Mostly meatless meal

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I picked up some broccoli rabe at Zeytinia over the weekend and needed to do something with it, and soon. A bulb of fennel was keeping the rabe company in the fridge, so I started formulating a couple of recipes. Upon doing a little research, I realized most of the heavy lifting had already been done by better cooks than I (though I was mostly on the right track), so tonight’s dinner came together quickly and turned out to be awfully good.

The beans you see above were a riff on a recipe in Super Natural Cooking, by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. It’s the first thing I’ve made from the cookbook, but the pictures alone are worth the price of admission. Wow. She’s so passionate about food, healthy cooking, and communicating it beautifully to her readers. If you can’t tell, I have a bit of a blog-crush.

Anyway, I made a few substitutions based on what we had in the house, but it turned out great, anyway. I’d probably go ahead and sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil before adding the beans next time, but otherwise would follow the recipe to the letter.

To go with the beans, I roasted some fennel wedges with prosciutto, Parmeggiano-Reggiano, and butter, then spritzed the bubbling mass with a little lemon juice. The recipe seems to be pretty common, but I’ll give credit to Lidia Bastianich, one of the authors I saw online and whose show I absolutely adore.

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Betsey beans!

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I’m always up for something new, especially when it comes to food — cooking or just eating it. So when Gil told me about a new gourmet food store that recently opened one town over, I could hardly contain my excitement and rushed there the very next day to see what it was about. Well! Zeytinia exceeded my expectations by a mile and we’ve already paid them three visits in one week. Their olive bar is a thing of beauty and sampling the varieties of honey could keep me busy for a year, easily. But where they really shine, IMHO, is in the produce section. The freshness of the fruits and vegetables alone would beat our local grocery, but they also have a variety I haven’t seen in this area.

As I was deciding between fava beans and cranberry beans (neither of which I’d cooked before), Gil made my decision for me: “Hey, those cranberry beans look like they were designed by Betsey Johnson!” (Reason 1, 375 why I adore this man so.) I only bought a small sampling just in case they turned out to be nothing special. I needn’t have worried, as it turned out. The test batch I made last night was so good, we found ourselves back at the store this morning for more, where I served as an ambassador for the beans, explaining how to cook them to a customer who stopped to ask. All I did was simmer the shelled beans in about 2 inches of water with a couple of whole garlic cloves, some peppercorns, and a few sage leaves. When they were soft but not mushy, I drained them, added salt and olive oil, and let them sit on the counter till they reached room temperature.

The beans had a very meaty, almost umami flavor and played well with a dandelion green salad and grilled skirt steak. I just used my regular old preparation of marinating the steak in oil (avocado, this time — another new purchase), garlic, and fresh herbs, then grilling over high heat.

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The avocado oil had a beautiful green intensity you probably can’t see here, and a smoother flavor than the grassy olive oil I usually use. It was a good purchase, I’d say. It made a delicious dressing for the dandelion greens, as well, when mixed with sherry vinegar (to add sweetness to the bitter greens), roasted garlic, and a touch of Dijon mustard.

By the way, cranberry beans lose their beautiful pink swirly flair when cooked, but turn so delicious, the trade-off isn’t painful at all.

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Cinco de Mayo and cake

I don’t deal well with cravings. Never have. They ping around my brain until the whole thing is lit up like a pinball machine. It’s dangerous to walk around in such a state, but I’ve learned the hard way that indulging is the only way to reset, even if you possess the willpower of a thousand Southern Baptist virgins, as I do. My most recent reset took place over the weekend as I gave in to a weeks-long craving for coconut cake. Now I’m happy and sane once again after devouring far too much of it.

At least it wasn’t heavy. Cooking Light is a great resource for all kinds of healthy dishes and not-too-bad-for-you desserts, so I turned to their website for super-light coconut cake and cream cheese frosting recipes. Since baking frightens the bejeezus outta me, I’ve been reading a lot about it online, where I learned that cakes benefit from sitting in the freezer for a few hours before you frost them. Like a little bakery penalty box, the freezer forces the cake to get its crumb together before it gets back in the game. Who knew? Pretty much everyone but me! So after dutifully freezing and thawing the cake before applying the crumb layer (a crumb layer — brilliant!), I got down to the serious business of frosting with my new offset spatula and produced a cake I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve to guests.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough cream cheesy goodness (or hours of daylight) left to test my new decorating tips, but maybe I’ll try them next time. I’m already planning my next baking adventure — a red velvet cake for a friend’s birthday in a few weeks. And she’s kind, so she won’t mind if her cake looks like something from a 1st grade science project.

The reason there was NO TIME for decoration was because we needed to get the Cinco de Mayo celebration rolling so as not to bring shame on white people everywhere with our lack of (relative) inebriation. I knew I didn’t want to make regular skirt steak fajitas, but wasn’t sure what to prepare instead. After I tooled around online for a little while, the paper of record came through with a recipe for fish tacos that really surprised me — not like, “Where am I and where are my pants?” surprise but more like, “Cool … I didn’t get sick from those 25-cent oysters!” surprise. I’ve only had fried versions of fish tacos, so I didn’t know how this broiled one would work, but it was really delicious, even with the substitutions I made. As banana leaves are few and far between in Ringwood (where Gil and I are probably the most ethnically exotic folks around), I used about a teaspoon of pureed chipotle pepper with adobo to give the sauce a smoky flavor, and I used scrod instead of halibut because I didn’t want my tacos to taste like ass. We had pureed black beans with chorizo on the side and would’ve had corn fritters with roasted garlic and cilantro sauce, too, but it was impossible to get everything finished at the same time.

So Saturday was a little rushed, I guess, but we enjoyed our Cinco de Mayo anyway. The traditional Mexican gin martini might’ve had a little something to do with that — the Official MI Husband is turning into quite the mixologist!

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If I like-a you and you like-a me…

We knew going into this evening that our marriage would face its toughest test thus far — one full hour of American Idol sans alcohol. The Official MI Monkey Husband stayed home feeling sickish today, but had perked up enough by the afternoon to get busy in the kitchen for me:

And if that ain’t love, folks, I don’t know what is. OK, OK, Gil’s the biggest chocolate chip cookie whore I know, so they weren’t exactly for me only, but I did appreciate the bits of dough he left wrapped and waiting for me in the fridge.

With the night of extraordinary tension ahead of us, I didn’t want any frustration in the kitchen, so I thought noshing on something we already had in the pantry/fridge would be the way to go. But you know me, I need that feeling of accomplishment (no matter how easily gained) so I had to do a little more than just open a jar or unwrap some cheese. We had … crostini with spinach and cannellini beans!

The most important thing to remember here is to rid the canned beans of squack. Pardon my foray into technical jargon territory, but while we’re here, I would like to take this opportunity to establish my firm anti-squack stance. Please, please rinse your canned beans! Or, you know, use dried and be entirely squack-free.

Ahem, anyway, the dish came together in about 30 minutes, so we sat down with a plate of crunchy and garlicky crostini to test our marriage with sober Idol. You’ll be happy to know our shared hatred of the same contestants and love of ridicule pulled us through. But I like to think the noshing played some small part in keeping our marriage afloat.

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The humble lentil

I love to cook. Really, I do. But sometimes when I get home from work I just can’t stand the thought of it. Unfortunately, that leaves me with only two choices: Call Luigi’s for a pie (which we did Monday night) or suck it up and cook something anyway (which I did last night). Sucking it up can be as easy as eggs and toast or I can actually produce something from the pantry, albeit something simple.

Enter the lentil. It’s hard to go wrong with lentils. They’re great for you, cook quickly, and pair well with lots of flavors, as they live somewere between tofu and wild rice on the “blank slate” continuum. The Young Ones connotations aside, they make for a perfectly fine meal.

I opted for a really easy preparation last night. While the lentils (green ones, this time) were simmering in about two inches of water, I cooked a few strips of bacon using the easiest method ever: Place bacon slices on a rimmed baking sheet and put into a cold oven. Heat the oven to 425 degrees, and the bacon is ready! (Seriously. No mess, no fuss, no hot grease splatters on your skin.) With the lentils and bacon cooking away, I made another basic vinaigrette — dijon mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, minced shallot, chopped thyme, and salt & pepper — and tossed it with the drained, hot lentils, then mounded them over a little spinach sauteed with olive oil and garlic. Topped with crumbled bacon and blue cheese, it paired nicely with our “honeymoon rosé,” the Roshambo Imoan.

Update: I just had the leftovers for lunch and highly recommend making this a day ahead. The lentils were fine last night, but much tastier after mingling with the vinaigrette, bacon, and cheese overnight.