Monday, August 20, 2012

Wild about Arugula

This summer’s early cool temperatures have morphed my small orderly garden into an unstoppable sea of arugula.  I’m not complaining the kale, chard, red leaf, and dainty mesclun blends will all survive.  The fact is, this wacky bumper crop has further inflamed my passion for the arresting arugula.

Now I can be even more selective in scrutinizing every seductive, leggy candidate competing for my next plate.  However, I’ve noticed my neighbors’ eyes are beginning to roll when plied with more generous overtures of arugula. 

It seems I’m not the only one that’s wild about arugula, though.  I have resorted to cruising the web in search of arugula tips and ideas and there are plenty of them.  My wanderings have uncovered an amazing assortment of arugula facts and tributes. 

For example, arugula is an herbaceous annual plant with tender green leaves that are smooth, sharply indented, and irregularly shaped, like those of dandelion.  Its piquant flavor is similar to water cress;  as a member of the cabbage family, it is related to watercress, mustard and radishes. Also called rocket, it is particularly popular in the south of France, Italy, and in Egypt.

It's interesting to note that in Roman time’s arugula was grown for both its leaves and the seed. The seed, also used for flavoring oils, has been used as an aphrodisiac since first century, AD. (Cambridge World History of Food).   A typical Roman meal might include a salad of greens such as arugula, romaine, chicory, mallow and lavender, all properly finished with a 'cheese sauce for lettuce'. 

As far as I’m concerned, arugula doesn’t need much company; just a few good companions capable of balancing its assertive nature. With this summer's gold mine, I've resorted to making jars of Arugula Pesto, an amazing condiment dabbed on grilled fish or spread on a BLT sandwich.  I use my basic pesto recipe and substitute traditional basil with several cups of tender baby arugula, trimmed of any bitter stems. 

One of my current dishes features marinated cherry tomato salad combined with hot drained penne pasta, gently tossed with arugula, and topped with goat cheese or feta.  Another quick summer-in-a-bowl meal is based on pantry and fridge items: white beans, roma tomatoes, maybe some fresh cucumber, red onion or sweet pepper, kalamata olives, rosemary and arugula from the garden, all lightly finished with garlicky sherry vinaigrette.

When it comes to recognition and tributes to arugula, there’s no shortage of them on the web―and so, it seems entirely appropriate to present my personal favorites, a curious selection, each worthy of an esteemed Arugula Award.

Wild About Arugula Award:  Classiest Cartoon

Edward Koren has long been associated with The New Yorker magazine where he has published well over 1000 cartoons as well as many covers and illustrations. He has also contributed to many other publications, including The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, GQ, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Fortune, Vanity Fair, The Nation and The Boston Globe.

Wild about Arugula Award:  Sexiest Photo and Recipe

For full appreciation, visit Use Real Butter

Jen's photos and recipe of Arugula Salad with Figs and Prosciutto are to die for, but she emphatically decries any copying of her work, which she refers to 'assholery'.  Hope I'm not breaking any laws with my faint praise.   

Wild about Arugula Award:  Irreverent Food and Culture, Nonfiction

United States of Arugula by David Kamp
United States of Arugula, by David Kamp
David Kamp has carved out a dual career in "proper" journalism and humor writing: like Calvin Trillin's, only far less respected and lucrative. His work appears in Vanity Fair, GQ, and the New York Times, among other publications.

Wild about Arugula Award:  Awkward Political Moments

Uh Oh... Whole Foods and Arugula, both missing in Iowa
Obama’s “Arugula Moment,” from 2008 presidential campaign. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Stand and Deliver

I can't seem to get away from the television lately, I'm addicted to NBC’s expanded coverage of the London 2012 Summer Olympics.  In fact, all of this swimming, diving, gymnastics, track, beach volleyball, rowing, and track competition makes me hungry―and my mind tends to drift to potential snacks―especially United Kingdom vintage treats.  A spot of tea and a crisp cookie for dipping is a divine idea―especially one of those classic digestive biscuits.  With the television in viewing distance, I'm tempted to take a crack at whipping up my own homemade batch.    

Two familiar options, Carr and McVities Digestives are notable stand outs with wholemeal flavor, but I’m leaning toward a cookie with a nutty oat influence.  Thanks to fellow blogger over at Obsessive Gardener,  Sylvana painstakingly took McVities listed ingredients apart and came up with her own copy-cat version.  Except for a few minor tweaks, the results are an addictive, tasty tea treat.   

I begin with my personal muesli blend of oats and wheat and use the food processor to break it down into a textured flour, ready for cutting in butter and remaining ingredients.  A quick chill in the fridge brings the dough together for easy rolling.   The results:  a well-balanced blend of sweet and salty crunch, a worthy accompaniment to tea, an aged cheese, ripe fruit, or even ice cream.   This classic buttery biscuit stands and delivers. 
Digestive Tea Biscuits
Reminiscent of McVitie’s Biscuits from Scotland.  Inspired by Obsessive Gardener blog.

1/3 cup oat bran - or Muesli without fruit
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp brown sugar, packed well
4 tbsp chilled butter, cut up
½ tsp vanilla
3 tbsp milk, approx.

In a food processor, break down the oats, add the flours and dry ingredients through the salt and combine well.  Add brown sugar and combine. 
Cut in the butter and process until crumbly and uniform.  Add the vanilla and enough milk to form a soft firm dough.  Chill the dough 20 minutes or longer.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment or spray it with oil.
On a lightly floured board, roll the dough out evenly, to 1/8” thickness.  Cut into approx 2 ½” rounds and place on cookie sheet about 1” apart, they will expand slightly.  Prick evenly with a fork.
Bake about 15 minutes turning baking sheet about half way through – until the cookies are firm to touch and edges begin to brown slightly.  Watch carefully, they will brown quickly.   
Yield:  approximately 16 cookies.  

Serve with tea, as part of a cheese board, or as an accompaniment to other desserts. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Breakfast Anyone?

True Confession
For a person who has resisted breakfast for most of her life, the idea of accepting food much before 10AM was a cruel concept.  Coffee?  Well, yes, of course, but that was about it.  As if I had changed my mind, my mother would regularly try and ply me with waffles, bacon, eggs... perhaps a little orange juice? No, thank you. 
Why was I so punchy and light headed by 3PM?  Not only had I skipped breakfast, but often lunch slid right passed me, too. When my schedule changed so drastically that I had no time to sit down and eat a proper meal, I had to take a look at my strange ways. Fueled by quick bites and snacks, come dinnertime I was literally starving. 

I love food… how could I possibly be too busy to eat? 

I forced myself to get something down before leaving home in the morning.  I started carrying a few convenient, nutritious bites―even a hastily made sandwich, which I always appreciated later in the day.  I had more energy, my mind was clearer, I felt better:  no more headaches, and I didn’t experience that 3PM slump.  Huh, go figure.

Hard to believe, but I am now a confirmed breakfast convert.  Much of this shift in eating habits can be attributed to my elevated interest in whole grains.  Previously, a civilized breakfast would occur around 11AM with 2 soft boiled eggs and a couple of slices of enriched wheat toast, gently buttered. From there, life started looking up and I was primed for just about anything, especially a stylish late lunch.    

Now, my mornings begin early with a bowl of grains, often an uncooked muesli of sorts with fruit and nuts, or a combination heated into a porridge and topped with a dollop of yogurt―and I am set.  My body is satisfied, it gets what it needs to work efficiently―no weird blood sugar spikes or wild snacking in the course of the day.  I still take finger food for mindful nibbling, something like bite-sized portions of freshly baked fruit bars layered with whole grains. 

Lately I’ve been prepping a week’s worth of breakfast cereal ahead and stashing it covered in the fridge.  In the morning, I’ll heat up a bowl full in the microwave for a minute or two  and top it with whatever strikes my fancy.  Here’s what’s for breakfast these days:  
Hot Muesli with Fresh Blueberries and Yogurt
This whole grain porridge promises a rousing eating experience.  Mild millet acts as a foil and creamy binder between moist, chewy wheat berries―which practically explode in the mouth―and nutty, satisfying oats.   The combination of cinnamon, dates, and raisins all add up to the right hint of sweetness, and the sunflower seeds provide that tiny element of crunch. Pressure cooker directions also follow.

Hot Muesli 
6 cups water
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup triticale wheat berries
1/3 cup millet
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup whole dates, pitted and cut up
½ cup golden raisins
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tbsp flax seed

In a medium pot, bring the water and salt to a boil.  Add the triticale and cinnamon, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, partially covered. Add the millet and simmer an additional 25 minutes.   Stir in the oats and continue to simmer for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add , the dates and raisins and cook 1-2 minutes longer.  Remove from heat, stir in the sunflower seeds and flax.   Serves 6-8.

Notes:  For later use, allow the muesli to cool before refrigerating.  As the cereal sits, grains may absorb available moisture and swell.  I have found that stirring in an additional ½ to 1 cup or so boiling water will keep the cereal malleable for later portioning, and not a stiff mass. 

For the pressure cooker: 
Combine the water, millet, and triticale and cook under pressure 20 minutes.  Use natural pressure release, and let stand for approximately 10 minutes.  Remove lid, add the salt, cinnamon, and oats and  simmer an additional 10 minutes stirring occasionally, with lid on, but not locked.  Stir in the dates and raisins and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and add the sunflower seeds and flax. 


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