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 ~~


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