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Beef-less burgers even the Midwestern Mideater loves

14 May

Turkey burgers

There’s a possibility that five or so people read this. If so, I promise that I have not caved into MM and been dining with delight at Burgers Supreme (replace with your favorite grease bin here). I have had my fair share, and probably your share, sorry about that, of burger joints over the past three weeks. MM graduated and is looking forward to helping other people count their sheckels, since he’ll be an auditor. We spent the time after his graduation traveling in a large golden van, mood lighting and cruise ship accents at no extra cost. Six or so days on a trip to the Grand Canyon (also large, but I vote for Southern Utah–is that blasphemy against a national wonder?) and back to P-town. Several boxes later, we went from one casserole land, through the beef belt, and have landed where casseroles are “hot dishes.” Thank you, MM’s family, for moving us in the magical golden van. Sorry that all of our stuff nearly killed everyone. I owe you dinner. Side note: the beef belt, where my Midwestern Meateater has relatives who surpass him in beef-loving intensity, is a cultural phenomenon for me. These are people who talk about bovine in terms of “head” (as in, “we have 300 head”) and who have steak for breakfast. No offense to those of you who agree–but as you can probably gather from my posts here, i am the least, least likely candidate to help myself to a meaty slab ‘o flesh, morning, afternoon, or evening. I prefer food either bloody or gray. But visit the beef belt just for funs.

Despite all said, I will eat a fowl burger. Might as well be called “fridge burgers,” because they do an excellent job of absorbing things in your (or my) fridge. But would guests come for tasty “fridge burgers”? Neither would I. These are the ultimate in kitchen resourcefulness, a trait which I’d say is vital to every good home cook (and otherwise, if I dare say).

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a little bit of time knows that a primary impetus shaping my food is a bend on resourcefulness. Sure, I may have started thinking this way in college with wanting to stick to a small budget, but it’s a really useful, maybe even vital, trait that I think every home cook should have. Buy what you eat, eat what you buy, don’t waste. It’ll save you money, time, space, and certainly impact the world around you a little bit when you throw away less that was good once. So that’s the story of this burger, and maybe it’ll inspire you to look in your cupboards, fridge, and see possibilities. Almost every dish I create originates this way.

MM’s turkey burgers
Not because he made them, but because he ate…most of them.

From raw to eating: 30 min.
Makes: 6 thick burgers or more less-thick ones

On a sunny and pleasant day, I looked in the fridge, freezer, and cupboard, and remembered we were moving soon. The time had come for wild creativity, ground turkey, and a few other friends. Several ingredients later and a grilling later, something magical happened. These burgers *rocked.

Note: this is the scariest-sounding recipe I’ve presented yet. Don’t be afraid. The results…cliché, but…speak for themselves.

12 oz. ground turkey, thawed
½ bell pepper, diced (I used green)
3 cloves garlic, minced (seems like a awful lot—refer to customer review)
¼ medium onion, diced (I used yellow)
2 T ketchup
1-2 T prepared mustard (honey, whole grain, brown, English, etc.)
2-3 t “Italian” seasoning (MM had a little package left from making something—you can make your own)
2 T homemade pesto sauce (I warned you it was a magnet for fridge leftovers)
½ t salt
pepper, to taste

1-2 ripe avocadoes, skin removed, pitted, and flesh cut into slices of desired thickness
One large tomato, sliced to desired thickness (I did medium)
burger buns
crunchy lettuce (I used iceberg)

Turn your grill or grill pan (I used the second) on to medium heat.

Combine everything and mix thoroughly with also thoroughly clean hands (sing the alphabet while you rub, like your mom taught you). Form into burgers, patting into shape. Let rest first couple of patties rest while you make the others.

Grill each burger for about 5-7 minutes per side, depending on thickness. And this is important: this is not beef, so it’s not okay to have a “rare” burger. No pink, in other words. Remember that poultry is considered safe/cooked when it has reached an internal temp of 160-170 F, and the juices run clear/it is brown throughout.

Serve with avocado slices, tomato, and anything else you love.

*Based on customer review. Actual sentiments were “you can make these again,” “I wouldn’t mind if you made these again,” “these were really, really—no, I mean it—good.”


Spring lime-tomatillo salad

16 Apr

Lime-tomatillo salad, on a picnic blanket next to my leg.

As of this morning, the Midwestern Meateater said, “Wow–this really feels like summer.” So he promptly marched off to school in shorts, and I sweltered in our apartment. And by 5 pm, it was snowing. Oh, spring, oh Mountain West, oh, living in a desert. Despite the snow, let’s pretend it is summer, or at least legitimately warm-ish, and that I (or you) would not want to cook in such weather. I would want to chop up summery things and cilantro whilst salsa dancing in the kitchen, like Salma Hayek on “Fools Rush In,” but without the accent because I’m not Mexican, and I would use tomatillos. Oh my! I have something that fits this description exactly.

This particular salad, like so many other concoctions in my alleyway kitchen, was borne out of resourcefulness, a need to use things that would otherwise go mushy, moldy, or to some other land of oldness. I tend to get dreamy in the produce section anytime I see an object I don’t know a lot about; I am a particular sucker for foreign-seeming vegetables or fruit. And hence, our tomatillos, in the crisper drawer of my fridge. Waiting. Forgotten. Unloved. In a foreign country, surrounded by apples and other English-speaking things. About to be loved.

About tomatillos. According to Wikipedia, which I’m pretty sure has been my main educational source for some years, even though non-existent people are in the database, says this about our green friend: “The tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa or Physalis philadelphica) is a small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit surrounded by a paper-like husk formed from the calyx.” I can confirm that. For all you will try not to, you will mostly think of southern women and the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes,” since this little guy seems so much like an unripe tomato. But I promise that if you keep waiting for it to “ripen,” um, your ripeness will turn out to be mold. ‘Tis ripe when green, firm, and quite tangy, in my non-professional opinion. What is it used in? Well, if you live around here, you know it as what every person in the valley has stood in line for on a Friday night at least once, despite the obvious crowd of awkward first-daters. Yes, it’s Cafe Rio, and the famous dressing? Made with tomatillos. Yes (nodding seriously). For you non-valley-ers, ever heard of salsa verde? Dark-ish green, thin, on the side of your gooped-up enchilada? Tomatillos are what make it green. In any case, they’re not expensive, and they’re now found in just about every produce section in any mega mart. I got my last ones at Wally-World.

Try this for your next picnic—or anytime the weather is way too good to be inside cooking.

Tomatillo-lime salad

2 tomatillos, husks removed, cut into quarters or eighths
2 roma tomatoes, cut into quarters or eighths
1 (or two!) ripe avocadoes, skin removed, pitted, and inside cut into chunks or wedges
handful chopped cilantro, abt 2 T

swig of lime juice
swig canola oil (an almost tasteless oil, best for this application)
tsp or so granulated white sugar
Pinch salt

Combine and taste—if you like less tang, add some sugar. More tang, more lime juice. Toss to coat and let marinate in the fridge. No, marinating is not just for meat—the flavors will come together even better with a little chill out time.

Nutritional standing:

  • Tomatoes—vit C, lycopene, fiber, high, high percentage water (but don’t use this as an excuse not to drink! Just a bonus)
  • Tomatillos—contributes to a plant-based diet, part of the newest Food Guide Pyramid
  • Low in everything you want to be most careful about moderation with—salt, sugar, even fat (and healthful fat from the oil)

Pesto & tomato sauces: Make once, eat more than once

11 Apr

Pesto, slightly more greeny under the fluorescent lights of a rented apartment...

I helped teach a little monthly cooking class this week, and the theme of it was learning a couple of tricks to help families (and the cooks!) save some time in the kitchen and make life simpler. People often ask me if I “make everything from scratch.” And I often feel guilty and a little embarrassed for my answer–which is, yeah, I do. Sheepish/embarrassed because yes, it does take time, and I think I might end up looking like a big fat loser-pants who spends all day long in her white trash apartment, waiting for pizza dough to rise while sauce simmers on the stove and I re-organize my spice cupboards. Yes. Cupboard(s). Nevertheless, that’s how I roll. But that doesn’t mean that you have to spend a lotta time to get a lotta loving in your dinner. Let’s talk.

At the cooking class, we focused on learning tomake a couple of simple, simple sauces as a way to cook something once that could very well outline your menu for the week. How great would that be! Grocery list—done. All the ingredients are really accessible, easy-to-find things, and you probably have most of them in your kitchen already.

We did two basic sauces that store well, are good for you (of course!), and stick to a little budget. So, put your wallet away. Your family (or you) will be enjoying some good eating and the Olive Garden will become profanity in your household. Let’s get to it–up, up, and away to the recipes!*

Cheater’s pesto sauce

I call this the “cheater’s” pesto sauce because I dilute the basil with spinach; this makes it much more economical during winter months, when basil is about 3 bazillion dollars for five leaves trucked from another planet. I’ve also omitted pine nuts for the same reason–at $18 to $20 a pound, they don’t come cheaply.

½ C basil leaves
½ C spinach leaves, frozen or fresh
2 cloves garlic, bashed
1 ½ T red wine vinegar
¼ C olive oil
1/8 C parmesan, grated (not the stuff from the can, which is made from my old textbooks, I think)
2 t lemon juice (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Put the basil, spinach, garlic, red wine vinegar, and olive oil into a food processor and pulse until combined. Drizzle more olive oil—you don’t want it dry, but not too runny, either. Add the parmesan, lemon juice (if using) and taste. Adjust for seasoning—add the salt and pepper here.

The simplest thing to do with this is toss it with a bit of whole wheat pasta—simple, fantastic, and bonus points for using an intact food with the whole wheat. Lots of benefits there.

Other things to do with your pesto:

  1. As a dip for roasted or raw vegetables
  2. Drizzled on top of a pea soup
  3. Used on toasted or grilled bread as a healthful alternative to buttery garlic bread
  4. On top of grilled fish—tilapia, cod, halibut, even salmon
  5. On top of rotisserie chicken, mmm, I want to get some now
  6. Freeze it and keep it until inspiration strikes again! You’re ready for a meal. (Don’t forget to label your container—and use the pesto within a few months or it’ll be frosty the pesto man.)

Wild rice & herbs de Provence bowl

7 Apr

Wild rice & herb de Provence bowl

Today I was going to talk about a poppy seed bread (not cake, nor muffin, nor in the rain on a train nor anything else) that I have the intentional habit of making each first weekend in October and April, significant times for we who are LDS. However, the lovely thing is actually a Martha (gasp!) Stewart recipe. Note: I started making these in the days when I thought she was cool. But since I could not find it online and wanted to make a quicker post than typing the thing out would do, I’ll have to save that for another time when I have a scanner. For that is not today.

Pretty soon here we’ll be moving to the land of lefse and lutefisk, and doing so will mean I cannot haul any perishables there from P-town, refrigerator-friendly as Minnesota may be when we get there. So a look in the freezer and produce drawer helped me piece together a meal that helps get rid of some things—namely, turkey kielbasa, carrots, and celery. Sounds a little boring now, but it’s going to get tasty. I pulled down the Japanese rice cooker which I cannot read but simply push two buttons with funny people on them to use, and poured in both brown rice and wild rice (thanks for the latter, Mom). Like my favorite famous cooking person, Alton Brown, I don’t dig things in the kitchen that really do only one thing, but for someone who cooks rice a lot, the rice cooker is a boon. Put it in, go away and do something, voila! It even beeps to tell you when it’s done, and the kitchen has the nutty fragrance of cooking whole grain rice. That might not make you feel romantical, but I like it.

Lately I am a big fan of spice mixes (such as Chinese five spice, berbere, Thai green curry, etc.) as opposed to single spices (paprika, sage). It takes some of the guesswork out of flavoring when I’m encountering something I’m unfamiliar with—it gets the flavor in there, and then I can work backwards, figuring out what’s in the mix. Herb de Provence is a great, basic blend that I recommend even beginner cooks have on hand. Throw in a few pinches of a spice blend with your chosen meat or vegetable, and just see what it’s like. Not much to lose, unless you buy really fancy things from really fancy places. I buy clearance dairy.

This was great, fast, and heavenly easy. And the Midwestern Meateater and I enjoyed it thoroughly, plus the bonus of not many dishes to do afterward, since it was a one-bowl meal (not that I do the dishes anyway). Go, team!

Wild Rice & Herbs de Provence Bowl

Herbs de Provence (probably named for the region that first developed the blend) is available at any, any store. However, if you’re not sure how much you’ll end up using this, borrow! Or come get some of mine, since I have more than I should. Also, buy your spices in bulk whenever possible! This I will talk about more in-depth later. But trust me, and just do it. It’ll save you money and wasting spices that you have to throw out!

Serves: 3-4, or 2, if it’s me and the MM

Prep time: 10 min, at tops
Active cooking time: 10 min, at tops
Inactive cooking time: mmm, 45 minutes (rice)

2 C wild rice + brown rice
2 T olive or canola oil
¼ C white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 C carrots
1/3 C celery, chopped
2 T herb de Provence
Freshly ground black pepper, to tasteSalt, to taste
1/3 Jennie-O kielbasa or smoked turkey sausage (I don’t know any other brand), chopped into thickish coins

Put your kielbasa into a bowl of water, just enough to cover it. I don’t know how much of a difference this made, but because the one thing I don’t like about these processed turkey products is the salt content (holy sodium intake!), I tried to leech it out a little bit. I think my idea really came from what I do with plants to get some of the hard minerals left by water out. Leave it in the water until you are ready to cut it up.

Cook rice according to package directions (you can actually cook them both together—hooray!). Set aside. Get a sauté pan or another medium-deep, thick-bottomed pan medium-hot on your stovetop. This will take a few minutes. Put your oil in, swirl it around, and then put in your onions and garlic. Add a pinch of salt to “sweat” the onions (get the liquid out). Then add your carrots, celery, and the herbs de Provence. Stir it around for a few minutes, adding more herbs if you like. Add your pepper. Reduce the heat to low, then add your kielbasa. Add the rice last, stirring to get it all mixed together. Taste for seasoning—you probably don’t need more salt (see first paragraph), but you might need more herbs.

Divide into bowls and eat! Add a side salad or some fruit if you’re using this not as the main thing.

MOA Throwback Bread Salad (Panzanella)

3 Apr
Added this pic Sept. 17; panzanella, sadly, just does not make for the prettiest presentation. But I thought a better picture was in order.

Edit: Added this pic Sept. 17; panzanella, sadly, just does not make for the prettiest presentation, mostly because of the discoloration that balsamic vinegar produces. A better picture was in order, however. And trust me, it *tastes* fantastic! Yes, that picture was taken at night, when we ate at like 11 p.m., and the plates are indeed on my stove top. I'm so professional I can hardly stand it.

Once upon a time in a land we call “Happy Valley,” there was a small, upscale-for-campus café on the top floor of a beautiful university’s museum of art. Having spent my teenagehood behind the swinging doors of bakeries, working at the MOA Café, as we called it (Museum of Art Café) was not my first job in food. But it was my best. With the encouragement of managers who still top my list of favorite bosses and were liberal in letting me play with food, my education ran the gamut of food prep—blitzing through making focaccia sandwiches and toasting pounds and pounds of sugar-crusted almonds (which we usually felt compelled to test, for customer safety). Patrons were a mix of freshman students, most of which didn’t care much what was in their food, as long as their “magic” student meal card paid the bill—and visitors to the university who wanted classy, fresh food instead of Taco Bell. I still say it was the best place to eat on campus, and the place I’d take anyone who likes good food, such as a university donor or big-time visitor. Diane Keaton (with entourage) even dined there.

Near the end of my employment there, we brought out a new entrée salad—a bread salad. Unfortunately, I fear its crusty, balasamic-soaked bread and fresh (grilled?) vegetables may have been too “far out” for the conservative eaters at the MOA; I’m hoping we’re all just a little more sophisticated than they were.

I remembered this salad today as I contemplated the kinda hard end of a fantastic “rustic French country” loaf I brought back from a trip to Austin, TX. It’s a very simple, pleasing meal with nutritional bonus and the potential to be a one-bowl, all-food-groups meal. And ta-da, I used a fork (which I ate with later) and two small bowls to make it. Could I make life any easier for you? You’re welcome.

Give this a try! It would be even better in the summer, with vegetables from your (or your neighbor’s) garden, but it’s pretty good now.

Cheapie chart:
I’ll say it many times—you don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat a lot of good stuff. Here’s what this meal would cost, per serving:
.30 tomato, on sale for .99/lb
.40 cuke, on sale for .69/each
.50 bread, 2.19/loaf
.89 chicken, on sale at 1.80/lb
.50 cheese
.20 (olive oil + vinegar)

$2.30/serving! Seriously. So cheap. Okay, if you’re feeding the Midwestern Meateater (I’m married to), let’s say $2.75.

Tuscan Bread Salad (Panzanella) with Balsamic Dressing

This’ll take you, oh five minutes to put together, so take that, 30 minute meals (which purportedly no one can actually make in 30 minutes). A great use for leftover chicken breast and of bread that has gone a little stale.

A few ideas for variation: rotisserie chicken; fresh, torn basil or other herbs lending themselves well to salad (parsely, cilantro, arugula, maybe watercress). Dried herbs added to the dressing—rosemary, tarragon, thyme…use your imagination and resourcefulness. Also, any soft-ish vegetable, such as zucchini, would be great (grilled first would be even better!).

Bread: any bread with good chew on the outside and (used to be) soft on the inside. Needs to be crusty—that is the key, or it won’t soak up the dressing, which is what you want here. A few breads worth mentioning: ciabatta, pugliese, even cheap ‘ol French bread from your grocer’s bakery (day old is best and more affordable!).

If you like less tang, go easy on the balsamic, and if you like more tang, shake, shake, shake it out! (Make sure you taste test along the way—you can add but not take away!)

Nutritional status

I didn’t use a whole grain bread, but other than that, this bread salad is a very intact meal-in-one. The stars on this front are the vegetables and olive oil; tomatoes provide antioxidants (lycopene especially; it’s role in protecting from a variety of cancers is being researched), fiber, and the high water content in tomatoes is always a good thing. Cukes are high in vit. C and also up the fiber content. Olive oil has the most monounsaturated fatty acids of all the oils (77%)—don’t skimp on it. Use the best quality stuff you’ve got around, and preferably extra-virgin (it’ll give it a deeper olive flavor). This recipe is also low in salt, for anyone worried.

½ loaf crusty bread (I used a “rustic French country” loaf from Central Market)
1 ½ C cooked chicken breast, shredded
1 cucumber, sliced into medium-thick rounds
2 plum tomatoes
*Handful of parmesan, parmesan-reggiano, asiago, or other hard Italian cheese (not pictured; I did it afterward)

2 T balsamic vinegar
6 T olive oil
*1 clove garlic, smashed and diced into wee bits
Pinch of salt
Few grinds fresh black pepper
Couple teaspoons of basil

Two small bowls
A fork
Your two little hands



  1. Roughly tear bread into bite-sized pieces; I like mine about 2” long.
  2. Combine vegetables/chicken in one bowl. Set aside. Combine balsamic vinegar and olive oil in another bowl, using a fork to emulsify. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Combine bread and vegetables with dressing. Toss lightly until combined. Divide into four serving bowls and top with parmesano-reggiano cheese.

So good! I love the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar soaking up in the bread, plus the texture play here. Enjoy.