There are a million variations that you could do, but give this lemon and basil one a shot first. We think you'll love it!

Young Coconut Meat Crudo with Lemon, Olive Oil, and Basil

1 large young coconut
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon of good olive oil
1 small hot pepper, like a Serrano or Thai bird (very thinly sliced)
8-10 small African basil leaves (or 2 large leaves chiffonade)
Maldon sea salt (to taste)
Aleppo pepper (to taste)

Watch this video I made on how to crack into a young coconut. Pour the coconut water off and reserve for another use (i.e., drink it). Using a large spoon, gently scrape the coconut meat out of the coconut. Lay it out on a plate; be careful not to leave any dark bits of shell! Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Garnish with hot pepper, basil, salt, and pepper. Enjoy immediately. (Makes 2 servings.)


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ginger and Cashew Stir Fry

(Reprinted from Edible MemphisSpring '14)

I still remember how the shiny, enameled red lid of the electric wok would catch my eye as I sat on the kitchen counter and talked to my mom as she cooked. Those of us who lived through it recall the wok craze of the 70’s and 80’s. Everybody had one; our family was no exception. Us three vegetarians in the house grew up on soggy, salty stir-fry, and I carried this questionable tradition into my young adulthood. As a thrifty college student trying to start my own photography business, I’d budget $20 a week for groceries: fresh vegetables, rice, plus tempeh, eggs, or nuts for protein. So, what was (always) for dinner? Stir-fry! Sometimes I had it over rice and sometimes over noodles, but if we weren’t having spaghetti, we were having stir-frya pretty soggy stir-fry.

My version was so bad that my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, secretly hated it but covered by saying that she just wasn’t in the mood for stir-fry. She secretly hoped that I wouldn’t catch on. What I didn’t realize at the time is that my version of stir fry lacked that signature wok flavor that comes from this ancient cooking vessel when it’s in the hands of a true professional. So, I always started with a great assortment of fresh vegetables. That’s good! What was I doing wrong? I was missing that crisp vegetable snap with plenty of intense flavor from the Malliard Reaction that happens when the vegetables brown from contact with the hot pan. And, for goodness sake, why was my stir-fry soggy? The answer, it turns out, is simple. 

I asked James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and stir-fry guru Grace Young what the single most important thing one needs in order to make a successful stir-fry meal at home. She told me, “I would say it starts with choosing the right pan. There are many people using nonstick woks or skillets, and that is guaranteed to produce a soggy, lackluster stir-fry.” I could see myself in her words; I’m truly the Goldilocks of woks. I’ve had the plug-in electric kind, which didn’t get any hotter than warm. I’ve had the round-bottomed kind with a wok ring for a conventional stovetop. I’ve had the nonstick variety, a true waste of money. I’ll tell you from firsthand experience: don’t buy any of these. Grace says, “I recommend a 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok. It costs less than $25, and it will last you more than a lifetime.” I agree -- the 14-inch flat-bottom wok I’ve had for 3 years now has been the best option for me, for sure. It’ll work on a gas or electric stove, and it offers the stability and control we all need in order to stir-fry correctly. 

Season your new purchase (or your old wok if you’ve never done so before) by following these simple steps. First, wash the new wok with liquid detergent and dry it thoroughly. Next, rub the inside of the wok with canola oil (or any oil with a high smoke point) and set it over a high flame until the whole pan darkens; this will take about six to eight minutes, depending on how hot the flame is. I’m going to recommend that you do this outside on your outdoor grill’s side burner since it makes lots of smoke! Repeat the process after simply rinsing the cooled wok with water and drying it. This will ensure a good, slick coat. What is really happening when you season your wok is a chain reaction of chemical changes. According to Modernist Cuisine, “New kinds of molecules will form, oxidize the iron, then polymerize into a waterproof film bound to the metal.”  In other words, it’ll make your wok slippery where it needs to be, easier to use, and it won’t rust. You want that! The result is that your brand-new wok will look ancient but work great...and that’s the whole point.

Now let’s head to the market. The wok makes it simple to eat seasonally, so pick up a few things that are at their best right now. Aim to stock your basket with a variety of colors and textures from the produce section. In spring, choose hearty greens like kale, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, an abundance of mushrooms like shiitake, fresh carrots, and because this is a stir-fry, we can’t forget traditional Chinese vegetables like bok choy that grow well in the Southern climate. Add garlic, fresh ginger, and spring onions. I usually throw in a few sweet bell peppers, too, for color, no matter what the season. 

The next step is to wash everything and thoroughly dry it. I like to shake the excess water off in the sink and then air-dry my vegetables on a clean dish towel to ensure that they’re completely dry. This not only helps them to last longer in storage, but I’ve found it to be crucial to the stir-frying process. Next, cut everything up into same-sized pieces so they cook quickly and evenly. There’s no need to be too fussy about this -- just eyeball it. Make sure to cut denser vegetables like carrots or the stem of the broccoli thin; a mandoline is a great tool for this, but you could just use a chef’s knife. Toss the vegetables together and store them in a large lidded container in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. 

Before I got to cooking, I paid a visit to Wally Joe, Chef, partner, and general manager at Acre Restaurant in East Memphis. He was born in Hong Kong and raised in Cleveland, Mississippi, where his family’s restaurant KC’s had a real-deal wok station. “Don’t be afraid of the wok,” he told me after I’d let him in on my years of failure with it. “It’s just like any other pan, but it’s just a different shape.” He laughed, “I break it out at home mostly to make a simple and easy noodle dish or stir-fry or a curry.”  While it’s just a pan of a different shape, I figured that there has to be a trick to it, so I asked for a hint. “Just remember to use high heat,” he advised. “That’s the best way to get the brown and crispy edges on the vegetables and noodles that are the hallmark of wok cooking.” 

“The wok is an easy pan to work with, but until recently, there hasn't been enough information to guide novice cooks,” Grace reassured me. After years of learning what not to do, and after my conversations with Wally and Grace, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it now. There’s nothing left to it but to do it, so here’s my new way with the wok. 

The first thing to remember is to have everything ready to go: vegetables cut, sauce made, and rice or noodles should be prepared and set aside. It moves way faster than you’d think, though nowhere near as fast as a professional chef cooking over a real 200,000-btu wok station. Put your seasoned wok over the highest heat on the stovetop and let it heat up until you see little wisps of smoke rise up off of the hot metal. Pour in the oil and wait for it to start to smoke, which is very important! If you put vegetables (or really anything) in a cold wok with cold oil, you simply won’t get the results you desire -- and your significant other will only eat it to be nice. Now, put your vegetable mixture into the wok and give a little shake. Never, ever use more than 4 cups of anything total in a wok; overcrowding the pan will result in the dreaded soggy stir-fry. Let the mixture rest in the hot pan for 45 seconds before tossing everything to redistribute it by pushing the pan forward and then jerking it back just like you’d do to flip an omelette or by using a spatula (maybe even stir-fry spatula!). You’ll notice the browned edges of the vegetables that were touching the hottest part of the pan. That’s flavor! Allow the vegetables to rest for another 45 seconds to 1 minute before flipping them again. Flip the vegetables one last time and allow them to cook for 1 minute. At this point, add your sauce and cook for one more minute. Once you notice the sauce starting to thicken, remove the stir-fry from the wok and place it in a serving bowl. The whole cooking process take less than 4 minutes, and it can feel a little reckless, but you’ll gain more control as you practice. 

There is so much more to wok cooking, such as learning about the Bao and Chao techniques, but this will set you on the right path. I appreciated that Grace shared this last bit of wisdom with me: “When you cook with a wok, you become a part of a cooking tradition that is over 2,000 years old. It's true that it takes a little time to learn how to work with it and care for it, but unlike most cookware, you'll develop a relationship with your wok. It is a pan to cherish.” 


Let’s do a quick review of our simple stir-fry method: the right wok that’s seasoned correctly, seasonal vegetables that are dry and cut to a uniform size, hot wok with hot oil, and slow it down just a little to attain that coveted wok flavor that comes from the browned edges of the vegetables. Avoid all the pitfalls I’ve experienced in the past by following these few simple steps! You, too, can have a beautiful, quick, and delicious meal of seasonal vegetables. Oh, and now after 20 years of avoiding my soggy stir-fry at all costs, my wife requests my new-and-improved, seasonal stir-fry on a twice-weekly basis. That, may friends, is a long-fought victory.


Ginger and Cashew Stir Fry

2 cups prepared rice
4 cups Spring Vegetable Mix (recipe follows)
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sambal (more to taste)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1-inch piece fresh ginger (minced)
1 teaspoon cornstarch 
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 spring onion (sliced)
1/2 cup roasted and salted cashews

Prepare rice according to package instructions. Prepare Spring Vegetable mix according to the recipe. In a pint-sized jar with a lid, add the broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, sambal, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cornstarch. Screw on the lid and shake vigorously. Set sauce aside until ready to use.


 Put your seasoned wok over the highest heat on the stovetop and let it heat up until you see little wisps of smoke rise up off of the hot metal. Pour in the canola oil and wait for it to start to smoke, which is very important! Now, put your vegetable mixture into the wok and give a little shake. Let the mixture rest in the hot pan for 45 seconds before tossing everything to redistribute it by pushing the pan forward and then jerking it back just like you’d do to flip an omelette or by using a spatula. Allow the vegetables to rest for another 45 seconds to 1 minute before flipping them again. Flip the vegetables one last time and allow them to cook for 1 minute. At this point, add your sauce and cook for one more minute. Once you notice the sauce starting to thicken, remove the stir-fry from the wok and place it in a serving bowl. The whole cooking process take less than 4 minutes.


Spring Vegetable Mix

2 crowns broccoli
1 pound shiitake
2 small or 1 large bok choy
1 bunch lacinato (dinosaur) kale
2 large or 4 small carrots
2 cups snow peas 

Wash and dry everything thoroughly. Cut everything up into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch slices. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Banana Muffins

We love banana muffins, banana bread, smoothies with bananas, banana pancakes, updated banana pudding (and this traditional version), banana ice cream cake, a plain old banana plus peanut butter for a snack. So is it really true that banana crops are having a hard time these days? If so, we're not going to make it in this world. It's going to be bad! We just love them that much. 

So this week, bananas on the brain, we took an old favorite muffin recipe and did a few things differently to make it over. Instead of sugar, sour cream, and all-purpose flour, we used honey, yogurt, and sprouted wheat flour. We've found that sprouted wheat is easier on a lot of folks' stomachs (and as you can read here: it acts more like a vegetable than a grain!) We added walnuts because they're good for everything including your hair and skin. And there's rum added, well, just because. 


(Just as soon as we made over this old recipe, we got MSL in the mail, and on the cover? 'Bake it Better: Healthier Takes on Cookies, Cakes, Bars, and More'. This month, there are recipes for granola cookies, lemon-yogurt cupcakes, no-bake chocolate almond bars, graham flour and jam pastry squares -- all with some great substitutions that add some nutrition to dessert. Love it!)


Banana Muffins 

3 ripe bananas (mashed well)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 large egg
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla 

1 tablespoon rum
1 cup sprouted wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder 


Topping (optional):

1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of cinnamon
1 tablespoon cold butter (diced)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the wet ingredients well. Separately, whisk the dry ingredients. Fold wet into dry carefully so the batter is just mixed. Pour batter into a muffin tin lined with something like these If You Care unbleached baking cups. Mix topping ingredients together and press on top of muffins. Bake muffins for 30-40 minutes until tops are crisp and lightly browned. Be sure to let them cool for at least 15 minutes before you eat them because they're actually better that way. 
(Makes 9 muffins.)


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Vegetarian BBQ "Boss Man" Salad with Yogurt Ranch Dressing

Long ago, my family would get BBQ for dinner at least once a month from The Germantown Commissary, a fixture in the old town square in the suburb where the wife and I both grew up. My standard order was a bit strange for a kid: I'd always order a salad. Granted, this was a huge salad by the name of the "Boss Man" that was covered in pulled pork and served with a thick ranch dressing. It was, to my nine-year-old self, heaven. 


I wanted to figure out a way to celebrate that dish, but update it for how we eat now. We have no shortage of BBQ recipes on this site, and any of them might work in place of the eggplant. I'm thinking that the portobello mushrooms or the artichoke hearts could work just as well.

The dressing, made with tangy yogurt, would be good on anything. The result of the mixture of crunchy lettuce, smoky eggplant, and rich dressing is our take on a Memphis classic that's big enough to be the boss.

The Vegetarian BBQ "Boss Man" Salad with Yogurt Ranch Dressing

2 medium Italian eggplants
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons The Chubby Vegetarian's Signature Dry Rub
1 head of romaine lettuce (chopped)
1 medium carrot (shredded)
1 cup shredded purple cabbage
1 small cucumber (thinly sliced)
1 large tomato (sliced and quartered)
Yogurt Ranch Dressing (recipe follows)
1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce (warmed)

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. Prepare the eggplant by slicing each in half longways, then cut slits in the flesh of the eggplant every 1/4 inch; cut through most of the flesh, but not the skin.

In a medium bowl whisk together the olive oil, sesame oil, and vinegar. Drizzle each eggplant half with the oil and vinegar mixture. Apply The Chubby Vegetarian's Signature Dry Rub liberally to each eggplant.

Place eggplant skin-side-down on the hot grill and close the lid for 20 minutes. Remove eggplant and tent with foil. Allow it to cool so that you're able to handle it. 

While you're waiting for the eggplant to cool, prepare the salad by tossing together the romaine, shredded carrot, shredded cabbage, cucumber, and tomatoes. Prepare the Yogurt Ranch Dressing according to the recipe.

Now, using your hands, pull as much of the eggplant flesh away from the skin keeping the large strands intact. Discard the skin. Toss the eggplant with the warm BBQ sauce. Divide the salad among two plates (it's a big salad!) and top each salad with a heap of BBQ eggplant. Include the Yogurt Ranch Dressing on the side.

Yogurt Ranch Dressing

1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, salt, pepper, dill, chives, parsley, and olive oil. Set aside in the fridge until ready to use. (Makes 3/4 cup of dressing.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Simple Summer Cooking

We were so happy to be featured here in the paper this past week along with the amazing Jennifer Chandler! We'll talk all day long about our take on easy, quick stuff to make in the summertime, and we've had the family over a lot lately to make a meal that shows off great summer produce and takes no time at all to put together. We figured it's time to share a couple of basic and solid methods with you. 

The article featured two recipes from our cookbook, The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table (Thomas Nelson, 2013). Check out our Baked Zucchini Fries and Summer Salad. They would be great to whip up this week after your trip to the market.

Another easy thing we do if we're in a hurry or being lazy or just crave something dead simple is turn the oven on or preheat the outdoor grill and then wash and slice every-thing we want to eat. The things that are good raw like tomatoes or cucumbers are hurried onto a plate and garnished with basil or parsley from our garden, salt, pepper, and good-quality olive oil. The vegetables that require a bit of cooking are dressed in the same way and heated through with minimal effort. 

Serve it all with a side of pesto or remoulade or tomato sauce if you have some on hand. It's what we lovingly refer to as a "country food dinner." Fancy food has its place and all, but nothing's better than this during the summer.

This is about learning to cook, not learning a recipe. Eating simply like this is a great way to hit the reset button on your palate. Okra, carrots, corn, green beans, wax beans, asparagus, potatoes, beets, mushrooms, and the like are all beautiful and perfect just as they are, so here are a couple of great ways to appreciate them. 

How to prepare just about anything from the farmers market in the oven:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and cut larger vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Leave smaller ones whole. Toss in or drizzle with a little good-quality olive oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast until cooked through and caramelized on the edges.

…Or on the grill:


Preheat the outdoor grill to high. Wash and cut larger vegetables in half lengthwise. Leave smaller ones whole. Toss in or drizzle with a little good-quality olive oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Grill about six minutes per side or until well-marked by the grill grates and cooked through. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Figs in a Blanket

This dish was inspired by a late-night snack at Fat Possum Hollow last summer. I had brought along walnuts and also some figs I'd picked that morning from one of our trees for a quick snack. The cabin I was staying in had one thing in the fridge: American cheese singles. Famished after a long day of shooting photos, I wrapped my figs and walnuts in the cheese slices and let out a little laugh as I thought to myself, "I am now eating figs in a blanket."

Figs are coming in right now, and this is the perfect use for those giant ones you only find this time of year. Look for figs that are just ripe and avoid ones that are already soft -- they won't fare so well in the oven.

Go on and play around with it: switch up the cheese by subbing in some blue or feta, or swap out the walnuts for marcona almonds. You really can't go too wrong here! What you'll end up with is a snack that is on the savory side of sweet due to the smoked cheddar and cracked black pepper, and they're just rich enough. They're so simple to prepare and, as a bonus, will probably elicit a bemused laugh or two from, you know, the usual pig-in-a-blanket enthusiasts.

Figs in a Blanket

8 extra large figs (medium ripe)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
1 tube crescent rolls
3 ounces smoked cheddar cheese (cut into 16 squares)
16 walnut halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the figs in half and drizzle them with oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Using a pizza cutter, cut each pre-cut triangle of dough into half to create 16 long, skinny triangles. Stack one fig half, one slice of cheese, and one walnut half on each triangle. Starting at the fat end of the dough triangle, roll the fig, cheese, walnut stack. Place the resulting roll cheese-side-up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all figs are used.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until rolls are golden brown. Allow them to cool or risk burning the heck out of your mouth -- trust me on this! (Makes 16 Figs in a Blanket.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Brainless Banana Pancakes from How It All Vegan (& Expert Pancake Advice)

One of our go-to recipes at home is Brainless Banana Pancakes from How It All Vegan, the first book that made us really love cooking years ago. We have the other 2 books in the series, but this one, Sarah and Tanya's first, has been so well-loved for so long that it's completely falling apart now…time to order the anniversary edition this week for sure.

We figured that this was the recipe to use when we were on pancake duty at our goddaughter's 3rd birthday celebration with her family earlier this month. Frankly, pancakes aren't usually our very best friend. I mean, we can manage to make a couple of pretty ones for one of us, but the other poor soul eats the crumpled, slightly burned ones.

We needed help, so we got some tips on making a whole bunch of pancakes and having them turn out well from our friend Melissa Peterson, who is very knowledgeable and trustworthy on a wide range of subjects. Her advice via text message: make 1 1/4 pancakes per person; keep the griddle well oiled;  keep the heat to medium; only pour once per cake; when edges are dull and the bubbles start to pop, it's time to flip; and only flip them once, otherwise they'll be tough. This straightforward, stellar advice worked perfectly.

One last suggestion she gave after admitting how nervous we were to cook for a bunch of children: "Make faces with mini chocolate chips in the pancakes!" She said, "You'll be a hero."  Our banana chocolate chip smiley-face pancakes turned out to be a surefire hit with the  6-and-under set. Cooking for kids is really fun and certainly educational for folks like us who don't have any of our own. It seems like a huge compliment when little one love what you made; they seem to be pretty tough critics.

Later, we got a little obsessed with perfecting our chocolate-chip-smiley-face technique at home in order to use up the rest of the batter. We ended up giving two of our nephews 20 little pancakes to look forward to now for their upcoming breakfasts. Whether you have a bunch of kids running around the house or not, you've got to try Brainless Banana Pancakes for breakfast soon!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cajun Boiled Peanuts in the Slow Cooker

On every road trip to Florida, no question, there were going to be boiled peanuts in a paper bag snagged from a roadside stand. My dad and I were the only ones who liked them, but we liked them enough for everyone. The hand-painted signed would point the way: "Produce" and then "Boiled Peanuts" and finally, "Next Right." We would start to get psyched up. The others? Well, they were crestfallen. 'They smell!' is really the only legitimate complaint they had. I couldn't see a problem with the spicy, earthy, peanut-y aroma, so I choose to tune-out my brothers' protests.

As promised, there was a kind Mississippi farmer just down the way peddling sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, and my beloved snack. After we procured a big brown bag full of warm boiled peanuts, I would climb up front into the much-coveted shotgun seat in our green Ford LTD station wagon. We would pass the bag back and forth while taunting the others: "Are you sure you don't want any? There's plenty to share!" My brothers and my mom just held their noses and shook their heads.

I couldn't understand it; I still don't. People fall squarely in either the love 'em or hate 'em category. I love them for their salty, rich, spicy addictiveness. Each one you open and pop into your mouth makes you hungry for more. They are SO good!

In all these years since, we've never made them at home, and it's a shame it's taken this long because the process is beyond simple. We added Cajun seasoning and bay leaves, but you could just as easily add whatever spices you like. Here goes…

Cajun Boiled Peanuts in the Slow Cooker

3 cups raw peanuts in the shell
1 beer (whatever you have on hand)
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning* (like Slap Yo' Mama)
2 bay leaves
Water to cover (about 2 cups)

Place peanuts, beer, cajun seasoning, bay leaves, and water to cover in the slow cooker. The peanuts will float at first, but don't worry, they're fine. Cook on high overnight or for about 12 hours. Drain and store in the fridge. Serve in a paper bag, as is road-trip tradition. (Makes 3 cups.)

*Use whatever Cajun seasoning you have on hand; just make sure the broth is as salty as you want the peanuts to be. You may need to add some to taste.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

In Our Kitchen

The Chubby Vegetarian blog is all about inventive new vegetable recipes and wild, one-off experiments. Our first cookbook, The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table, gathered all the Southern dishes that we make over and over again. Our love of cooking vegetables has taken us from our Memphis, Tennessee home to the James Beard House. We're proud to have been featured on The Food Network, in the The New York Times, in The Local Palate, by Woman's Day, and in The Washington Post

And most recently, on TheKitchn.com today

We so hope you love cooking with us. Look around some and let us know what works for you -- hopefully, you’ll land on lots of new ideas you hadn't thought of before and find some intriguing vegetable recipes to try. Below is our take on why we do what we do in the land of BBQ and how we learned to cook in a healthy way that's appealing to everyone. 

Oh, vegetables: you want to eat more of them because they make you feel great, or you need to eat more of them to displace some of the more dubious items on your plate. Either way, the question remains about how to take the natural, whole foods we all should be eating and transform them into something you and your family will crave. 

Our answer is simple: treat vegetables like a piece of meat -- really! We rub a pastrami cure onto beets and slice them for reubens, we BBQ spaghetti squash and slather it in a wonderfully spicy and rich Southern sauce, smoky lentils are tucked into tacos, and king oyster mushrooms are seared and served like little scallops.

On the blog as well as in our book, it’s not about replicating meat; it’s about moving vegetables from side dish to the center of the plate. It’s not about limitations or what’s missing; it’s about seeing the possibilities inherent in each beautiful vegetable and realizing its potential. Most of all it's about making delicious food that happens to be vegetarian.

For us, eating was not always about health. In 2008, when we started this blog, we were a combined 100 pounds heavier and now we know, a bit deluded about what we were actually eating. I mean, one of us is a strict vegetarian and has been for about 25 years,  and the other eats veg most of the time and has for ageshow bad could it have been? 

After making all the mistakes and going through our own health struggles, we became brave and driven enough to try something different. We both got with the program: running, biking, yoga, and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and nuts and whole grains. We’re not satisfied with picking at a boring old salad everyday -- we were set on to making ‘healthy’ a little stealthy, appealing, and even more delicious than our old way of eating. 

We wouldn’t dream of life without hot dogs, tacos, or even steaks, so we figure out better ways to prepare them, or as we say in the South, to fix ‘em. All in all, what we strive to do through TCV and our book The Southern Vegetarian has turned out to be a mission for helping ourselves and others, and it's a passion that changed our lives for the better. Let’s eat well and enjoy it, let’s be strong and full of energy, and let’s get in the kitchen and cook something awesome, and then let's pull up a chair and all share a meal together. 

-- Justin & Amy