Guru Rabbit

Turn a new leaf (and EAT it)

Grits ‘n’ Greens, Mediterranean-Style January 29, 2012

Maybe it’s because I’m part Mexican.  Maybe it’s because I’m part Paraguayan (the lost land of South America).  Or maybe it’s because I’m American-born.  But I’m quite a fan of any food that is based on corn as a grain.  Corn tortillas, tortilla chips, corn nuts, Fritos, grits, tamales, cornbread, pop-corn, Corn Pops…  I once lost, and swallowed, a baby tooth while eating Corn Pops.  Corn Flakes are kinda boring, but I’d eat them, I guess.  And let’s not forget Cheetos.  The crunchy kind, not puffy.

And then there’s polenta, the Italian answer to American grits.  Both are a simple combination of cornmeal and water to produce a porridge, but polenta is cooked longer than grits, to bring out more flavor from the grain.   Additionally, there is soft polenta, and firm.  Soft polenta is a more velvety version of grits.  Firm polenta has a creamy interior, yet is able to hold its shape.  Either style can be fashioned in a variety of ways: as breakfast, lunch, or dinner; main dish or side; sweet or savory; boldly flavored or mild.  Cornmeal is awesome…

Firm Polenta (to impress your friends and family)

2 cups cornmeal (I used half coarse and fine ground)

6 cups water

salt to taste

any other desired herbs or spices (optional)

butter or olive oil (optional)

1) In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal and 2 cups of the water to make a mush.

2) Heat the remaining water to a boil.  Add the salt, and whisk in the cornmeal mush.  I also threw in some black pepper, nutmeg, and paprika.  Reduce the heat to low, and cook for 30 to 45 minutes.  Stir almost constantly.  As time passes, the polenta will thicken.  (I went for 30 minutes, arms got tired.)

3) Once the time is up, spread the polenta onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  You can spread it as thick as one inch, or thinner.  Let it cool for at least 15 minutes, depending on the thickness.  I neglected mine for a couple of hours, actually…

4) Once the polenta is cooled, you can cut it into any shape you desire.  I happened to have received some AWESOMELY AMAZING animal-shape cutters from Henry’s sister, Justine.  I couldn’t help but use the rabbit…  Thaaank yoooouuu Justiiiiiiinnne :)

5)  Bake your bunnies polenta at 400°F for 20-30 minutes, or til desired crispiness.

After that, you can do what ever you like with your polenta.  But I have a suggestion…

Saute a few cloves of garlic and a cup of sliced mushrooms in a bit of olive oil.  Add half a cup each of chopped black olives and raisins, and half a pound of fresh spinach (trust me on the olive-raisin combination, especially if you like sweet-and-salty stuff).  Once the spinach is cooked, season with salt, pepper, and some vinegar if that’s your thing.  Then throw in a quarter cup of chopped nuts or seeds.  I used pistachios, but anything will  do.

Some paprika for color, and CUTEST DINNER EVER.


High School Chem, Bad. Casserole, Good. November 21, 2011

Filed under: Recipes — rabbit @ 9:09 am
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I got rid of my TV when I moved recently.  The last time I had used it was months ago, and it’s not like I was trying to catch a particular show, I was just bored.  Nowadays, it’s generally a task for me to follow TV.  I can deal with Hulu and Netflix, or listening in on old Seinfeld episodes when my dad watches.  Buuuut that’s about it.  I think I was last into current television when I was trying to learn how to be a serious cook.  Not surprisingly, I watched a lot of Food Network.  Some stuff was useful, some not so much.  Some stuff made me hungry, and Paula Deen just annoyed the hell out of me.  My favorite show was Alton Brown’s Good Eats.  Because he helped me finally understand chemistry (to an extent).  Unlike my high school chem teacher, Alton made me feel validated.  Plus, he didn’t give me a C on my report card.  Or a D.  Whatever that bitch gave me…

One Good Eats episode I was particularly fond of was “Bean Stalker”, in which he made the classic green bean casserole from scratch.  Obviously, I like from-scratch food, not just for the better flavor and nutrition, but for the labor of love that goes into it.  As a vegetable-lover, it kills me to see a green bean casserole made the Campbell’s way– with limp, flavorless green beans and condensed mushroom soup that barely has any mushrooms in it.  The French fried onions are not even onions, but I consider those a guilty pleasure.

I’ve actually never made Alton’s recipe to the T.  But I’ve been inspired by it, and done a couple of my own versions.  Vegan, of course.  I depend mostly on his method of making the crispy onion topping, as well as the mushroom sauce.  As for the green beans, I like to change it up.  I like green beans, but when it comes to green veggies, they don’t quite grab my attention the way collard greens, Swiss chard, or even broccoli would.  So I encourage you to do as you please as well.  I think it’s good to be flexible.  Unlike my high school chemistry teacher…

Shrooms & Greens Casserole


1 pint mushrooms

2 to 3 cloves of garlic

3 Tbsp olive oil

a few dashes each of salt, pepper, nutmeg, and any other additional herbs or spices you’d like to try

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour*

a bottle of white wine**

1 lb green vegetables (fresh green beans, collard or mustard greens, kale, spinach, broccoli, etc.), cooked***

1 small onion

1/4 cup all-purpose flour or tapioca starch for gluten-free

1/4 cup cornflour

salt & pepper

1) Slice the mushrooms and mince the garlic.  Heat the olive oil in a pan and throw in the shrooms and garlic.  Saute for a few minutes until the mushrooms start to give off their liquid.

2) As the shroom juice evaporates, add your spices.  I added a bit of dill, which may sound like an odd combination with nutmeg, but it’s quite nice.  You can try sage, thyme, basil, cumin, coriander, cloves.  Surprise yourself.

3) Once the shroom juice is all gone, sprinkle on the flour, and stir the mushrooms around to get them coated.

4) Now comes the fun part.  Pour in the wine.

Yeah, about that much.  Enough to flood the mushrooms.  This will not only deglaze the bits that are stuck to the pan, the liquid will bind with the flour and begin to thicken, creating a gravy-like sauce.

Stir it around for a few minutes and let the alcohol cook out.  Taste it occasionally to track where it’s at.  Adjust seasonings if needed.  At the very end, I added an extra schtickle of olive oil (because here’s a secret kids: fat makes stuff taste better).

5) Time for the green part.  You can either add your green veggies straight to the mushroom sauce, or layer them in your casserole dish with the sauce on top.  I used spinach and mixed it up with the mushrooms.  Set this aside.

6) For the crispy onion topping, slice the onion thinly.  To keep yourself from crying, chill the onion well.  This will at least hold back some of the sulfur so if you do cry, it will be minimal.  Or get a scuba mask.

7) Combine the flour, corn flour, and a few dashes of salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  Add the onion slices and toss them around to coat.  Spread on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 475°F for 30 minutes.  Stir them around to keep them from burning.

And there you have crispy onions.  Made with real onions.  How nice.

8) Finally, throw the onions on top of the casserole, and bake in the oven until hot, bubbly, and delicious.  350-400°F is good, though any temperature will do, I’m sure you’ll have other stuff in there (like a turkey carcass…).   You can prepare the three components the day before and just put them together and heat before dinner time.  How convenient.

Mushrooms, white wine, crisp onions… Yes, ma’am!

*If you’re doing the gluten-free thing, you can try arrowroot, tapioca, or potato starch.  I imagine other gluten-free flours and starches will work as well, but I think those are your best bets.  I would also recommend first dissolving them in cold water before adding to the pan.  Some starches will clump up if added directly to heat.

**Any white wine should do here, and I would stay clear of reds (though I may go crazy and try it one day).  I used the White Zinfandel I had leftover from my cranberry sauce.  If you don’t want to use booze in here, feel free to substitute vegetable broth.

 ***Keep in mind, not all greens cook equally.  Fresh spinach can be added straight to the hot mushroom sauce, while other leafy greens, broccoli, and fresh green beans should be blanched, steamed, or sauteed.  If you’re not sure, just ask me.  And make sure to treat them with salt and pepper.


Stuffed August 22, 2011

Filed under: Recipes — rabbit @ 10:24 am
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You know when you’re in the kitchen eating raw mushrooms and looking for stuff to put on them?



Well, when I opened the pantry I saw pistachios leftover from wonderful chocolate covered pistachio balls.  I took a few pistachios and combined them with a mushroom.  Why haven’t I had this before??

Pistachio Stuffed Mushrooms, 2 Ways!


16 baby portobello mushrooms

balsamic vinegar (for brushing mushrooms)

1 cup pistachios

2 garlic cloves

olive oil (for sauteing)

3-4 oz goat cheese

2 large handfuls of fresh spinach leaves

a dash each of: thyme, marjoram, rosemary and anise seeds

1) Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Wipe the mushrooms clean, remove the stems and set them aside.  Lay the caps, dome side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  (If you have a wire rack to place on top of the sheet, that would be good, as liquid from the mushrooms is going to seep out.)

(before going into the oven)

Brush the caps with balsamic vinegar and bake for about 10 minutes, or until their liquid has cooked out.  Once they’re out of the oven, use a pair of tongs to set the caps aside, and drain the liquid from the pan.  Keep the oven on.

2) While the mushroom caps cook, finely chop the pistachios in a food processor.  Set them aside in a bowl.

3) Wipe out the food processor and put in the mushroom stems and garlic cloves.  Finely chop those as well and divide into two portions.

4) Place the goat cheese in a small bowl.  Using a fork, mix in the thyme, marjoram, rosemary and anise seed.  If you’re not using ground anise seed, be sure to crumble the seeds between your fingers before adding.  Add pepper if you like.

5) Pour a few teaspoons of olive oil in a pan and add one portion of the mushroom stems and garlic.  Cook over medium heat until lightly browned and the liquid from the mushroom is cooked out.  This should take just a few minutes.  Add to the goat cheese and mix with a fork.  Set aside.

6) Add a little more olive oil to the pan and the rest of the mushroom stems and garlic, as well as the spinach leaves.  Cook over medium heat again, until most of the liquid from the spinach and mushrooms has evaporated.  Lower the heat as you go so as not to burn them.  Once done, put the spinach in a bowl.

7) Add half the chopped pistachios to the goat cheese, and half to the spinach.  Mix each well.

8) Stuff half the mushroom caps with the goat cheese mix and half with the spinach mix.  Place them back on the baking sheet and in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until heated thoroughly and the pistachio bits start to toast.


You can prepare and stuff the mushrooms ahead of time and simply heat before serving, so that’s nice, right?  By the way, did you like how I gave one vegan version and one non-vegan?  Yyyyeaaah.  Both fillings are pretty addicting, and you’ll probably have leftovers, so you’re welcome.  You can also try mixing them for super hardcore status.


Soup Meets Salad June 10, 2011

Filed under: Interestin' Food Info,Recipes — rabbit @ 10:28 am
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There are three reasons I don’t usually order soup in restaurants.

1) It’s not usually vegetarian.  Even the vegetable soups often have chicken broth.

2) I usually doubt that it’s made in-house from scratch, or is even that good.  I used to work at a little cafe where we would actually do that.  No opening bags of condensed stuff and adding water.  We roasted the carrots and squash, caramelized the onions for hours, diced, and chopped and simmered.  My favorite part was adding booze if the recipe called for it; my boss frequently told me to sloooow dooown…  but our soups were bomb-diggity.  Yeah.  Bomb. Diggity.

3) And most importantly: I live in sub-tropical climate.  Most of the year it feels like we actually live in soup.

But sometimes… I just want something soupy.  I dunno why.  Just do.  I guess someone in ancient history felt the same way, because they invented gazpacho.

We know gazpacho best as a cold tomato soup from Spain.  It’s not quite like that, but basically, that’s what it is.  Gazpacho is not usually cooked and then chilled.  It’s typically just a blend of raw vegetables and fruits, amped up with spices, vinegar, oil, and often bread crumbs for texture and thickness.  And besides the tomato version, there’s a lot of variety these days.  Gazpacho can have ingredients like grapes, cucumber, watermelon, mango, nuts, yogurt, and all sorts of herbs and spices.  And if you go to Spain, different regions will have different conceptions of gazpacho.

I like to think of gazpacho as blended salad rather than soup.  I figure whatever would have come together on my fork can usually come together in the blender.  For example…

A tomato, zucchini, garlic, avocado… oh, avocado, you are like gold.  Creamy, buttery gold…

So I threw all that in a blender, except the zucchini (and of course minus the avocado seed and skin).  I started blending, and added some vegetable stock to help it along.  Then I gradually added the zucchini once the others were blended.

Then came the spinach.

I pretty much just shoved in as much as I could…

Oooh, technicolor…

Then I gathered up some salt, thyme, paprika, dill, cumin, and lots of black pepper.

A squirt of mustard too.  And some lemon juice.


Let’s skip ahead…


Creamy Green Gazpacho.  A different, more refreshing way to get your greens.  And a good way to experiment with different ingredients.  You can use different vegetables, different spices, add flavored vinegar, nuts, seeds, bread crumbs, etc.  I highly recommend the avocado being in there for that awesome creaminess, and also because you don’t have to add any oil, but you still get some healthy fat in there.  Regardless, just go nuts.  Pick your players, throw them in, and add soup stock or water as necessary.  Skip the bowl and eat straight from the blender.


My favorite color May 31, 2011

Filed under: Recipes — rabbit @ 9:28 am
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Specifically olive green, but any kind of earthy-looking green will do.  When I was seventeen, I had my room painted olive green.  I know.  But it was mine and it felt natural.  And then we moved.  Sca-rumph.

Nowadays I try to mix up my colors.  Yellow, red, purple, blue, etc.  I even sometimes wear bits of pink.  Except I’ll say, “It’s not quite pink, but more like rose, or coral,” to make myself feel better.  Yeah.  I don’t exactly do pink.  Or neons.

I would say my plate matches my closet.  Lots of variety, lots of earth tones.  The kind of colors you dig up from the ground, not squeeze out of a bottle.  I always come back to my favorite though.  I like it in all forms: kale, spring mix, collard greens, arugula, chard, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, seaweed.  You name it, I’ll eat it.  I put Thumper to shame.

It’s ridiculous what green can do for you.  Especially the leafy kind, the stuff that Little Foot was after in The Land Before Time.  (I know, you love that movie too.  Not the sequels, though, nobody likes those.)  You’ve probably heard leafy greens contain a lot of iron, and vitamin K.  The K stands for Keeping you standing.  It helps protect bones from fracture, prevents our arteries from hardening and keeps blood clotting normally.  Greens also have a generous amount of vitamins A, C, calcium, and phytochemicals.  Phytochemicals?  Compounds that occur naturally in plants and help our bodies function in a billion ways.  You’ve likely heard of some of them: isoflavones, carotenoids, lipids, phenolic acids.  Those are just categories for the specific compounds.  Zeaxanthin, for example, is a carotenoid found in spinach, and may help prevent age-related eye disease.  Folate is another vitamin you’ll find plenty of in greens.  Good for nerve function, cell production, bones, and uh, helping to prevent dementia.  Sounds important.

We good on nutrition for the day?  Me too.  All those scientific terms…  Let’s talk about delicious and spinach.  And sumac… you know?  Sumac.  Okay, I’ll tell you.  It’s one of my favorite spices.  Used primarily in the Mediterranean/middle east.  It comes from a little red fruit, which is dried, ground, and results in a lovely tangy flavor.  (Next time you’re at a middle eastern restaurant, order a Fattoush salad if it’s on the menu, which it probably will be.)  Sumac is also used in a middle eastern spice blend called Za’atar.  Earthy, tangy, and a bit spicy, it’s an all-purpose combination.  Meats, veggies, salads, little siblings, it’s all good.  (I’m not implying people eat their siblings in the middle east, I’m just saying, if you were so inclined…)  After reading a bit about Za’atar here, I decided to do a little something inspired by it.

Za’atar marinated Spinach

  Toast yerself a Tablespoon of sesame seeds in a pan.  Just dump the seeds in the dry pan and turn the heat on low.  Wait a few minutes.  They’ll start to brown a bit and smell nice.  Shake the pan frequently.

Then put those babies in a small bowl.  Here comes sumac.  I put a tablespoon.  I don’t think my sumac is as red as it should be, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Next: 1 and 1/2 tsp each of cumin, thyme, and marjoram.  Salt.  I think I put 3/4 of a teaspoon.  You can always start with less if you’re afraid and add more later.  And black pepper!  I used the fresh cracked stuff, about 30 twists… If you use ground pepper, try half a teaspoon and go from there.


And then: 1/3 a cup of lemon juice, 1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard.  Whisk, whisk, whisk.  Then 1/3 a cup of olive oil.  Work it in slowly.  If you have the magic ability, whisk quickly while pouring a thin stream of oil.  This helps it to incorporate better.

  Now’s the time to taste the dressing.  Dip a raw spinach leaf.  You like?  If you want to adjust anything, do it now.

This quantity coated a whole pound of raw spinach for me.  Yes, that is a lot, but trust me, I’ll finish it.  Eventually, the leaves will soften and wilt, and actually be easier to consume.  You could also just store this dressing and try it with different things.  Siblings included.

Mmm. My favorite color.

P.S. You want some sumac?  Can’t usually find it in the regular grocery store, at least over here.  Find a middle eastern grocery store, and while you’re there, marvel at all the other cool edibles and knick knacks.