Sunday, September 18, 2011

Popcorn: It’s in the Bag

There are times when nothing beats the smell and taste of freshly popped popcorn.  Depending on my level of stress, state of mind, and butter quotient, my choice can vacillate anywhere from Orville Redenbacker Theater Style Butter, to Paul Newman’s Organic, or Healthy Choice Light.

 The other day I was planted expectantly in front of my microwave, lulled into a hypnotic state by a spinning bag of ballooning Jolly Time Healthy Pop Butter 94% Fat Free Popcorn.  Suddenly, I was struck by a peculiar flash of clarity.  Wait a minute!  The question echoed back that no popcorn purveyor wants to hear:  Is this really necessary? 

Not too long ago I was perfectly content to fire up the stove, jostle the pot a bit, and in no time have an enormous bowl of popcorn.  What happened?  Is it the mess of one dirty pot? Do I really need all this fancy packaging?  Who knows how long it has all been in the bag ― and what preservatives were added to it?  What about the cost?  Is this really necessary?   

 What are my options?

The next time I had a popcorn craving I was prepared.  I pulled out a small clean lunch bag, poured a little popcorn (organic with no GMOs) into the bottom, folded over the top, and dropped it into the microwave, and let it spin. Two minutes later I had a happy bowl of tasty popcorn sprinkled with my latest Popcorn Seasoning Salt.

Not so bad for hot and healthy.

Homemade Microwave Popcorn
1/3 to ½ cup popcorn (organic)
lunch-sized paper bag
Spray oil or butter

Popcorn Seasoning Salt 
 (enough for several bowls)
½ tsp cumin
1 -2 tsp chile powder
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
4 tsp fine Popcorn Salt

Into a small bag, pour in enough popcorn to make a layer on the bottom of the bag, about 1/3 cup. Fold the top of the bag over twice and seal it with tape. 
Lay the bag flat in microwave and pop for approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds, or until popcorn stops popping. 
Empty the popcorn into a wide bowl.  Spray the top lightly with oil spray and sprinkle with Popcorn Seasoning Salt, toss and repeat.  Or, melt butter and drizzle generously over popcorn.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Three-Bean Chili with Mixed Peppers and Nopales

It’s hard to believe that I didn’t get my fill of those big Texas flavors, but one of the first things I did on my return from Austin was whip up a big pot of chili.  

Actually, I’d had my fill of meat and was ready to experiment with a lighter version ― one with zesty chili flavors featuring grains, legumes, and more vegetables.

Yes, this zippy riff has plenty of vegetables and such, but I prefer not to call it ‘vegetarian’ chili since that label suggests an attempt to pass it off as a dreary substitute for the real thing.   

Instead, here tomatillos, cactus paddles, assorted chilies and peppers lend complexity and a definite piquant bite.   

 The generous combination of legumes, hominy, corn, and bulgur wheat offers plenty of supporting interest and satisfying texture.

Serve the chili over tortilla chips coated with melting cheddar and top it with crunchy Cilantro Cabbage Slaw mentioned in previous postings here.   

For added heat pull out a nice sampling of tasty Texas hot sauces. 

Of course have plenty of napkins on hand for dabbing any beaded brows...

Three-Bean Chili with Mixed Peppers and Nopales 
Source:  Inspired by Three-Bean Vegetable Chili from Soup Suppers by Arthur Schwartz

·         ¾ cup bulgur wheat, soaked in 1 ½ cup boiling water for 20 minutes, drained
·         2 tbsp vegetable oil
·         2 medium onions, chopped
·         4 cloves garlic
·         1 tsp dried oregano
·         2 tsp cumin
·         2-3 Tbsp chili powder
·         pinch cinnamon
·         1 Tbsp smoked paprika
·         ½ tsp. each salt and pepper
·         12 tomatillos, husked, diced
·         4 cups chicken stock or boiling water, approx., divided
·         14 oz. can diced tomatoes
·         2 poblano peppers, seed, chop
·         2 Anaheim peppers, “
·         4 jalapeno peppers, “
·         ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
·         15 oz. can black eyed peas, drained
·         15 oz. can white beans, drained
·         15 oz. can hominy, rinsed and drained
·         1 - 2 Tbsp cornmeal diluted in
·         1/2 cup orange juice
·         2 ears corn, or 1-2 cups corn
·         1 cactus paddle with thorns removed, washed and scrubbed with a pot scrubber;  cut into cubes

Cilantro Cabbage Slaw (see recipe), corn tortillas, cheddar cheese

Soak the bulgur wheat and set it aside.

In a deep pot, sauté the onions and garlic in oil until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add the oregano, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, cinnamon and toss to blend flavors; season with salt and pepper.  Add the tomatillos, toss, and add stock or water to cover, about 2 cups.  Simmer approximately 20 minutes, or until tomatillos are soft and begin to fall apart.  Add the diced tomatoes and simmer gently an additional 15 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to further break down the tomatoes if necessary.

Stir in the chopped peppers, 1 cup stock or water, ½ tsp Worcestershire; simmer an additional 15 minutes to soften and develop flavor. 

Add the bulgur wheat, white beans, black eyed peas, hominy, orange juice and simmer an additional 10 to 15 minutes (to further, add the cornmeal if desired).  Add the corn and nopales and simmer 5 minutes.  Don’t overcook the cactus.  Adjust flavors. 

To serve, place a layer of tortilla chips with melting cheddar in shallow bowls; ladle on the chili and top with cilantro cabbage slaw.  Accompany with guacamole, salsas and additional chips.  Serves 8~~

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mornings with Millet

With the constant supply of blackberries streaming through my kitchen these days, and a pile of cooked millet, the idea of Blackberry Millet Milkshake (or Smoothie) is not a big stretch.  Now that I am personally familiar with millet’s holding capacity, channeling its force as a food thickener weighs heavy on my mind. 

It doesn’t get any easier than this.  Into the blender place equal amounts of frozen blackberries and some of that prepared (now refrigerated) millet.  Thin this with a slightly greater amount of milk (or juice of choice), a dash of agave nectar or honey to taste, and blend until smooth.  The new Power Drink: A thick and F-I-L-L-I-N-G glass of creamy, berry goodness.

These days I’m thinking about ways to get more nutrition early in the day.  Since I am not an early eater,  I’m always on the lookout for easy, portable foods that hold well enough to enjoy later.  When I’m busy or out and about, it's handy to have tasty finger food that I can peck on when hunger hits.

I eye the slowly depleting container of cooked millet in the fridge and prepare for my next weekend challenge.   Still not ready to cave into the standard heavy hitting granola-type bars, I’d prefer something light, mild, satisfying ―yet compelling.   

I proceed, armed with the knowledge that millet plays well with others and is likely a considerate, compatible partner with fruit. The results:  Fruited Millet Morning Bars, charming, moist, under 100 calories, with character and charisma ― and just enough fruit to mingle nicely with the millet. 

Fruited Millet Morning Bars

2 ½ cups cooked millet (see previous directions)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp honey
½ cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp lemon flavored cod liver oil, optional  (it was in the fridge and needed to be used)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 small, ripe banana, smashed
1 apple, peeled and diced
½ cup each golden raisins and shredded coconut
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
½ cup oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line a 9x13 pan with foil and spray it with oil.
Combine the eggs through the oats and blend well.  Add the cooked millet and stir to combine.  Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until the top and edges begin to color.
Remove to rack and allow to cool complete.  For easy cutting, chill until set.  Yield:  20 bars.

Millet on My Mind

 I’m a little behind the curve when it comes to dabbling in millet, but over the long Labor Day weekend I plan to change all that.   On my current campaign to embrace the fascinating realm of grains and more, I was impressed to read that millet falls into the super food status.  It’s loaded with protein and minerals; it’s easy to digest and contains no gluten.  In fact much of the world’s population considers it a staple, and it is critically important in Africa and South America. 

Here’s what else I’ve learned so far.   It has a very mild, slightly nutty taste, reminiscent of cornmeal.   Basic cooking technique is similar to rice:  add it to boiling water and cook it until the water has evaporated, about 30 minutes.  The cooking ratio is 1 part millet to 3 parts water.  Millet expands a lot ― as much as four times the original quantity. 

I begin with the basics: adding millet to boiling water.  How hard is that?   Even though I knew it would expand, starting with 2 cups of millet makes complete sense.  In 20 minutes I have enough millet to feed the entire population of Ethiopia.  But that’s ok, because there’s s a long weekend ahead and I plan to really give it a work-out.  Right now, I’m especially interested in exploring the sweet side of it.

My first project, Millet-Ricotta Pudding Filled with Blackberries,  is a variation on Ricotta Millet Pudding with Warm Raspberry Compote from Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains cookbook, comes via    Lootie and Doof ‘s great blog.  I mention it here more as a point of reference.  Although it includes whipped cream to lighten the pudding, I elect to eliminate it (in the interest of healthy living) and I regret it.  Without it, the combination of the millet, ricotta, and sweetened blackberries is delicious, but decidedly heavy ― it lacks the light, creaminess which defines a good pudding.   

 Consequently, I’ve learned millet is deceivingly filling; it may look light, but it has incredible staying power. 

Ricotta Millet Pudding with Warm Raspberry Compote
 (recipe from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup millet
  • 2/3 cup milk (low fat is fine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
  •  1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (no need to thaw)
  • 1/4 cup honey
To prepare the millet, bring the water and millet to a boil in a small saucepan. Decrease the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Combine the milk, vanilla, and salt in a small bowl and add to the millet. Return to a simmer, cover, and cook until the milk is absorbed, about 15 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and cool to room temperature.
Once the millet has cooled, make the pudding. Place the ricotta, honey, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well incorporated. Loosen the prepared millet with a fork and stir it into the ricotta mixture, breaking up any lumps.
In another large bowl, whip the cream with a handheld mixer, gradually adding the sugar until medium-firm peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the ricotta-millet mixture in 3 additions. Divide the pudding among 6-8 serving dishes. Chill, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 2 hours or overnight.
When ready to serve, make the raspberry compote. Place the raspberries and honey in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, gently stirring once in a while so as not to crush the berries, until the sauce is hot and berries just warmed through, 5-8 minutes.
To finish, spoon some of the raspberry compote over the chilled ricotta pudding and serve at once.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Blackberry Clafouti: Another Culinary Distraction

Well, yes, all those tempting blackberries were calling me back. At the close of my last blog, armed with gloves and a wire basket, I had, in fact, returned to one of those dangerously attractive berry patches. My mission: harvest a supply larger than I could carry in one hand. In spite of painfully prickly vines, pesky bees, and snoozing garter snakes, the tantalizing taste of sweet, tangy blackberries lured me on.  
No pain, no gain.

Back safely in my kitchen, it’s hard to believe I could consider heating up the oven in the middle of a late August afternoon. But since temperatures still lingered in the low 70’s, I instantly knew some of the luscious berries would find their way into one of my favorite desserts: clafouti.

Typically, I enjoy a light, puffy, crepe-like style with fruit suspended in a firmly set custard center. The batter is whipped up in the blender; it rests briefly, then poured over the fruit, and baked in a hot oven. Here, I opt to quickly whisk the liquids into the dry ingredients ― which creates a thinner, less integrated batter. This is poured over the fruit layer and baked in a more moderate oven. The slight shift in approach results in a greater contrast between the layers.

Since clafouti can be served warm, room temperature, or cold, my choice is clear. I can hardly wait for it to cool long enough to set. Still almost hot, it cuts like a dream – thanks to the firmly baked bottom.

One bite and I am in serious trouble.
Sweet, tangy berries enveloped in ethereal lemon scented custard.
Gently surrounded by a soft crepe wrapper of perfection.
Beyond bliss ―closer to ecstasy!

Perhaps one more piece, a small wedge
In the name of ‘culinary inquiry’:

Does the clafouti improve as it cools?

Huh, hard to tell, it’s so darn good!

All this protein, surely another piece will suffice for dinner

Bet you can’t eat just one piece, either.

Blackberry Clafouti
Source:  inspired by

·         2 cups blackberries
·         1/2 cup whole wheat flour
·         1/3 cup + 1 tbsp sugar, divided
·         1/2 tsp baking powder
·         1/2 tsp salt
·         pinch nutmeg
·         1 cup milk (low fat is fine)
·         3 eggs
·         ½ tsp vanilla extract
·         1 tsp grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees convection, or 375 degrees standard oven.  Butter a 9” pie plate and place berries in bottom of dish in one close layer.

In a mixing bowl whisk flour, 1/3 cup sugar, the baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  Separately, combine the eggs, milk, vanilla and zest and add to the dry ingredients. Whisk to blend well. 
Pour the batter over the berries and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the clafouti begins to set.

Sprinkle the remaining 1 Tbsp sugar over the top.  Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes or until the center sets and a knife comes out clean when tested. Serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.   
Serves 8 ~~

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How Green is my Valley... or Dash and Dine

You could argue I live in a valley.   The McKenzie River courses through the mountains outside my window and leaves behind a narrow fertile swath of land I now call home.  Just around the corner, an organic farm has a roadside stand frequented by locals and travelers looking for fresh produce on their way over the mountain.  Small farms and ranches dot the landscape. There are pick your own blue berries, holly and Christmas trees sites, and even a lavender farm started up not too long ago. 

Up early this morning and full of energy, I decide to pass on breakfast before my walk.  As I head out, my neighbor Len is puttering in his yard, watering his plants.
 “Morning!” he says, and drops his hose. He walks over to my herb garden and points out the cute bright red baby strawberries, ripe for the plucking.  We share our tiny crops with each other, and I snag a few for us both.  So French, adorable, and candy-like.
“There are more baby tomatoes,” he advises and hands me a couple which I drop into my shorts pocket.  “Green beans are ready; don’t forget to grab some since I won’t eat them.” It took me several conversations with Len to realize he has no teeth.   
“Great!  I’ll be over after my walk.”  I’m already thinking of a tempting recipe for Green Beans and Salsa I’ve wanted to try.    We chat a bit longer and catch up on the latest gossip.  He mentions one of his buddies wants to walk with me but can’t keep up.  I share that I walk to get my heart rate up, and his pal would rather talk than walk.  It’s time to press on.

This is my first walk since returning from my ten day trip to Texas, and my senses are already approaching overload.  I cut through the tall trees and head toward the path along the property. Normally I would hardly catch the aromatic scent of pine; but now, the perfume is so intense, I can feel it in my throat.  How could I not notice that? 

At the property line, this year’s crop of blackberry vines are drooping dangerously low – weighted down from the extreme mass of fat berries.  I stop in awe; so irresistible, I snag a few for sampling.  Sweet, warm and juicy! This calls for another taste.  I pull off another handful to savor.

I walk along the canal which flows out of the fish hatchery up river from us.  Colorful flowers are abundant on both sides of the levee:  tall stately thistles bloom amid Queen Anne’s lace, yellow daisies, and purple wildflowers.  The hazelnut trees to one side are looking good.  Judging from their husks, it won’t be long before they will be ready for picking.

One of my neighbors is standing on the bank, casting his rod into the canal.  He waves and tells me he has caught several cut throats already this morning.  This is all about catch-and-release, so I heartily congratulate him.  I’d rather hear about a trout with a sore mouth than in someone’s frying pan. 

 Up ahead, noisy crows are perched atop a row of blueberry bushes neatly planted along the organic farm’s fence line. Worthy of investigation, I move closer and note the bushes are loaded with plump, blue globes of goodness.  Clearly, an informational taste is in order, since these are my first of the season.  OMG!  These must be the best ever!  I join the crows and have at it. 

As I slowly get back on the trail, gingerly cupping another handful of berries, I am reminded of my own words uttered earlier to Len. What was that about heart rate, and fast walking?  I’m not even a quarter of the way through my walk!  I’m way behind!  

The good news is that I’m not late for breakfast.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Austin Adventures in Food

The Happy Couple
I’m back, still reeling, from an amazing trip to Austin, Texas and my daughter’s stellar wedding.  

It’s fortunate that Lola and Jameson found each other, for they are both thoroughly adventurous foodies.  Together they have embraced the Austin food scene ― from charcuterie to cheese and Hatch peppers to hot sauce.

They joyously clink their glasses over the most exceptional beer and wine while supporting the impressive array of locally grown fruits and vegetables made possible by the robust farm to table movement there.

So, of course, this trip could only be described as adventures in food on steroids.  We began our ten days of celebration with a quiet family brunch “for the mothers”.   Jameson would not share our destination, but we were forewarned when grandson Nick was advised to step it up a bit and change out of his standard workout gear.  

Nick admiring Pizza
The captivating complex of Soleil hangs on a bluff overlooking Lake Travis with a cool ambiance of re-purposed architecture and design.  The Italian-Mediterranean menu ranges from trout to soft-shelled crab, but since I was still on west coast time, I opted for something 'light':  a crusty wood-fired white pizza of prosciutto, figs, taleggio and gorgonzola cheeses, all lightly drizzled with honey and piled with arugula tossed in a lemon based vinaigretteWas it the view?  The company and occasion?  It was all an utterly sublime welcome to Austin!  With a hallmark beginning such as this, I had a hunch I’d best fasten my seat belt and hang on for a wild ride.
There was a whirlwind day of shopping in preparation for a pre-wedding ladies gathering.  Jameson was again leading the way and brought us to Tears of Joy Hot Sauce Shop.  Yes, one could cry out of sheer happiness:  a shop solely dedicated to the thrill of locally made hot sauce.   Tongues hardly recovered, we blasted on to Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, where we literally got in line for a flight tasting of legendary cheeses and first rate smoked products.  On top of our selection of aged gouda, creamy gorgonzola, goat cheese, chorizo and prosciutto, we added ciabatta, crunchy caramelized walnuts, and a little tupelo honey for ramdom drizzling. 

We were forewarned about a planned storming of the downtown food trucks.  Apparently there are two favored locations, and we opted for the smaller site:  a wise choice.  Right on the colorful old town city strip, as the searing sun finally shifted below the skyline, we jostled between Thai food, snow cones, mega cupcakes and other delights.  At The Mighty Cone, I struck a somewhat conservative choice with venison sausage in a cone, with mango slaw and horseradish mustard sauce.  What’s not to like with that combination?  The bread was eliminated and cleverly served in the cone-like cup with a bed of crunchy mango-jalapeno slaw, the perfect foil for spicy, juicy sausage, and topped off with the sweet-hot horseradish mustard sauce.  

A volume could be written on the wedding: it was unforgettable, stylish, and hilarious.  The reception took over three floors of the mythic Steiner Ranch Steak House with delicious flowing hors d’oeuvres, specialty wedding drinks, and a fabulous sit-down dinner.  Best part: a stunning bridal cake complete with a surprise layer of pineapple upside-down cake.

Another trip highlight which deserves mention was a visit to nearby Georgetown and a re-connect with high school classmate, Rory.  We smartly made no further plans and were happy to talk, laugh, and roam the historic downtown square of shops that surround the stately courthouse.  Situated in tree-covered foothills and home to Southwestern University, the surrounding community is classically charming― but still trying to find its way in the shadow of Austin and other threats.  Restaurants and shops seem to rotate in and out without much warning and the challenge of competing with invasive malls is taking its toll.  

We found our way to the Monument Café and Market.  In spite of hardships, they have managed to prevail and expand their operations.  In a new, larger location, they have added a garden to continue their philosophy of fresh organics.  Since they have long been supporters of local farms and suppliers, there’s also a beautiful well designed market on site for artisans and producers.

Shannon's Kobe Burger
There was another brunch; this one a farewell with close family members.  Lola suggested the Roaring Fork, which proved to be the perfect ending, as folks went on their separate ways.  Somehow I never had an occasion to try Kobe beef, and this was it.  A rare burger with thick slabs of smokey bacon, arugula and avocado, seemed the right over-the-top note to end on.  And so it was; like dreamy buttah. 

I could go on, and likely I will continue to make mention of the amazing food scene in Austin.  It’s important to note that while there, the temperature managed to stay at a record breaking 107 degrees, with no reprieve in sight.  Under severe drought conditions, the ground is blistered and cracking and fields are dead and brown.   Buildings are shifting and house foundations are sinking.    But, in true Texas spirit, they take it all in stride, and know they’ll get through this one, too. That's how they roll.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Winging it with Ricado

My new co-mother-in-law/friend, Helen, generously shared a popular seasoning blend called ricado brought back from a recent trip to Belize.  It was part of a requested stash located at a particular market for friends hungering for this traditional seasoning paste. 

Regional variations found throughout the Caribbean and Mexico characteristically feature achiote seeds, or its annatto pigment, which dyes the mixture red and gives meat or vegetables its distinctive red hue.  Belize’s spice mixture typically includes annatto, Mexican oregano, cumin, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, allspice, garlic, and salt.

The day Helen, my daughter, Shannon, and I decided to give our ricado a try, we had chicken wings on our minds and decided to see what would happen if we used the mild flavored paste as a rub.  The gorgeous results were infused with a mellow tropical touch.  We all agreed that a longer marinade would likely intensify the flavors.

We balanced out the wings with a big chopped salad and a thick bleu cheese dressing along with a huge platter of roasted red potatoes tossed with Montreal Steak Seasoning. Of course there was an assortment of wing and hot sauces for experimentation as well.  

·         1 cup ricado paste
·         ½ cup olive oil, or enough to thin into a rubbing sauce
·         4 lbs chicken wings

Combine the paste and olive oil and rub it generously into the chicken wings.  Let marinate several hours or overnight.
Bake in a hot oven or on a grill over medium hot coals until the skin crisps and the wings are well cooked, about 45 minutes. Pass wing sauce of choice for dipping. Serves 4 to 6. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

More on Grains, the Moroccan Way…

I’m a little reluctant to post this, because it’s complicated, but I will because it is so darned good! 
Plus, on my current path of including more grains and legumes in my summer menu planning this one really meets my criteria. 

Granted, in the evening a salad entrée typically doesn’t cut it for me―I’m hungry for something more substantial.  Holy ras el hanout!  This Moroccan creation has so much going on, and is so filling, it’s easy to forget it’s ‘just a salad’.   However, it requires a bit of forethought since there are several working parts:  a simple seasonal Spinach-Strawberry Salad; the centerpiece, an utterly amazing Moroccan Chickpea Barley Salad; and an easy Orange Mustard Dressing, which pulls it all together.   

Since there’s usually a back story to my cooking, I must digress here.  The inspiration for this fabulous meal comes circuitously by way of Elise at Simply Recipes where she features a version of the Moroccan Chickpea Barley Salad by her friend, Hank Shaw at Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook. 

 I can’t say enough about either of these sites.  Suffice to say, I follow them regularly and concur with their food philosophies and their support of sustainable practices.  In fact, Hank Shaw has a new cookbook out based on his blog.  It is a fascinating resource for anyone captivated by the idea of consuming more of nature’s bounty and the romance of ‘finding the forgotten feast’.

So if you are adventurous and ready for new dimensions in food, may I suggest this provocative, hearty, and stylish salad.  

Moroccan Chickpea Barley Salad
Source:  per SimplyRecipes, Elise, originates with Hank Shaw, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

·         1 ½ cups barley
·         1 ½ cups chicken or veggie broth
·         1 ½ cups water
·         1 tsp salt
·         olive oil
·         1 – 15 oz. can chickpeas ( garbanzo beans) rinsed, drained
·         ½ cup hazelnuts or pistachios
·         2/3 cup dried apricots, or other dried fruit
·         ½ cup parsley, chopped
·         2-3 green onion, chopped
·         1 lemon, zest and juice
·         1 Tbsp ras el hanout spice mix (follows)
·         salt to taste

Elise’s Ras El Hanout Spice Mix
·         1 tsp black pepper
·         1 tsp cardamom
·         ½ tsp turmeric
·         ¼ tsp each: cayenne, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon
Orange juice to moisten, if necessary. 

Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in large pot, over medium high heat.  Add the barley and toast 3-4 minutes, stirring often.  Add the broth, water and 1 tsp salt.  Bring to simmer and cook until the barley is tender, 30-60 minutes. 

Strain the barley and run cold water over it to cool quickly.  Drizzle lightly with additional tsp or more olive oil to coat and toss with 1/3 to 1/2 of the ras el hanout spice.

In a large bowl add the chickpeas, nuts, apricots, green onions, and parsley, ½ of the remaining ras el hanout and mix well.  Add the lemon zest and juice and mix again.  Add the barley and gently combine.    Taste, add salt and additional spice blend if desired. 

Let the salad marinate for an hour or longer.  If the barley has absorbed all the oil, drizzle a little more oil or some orange juice over the salad to moisten.  Serves 6 to 8.

Delicious as a centerpiece with Spinach Strawberry Salad with Orange Mustard Dressing.

Spinach Strawberry Salad
·         8 cups spinach, cleaned and stemmed
·         ½ basket fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
·         Orange-Mustard Dressing (follows)
·         2 cups Moroccan Chickpea Barley Salad (see)
·         ½ cup toasted hazelnut
Toss the spinach with a light coating of dressing and plate.  Place the strawberries around the edge of the spinach.  Add approx ½ cup Moroccan Chickpea Barley Salad in center of each salad.  Sprinkle with additional hazelnuts, if desired.  Serves 4

Orange Mustard Dressing
This is a little obscure because of the uniqueness of Olive Grand’s Blood Orange Olive Oil, but I offer it here because it is so incredibly delicious.   This drop-dead fresh olive oil is a local find from Eugene’s own purveyors of artisan products.    Check them out at
·         1 tsp Thai Chile Garlic sauce
·         1 Tbsp Deli Mustard, whole grained
·         1 Tbsp Gulden’s spicy brown mustard
·         1 tsp sherry vinegar, or to taste
·         2 tsp blood orange olive oil or 1 tbsp flavored olive oil (see note below)

Combine the garlic sauce and the mustards; add the vinegar, whisk in the olive oil and adjust flavors as needed. 
Note:  If the blood orange olive oil is not available, substitute 1 Tbsp good quality EVOO, plus a tsp of grated orange zest and approximately 1 Tbsp orange juice.    Serves 4

Monday, August 8, 2011

Munch a Brunch of Egg Foo Young

Lately I’ve been living my Sundays in reverse order; that is, enjoying brunch at dinnertime.   You know, there’s something slightly decadent about ending the weekend with a lazy, relaxed spread featuring eggs and all the trimmings. 
Since I’m still on my lentil sprout kick, this past Sunday I faced the additional challenge of incorporating my burgeoning sprout supply into a brunch item.  One look at the odds and ends in the fridge and the brilliant idea of egg foo young emerged.

Exactly!  I’d simply replace the usual mung beans with my prize sprouts, and instead of frying up little individual pancakes, I’d create a big, fat frittata.   In no time, I had one opulent jumbo egg foo young cut into wedges and draped with a gingery Asian brown sauce.   

I’ve made a few wicked Spanish frittatas, but this crazy combination pushed all the right buttons and handily satisfied a sudden craving for Chinese take-out, too!  It’s a perfect night-time brunch― plenty of crispy veggies all bound together by eggs and humming with zingy garlic and ginger.  Of course, ham would be a nice addition in the omelet, or on the side. Try it with rice or couscous and a fresh fruit melange such as melons and strawberries. 

Egg Foo Young Frittata
Inspired by Rachel Ray’s Egg Foo Young  

·         2 tsp oil, divided
·         1 onion, sliced
·         1 large clove garlic, minced
·         ginger root, 1 tsp grated
·         1 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
·         ½ cup grated carrot
·         1 heaping cup cabbage or bok choy
·         1/2 cup sliced red pepper
·         3 scallions, chopped
·         1-2 cups lentil sprouts
·         8 eggs
·         salt and pepper

Brown Sauce
·         1 cup chicken stock or 1 bouillon cube and 1 cup boiling water
·         3 Tbsp soy sauce
·         1 tsp. Kitchen Bouquet
·         1 Tbsp cornstarch
·         1 tsp hot sauce
·         ½” thick slice ginger
·         dash red pepper flakes

In a 2 cup ovenproof measurer place brown sauce ingredients and stir to combine.  Heat the sauce in the microwave until thick and bubbly about 2 minutes.  Let stand while preparing frittata.

Coat bottom of oven proof sauté pan with oil and heat over medium heat, add the onion and sauté until soft; add garlic and ginger stir until aromatic; stir in the mushrooms and sauté until softened.  Add the carrots and, cabbage and cook until softened.  Stir in the scallions and remove the vegetables from heat and cool. 

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Have a plate handy that is larger than the width of the pan.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a fork and add a bit of salt and pepper; stir in the mushroom mixture and the sprouts.  Wipe out the omelet pan, heat it over medium high heat and coat it lightly with oil. 
When the pan is hot, pour in the egg mixture and allow to set, lifting the edges and tilting pan so that egg liquid will run under the set eggs.

When the eggs begin to firm and bottom begins to brown remove from heat and with a spatula shift to loosen.  Cover the pan with the plate and flip the frittata onto the plate.  Quickly slip the frittata back into the pan browned side up.  Return the pan to the heat and repeat the process, cooking the bottom another couple of minutes.  The center will likely still be uncooked, place the pan in the oven for another 4 minutes to finish the frittata.  It will begin to puff up.  Cut it in wedges and serve with the brown sauce and garnish with cilantro. Serves 4

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ricotta Made Easy. Really?

It could be said that there isn’t much new when it comes to Pasta Marinara―especially with grilled vegetables.  Possibly even more uninteresting might be a lasagna lacking the gooey layers of cheese.

Well, that’s pretty much where we begin here:  a layered lasagna-like version where grilled vegetables are front and center and cheese layers are nearly non-existent. What makes this pasta newsworthy and exceptionally tasty is the homemade lemon ricotta cheese added after baking, instead of buried way inside.  Here, superb ricotta is a creamy condiment that crowns the pasta and elevates it to spectacular heights. 

Ricotta has always meant a special trip to the grocery store before making that special cheesecake, white pizza, or lasagna.  Then, in the cheese aisle I debate which ricotta to purchase, and why?   I usually recall that it isn’t the fat free variety ― they all resemble tasteless rubber.  So, it’s probably a low fat ricotta, but which one?  Some of those are pretty bad, too.   Good grief, it’s such a crap shoot. 

It hadn’t occurred to me that it might actually be easy to whip up a homemade batch of ricotta.  Having the convenience of fresh ricotta at my finger tips would certainly take all of the guess and gamble out of the equation.  Thanks to Cooking Light magazine, their simple ricotta offers the perfect solution, and even better, their secret ingredient is none other than low fat yogurt, an item I usually have on hand. 

Of course, there are a couple of caveats:  the yield/ratio to yogurt is about 1:1; plus, a fair amount of low fat milk is required.  I have found that making about a one cup quantity is a realistic return.

A few notes on procedures.  The process is made easy by using the microwave to heat the yogurt/milk mixture.   To strain the curd and whey, lining a sieve with coffee filters will make the subsequent cheese collection and clean up straight forward.  Also, the liquid left from the straining process has good nutritional value, and is a great addition to baked breads and such. 

Flavoring the ricotta also adds a whole new dimension, too, and in this particular dish lemon zest offers the perfect finishing touch.   So here you are, a truly exceptional layered penne with marinara and grilled vegetables regally crowned with homemade Lemon Ricotta.  Naturally, we’ll start with the ricotta!

Lemon Ricotta, Quick
Courtesy Cooking Light magazine, Aug 2011

·         2 cups 2% milk
·         ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, or other natural yogurt such as Nancy’s
·         2 tsp cider vinegar
·         1 ½ tsp grated lemon rind
·         1/4 tsp  coarse salt, divided

In a microwave safe 1-qt measurer combine milk, yogurt and vinegar; microwave on high for 4 minutes.  
Stir mixture to form small curds.  Strain into cheese cloth or a coffee filter lined sieve, and let stand for 5 minutes.  Discard liquid.
Scrape mixture into small bowl and stir in rind and ¼ tsp. salt.   Yield:  approx ½ cup, enough for 4 servings.  

Penne with Marinara, Grilled Vegetables and Fresh Lemon Ricotta

·         6 to 8 cups Marinara Sauce, approximate
·         1 eggplant, sliced.  Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain in colander for 20 minutes; pat dry
·         2 zucchini
·         2 yellow squash
·         3 cups whole wheat penne pasta, cooked in salted boiling water until al dente
·         ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
·         cooking spray for the grill
·         salt and pepper
 Lemon Ricottta and fresh mint

Prepare the marinara sauce, or have 6-8 cups on hand.

To grill vegetables:   
Prepare the grill to medium high or until coals are red hot.
Slice the eggplant, zucchini, squash and red onion into long ½” thick slices. 
Spray the eggplant slices on one side and lay sprayed side down onto clean grill over hot white coals.  When well marked, spray top side, and turn.  Remove when browned on both sides but not cooked through.
Spray, salt and pepper the zucchini, squash and red onions on one side; grill, spray, salt and pepper top sides and turn until all are seared but not cooked thoroughly.  Remove and cool.  Cut the vegetable into bite sized chunks

To assemble:  Spray or oil a Le creuset or other oven proof 2 ½ qt dish or pot, and spread about 1 cup sauce in the bottom.  Add half of the pasta, sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese, top with half of the vegetables, and spread half of the remaining sauce over it.  Repeat with second layer of pasta, Parmesan, vegetables, and top with the remainder of the sauce and sprinkle with rest of the cheese.  This can all be done ahead at this point and refrigerated.

To bake:  Heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Place covered dish in center of oven and bake 60 to 90 minutes or until browned and bubbly. 

To serve:  place 2 cups hot pasta into 4 shallow bowls.  Sprinkle each serving with a few grinds of coarse salt and pepper; top each with 1-2 tbsp room temperature Lemon Ricotta Cheese and 1 Tbsp mint.  Serves:  6-8

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Exotically yours

Here’s more on the previously promised Moroccan Chicken Tagine, a slow cooked collection of assorted vegetables and chicken perfumed with exotic spices, citrus, and fresh herbs.  

If you are looking for an authentic touch, consider something like this Le Souk pottery tagine, courtesy of The unique sloping top creates an oven of sorts and the slow cooking process encourages the retention of moisture, thus luxuriously bathing the tagine mixture and intensifying flavors. 

Turns out, the tagine is actually another one-pot-wonder, complete with vegetables and desired meat.  Natural accompaniments are an easy couscous and of course, the earlier mentioned hot and spicy harissa.

A tagine is perfect for entertaining since it is completely prepared in advance and benefits from slow unattended cooking - consider it the pre-cursor to contemporary crock pot cooking.  If the fabulous cookware is not available for a showy presentation, le creuset or any other heavy crockery will work just fine.   The recipe that follows uses standard stove top preparation. 
Chicken Tagine with Couscous
Inspired by Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Light cookbook

·         3 lb chicken, cut up and skinned
·         1 Tbsp olive oil
·         2 onions, sliced
·         4 cloves garlic minced or pressed
·         2 carrots, sliced
·         2 turnips, peeled and diced
·         2 stalks celery, sliced
·         1 tsp cumin
·         ½ tsp ginger
·         ½ tsp turmeric
·         1 bay leaf
·         3 cup chicken stock
·         1 tsp paprika
·         1 cup garbanzo beans
·         ¼ tsp saffron
·         2 small zucchini, sliced
·         4 Tbsp lemon juice
·         coarse salt, pepper and cayenne to taste
·         ¼ cup cilantro,  chopped
·         2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
·         ¾ lb couscous
·         2 cups chicken stock
Garnish:  cilantro, lemon slices, harissa (see index)

For tagine: heat oil in large casserole over medium heat and sauté onions and garlic until tender, 5-10 minutes.  Add carrots, turnips, and celery, sauté briefly.

Add chicken, cumin, ginger, turmeric, bay, stock and lightly salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer gently 45 minutes to 1 hour until chicken is tender; stir occasionally. 

Add paprika, garbanzos, saffron, zucchini and lemon juice; simmer 15 minutes until zucchini is tender but bright green.  Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and cayenne. To finish, stir in parsley and cilantro.
For couscous:  Pour boiling stock over the couscous, cover and let stand 10 minutes until stock is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork. 

To serve, spoon couscous onto plates and ladle chicken, vegetables and some of the broth over the couscous.  Garnish with cilantro and lemon and pass the harissa.  Serves: 6-8


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