29 July 2008

Cuddling and gardening...but no inventive cooking

So despite the fact that I want to cook, I have time to cook (well, kind of...ok, not really) and cooking in summer is generally more enjoyable because of the garden bounty, I don't have any interesting dishes to report. Instead of thinking up elaborate recipes or even baking standard pies....I've been cuddling. My dogs, Zander and Zelda, are serious about cuddling, and given my newlywed status so is the husband. Rather than fight the urge to cook I have given in to the comfy cuddle. It's been a wonderful week. As is evident from the above picture, Zander the giant golden retriever is about four times the size of moi, and his cuddles are not only serious but seriously debilitating. If you don't feel like hugging him, his 120-pound frame will sit on you. She may be smaller, but the same goes for Zelda--she will lick you into submission. Ah, the joys of being a pet parent.

Gardening has been easy. Even the baby hens and chicks that I just planted a month ago (above) have created fruitful offspring. While my tickseed decided it was time to pack it in, pretty much every sedum crop in my yard has bloomed. It's funny how while it's time to say goodbye to some plants, it's time to feel excited for those who have just come out for summer bloom. It's a sad thing to watch a plant bloom and wilt, and another to watch them emerge for their short albeit beautiful lifespan. The tomatoes are growing at a crazy rate and maturing every day. Basil is thriving now that I've moved it to an earwig-free zone in the greenhouse. I have a feeling homemade spaghetti sauce will be a beneficial breeze this year....

The yucca bloom (above) has refused to die. According to my sources, this plant was supposed to cease blooming about two weeks ago, but just the right amount of sunlight and organic fertilizer has saved its life from...well...death.

The other reason no inventive dishes have found their way through my kitchen walls? Kitty introductions. Johnny Cash the Cat in Black is a new addition to our family, and Ian and I have been working hard to ensure that the pitty-boo doesn't eat the kitty-boo. Unfortunately terriers are predisposed to lunging toward and biting prey, so twenty to thirty minute "visits" in the living room are all we can offer to poor Johnny. I don't think he minds however--I read in the extra bedroom (also known as his kingdom) for hours each day and he is a pretty solitary cat anyhow. Worrying about his successful inclusion in our family has taken a tremendous toll on me, but I think the picture above demonstrates the progress we've made with introducing and ensuring his safety.

It's too bad that right after this picture was taken Zelda lunged at and was beaten up by poor Johnny. It's also too bad that Johnny feels at ease around Zander enough to trust him....he doesn't seem to want to protect the kitty against pitty-boo vengeance. The resilience of our cat amazes me, while the stubborness of my dog saddens me. Good thing Johnny Cash is tough....

24 July 2008

Korma in a Can??

Chicken Korma in a very exotic Ziploc container

I usually shy away from ready-made sauces and jarred anything, but I had a coupon for a free bottle of Seeds of Change Korma Sauce and I absolutely had to try it. I've never used canned or jarred sauces before unless really really really busy with teaching, and I have never been too busy to make spaghetti sauce on my own (bleck...Ragu...) so "purchasing" this product was a bit difficult for my "make your own" mentality. It turns out Seeds of Change is a company I can totally get behind, with their eco-friendly way of business and organic distribution of foods. Mass production of simmer sauces aside, they're an Oregon company (does that count as local if I'm in eastern WA??) with a heavy dose of community outreach programs and they seem to coincide with my food belief system: KNOW WHAT YOU EAT.

The directions were simple on the korma sauce: fry up a pound of meat (or veggies, which I might try next time!) and then pour sauce over and simmer. Serve over rice or whatever you happen to feel like serving it with (naan anyone??).

The actual dish came out much like my own version of Chicken Korma, and even though it came from a glass jar, I could actually taste fresh ingredients. Korma is the mildest of curried dishes, and yet I could taste each spice individually--cardomom and saffron were very prominent. The greatest part of it? The cashew flavor of Korma was definitely intact, which is a miraculous feat for a bottled sauce. I'll be doing this again.

Served the dish with some brown basmati rice and leftover naan (I need to post about my Indian feast, don't I??), so this dish minus the naan cost me roughly $.50 since I bought the basmati in bulk at the Moscow Co-op. Gotta love those coupons!!

Seeds of Change offers other Indian simmer sauces, like Jalfrezi and Tikka Masala, but I'm not sure I'm willing to concede culinary defeat to any company, eco-friendly or not. For now let's just say I'm surprised and a bit taken.

21 July 2008

The Great American Grill-Out, Day Two

Since Ian has to work overtime the rest of this week, we both decided a nice grilling session was in order. There's something about charcoal, lighter fluid and meat that just jumpstarts his enthusiasm.

We made some great veggie kebabs and corn on the cob I learned to make through the Mexican cooks at a few restaurants I worked at. Who would have thought that mayo, cilantro, lime juice and chili powder could dress up a corn cob?

We also bought some Moroccan-style lamb sausages from the Co-op, and we've been dying to try them since yesterday. I came up with eight different ways I wanted to use the lamb sausage but then decided that to truly taste a sausage, it must be on its own. Call me a purist, but I remember the horrified look my father gave my best friend Phil when he poured ketchup on some of the best damn Italian sausage from the most Italian neighborhood in Chicago. The sausage verdict? I didn't taste much spice and the lamb was a little too greasy--just two minutes on the grill and the juices poured out of those links like Niagara Falls. I let Ian eat the rest of my sausage and opted for a mostly meatless meal as the potatoes and corn were filling enough.

20 July 2008

Garden update

Lettuce ready for salad plates

Little baby tomatoes

Giant yucca bloom

Blissful coreopsis

Blooming voodoo stonecrop

I've got tomatoes!! Without salmonella!! The yucca picture is two days old, and has since become one massive flag of white blooms.

Shopping day grill-out

Sunday is my favorite day. Husband and I head to Moscow each week on this day and shop at our two favorite grocery markets--Win-Co Foods and the Moscow Co-op. I can't afford to purchase groceries exclusively at the Co-op, so the Win-Co trip is intended to keep me within our tight budget. I don't mind spending money on food, however, since above all, food is the most important part of my day.

Since I plan my meal menu out on Sunday mornings, I get to indulge in food all day long. Summer affords greater leisure on this particular day also since I can put off cleaning until the evening (no classes to prepare for the week, only tutoring schedules and materials) and focus my attention fully on food.

The other great part about summer? The grilling. Husband makes an awesome burger, and since he's begun working on the patty recipe, I've been keeping track of the changing ingredients. I'm convinced the latest incarnation is his best. I mentioned previously our obsession with ground buffalo, so feel free to sub it out if it's the most expensive meat in your market. It's truly worth it though, and if you use ground beef, keep in mind you'll have to increase the amount of wet ingredients

Ian's Perfect Burger Recipe (makes 4 burgers)
1 lb. ground buffalo
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic
1 egg
4 or 5 dashes Worcestershire
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, or as desired (we use the awesome Co-op Daily Wheat bread)
2 tbl. fresh chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the buffalo, onion, garlic, egg, parsley, pepper and Worcestshire first. Add fresh breadcrumbs until the mixture binds together easily to form patties. Form four uniform patties. Make a thumbprint in the middle of each patty to ensure they cook evenly on the grill. Finally....er, grill them.

Grilled Asparagus
1/2 lb. fresh asparagus, bottoms trimmed
2 tbl. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Fresh grated Romano cheese

After trimming asparagus, arrange them on a grill insert designed to cook veggies further away from direct heat source. You may also use foil but you won't get that terrific grilled look to the finished product.

Before placing on grill, brush asparagus with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill for up to three minutes, or until they are crisp but tender. Remove from heat.

Place asparagus on a serving tray and sprinkle with the juice of 1/2 lemon, black pepper and grated Romano cheese. Note: you could use parmesan, but I never use parmesan because I prefer the sharper taste of Romano.

15 July 2008

On spelt pasta and feeling relieved

Spelt pasta?

Veggies ready

Pasta ready!

Salad rolls finished and packed for hubby consumption

Salad roll filling

This evening I decided to be adventurous and try TWO new recipes. I've never made my own fresh salad rolls before, and since I was making a pasta dish (see previous obsession post) that included matchstick size veggies, I decided that a similar shape veggie combo might round out a meatless meal. Ian and I have become more meat savvy as of late, and just about every time we shop we drool at the yak meat (too expensive right now) and end up buying and eating ground buffalo, so for Tuesday's dinner it seemed like a good idea to go veg.

I have to admit, I thought I would have a hard time with the salad rolls. Everywhere I read I'm reminded of the horrors of salad wrappers, but I didn't run into any problems whatsoever. I've never had a more reassuring moment. It's as if the heavens cleared and allowed for a brief moratorium on cooking horrors.

On deck this evening, we also tried spelt pasta, which I have to admit is hard to make al dente as other pastas, and has a very faint bitter aftertaste. I'll try it again I suppose, but I'll have to think of something that will tone down the flavor of the pasta rather than amplifying it...

Spelt Pasta with Zucchini and Spring Onions
8 oz. spelt pasta
Block of tofu, diced
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil plus 1 tsp.
3 spring onions, sliced thinly, both white and green parts
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 zucchini, sliced to matchstick size
Romano cheese, to taste

Cook pasta according to pasta instructions. While pasta is cooking, bring olive oil to medium heat and fry tofu for three minutes. Remove tofu from pan and add saute spring onions and garlic until fragrant. Remove from heat.

Place zucchini in a colander and once pasta is ready to be drained, drain it in the same colander, on top of zucchini.

Place pasta and zucchini in a serving bowl and add olive oil. Toss to coat. Add olive oil/spring onion/garlic mixture, and toss again. Add fried tofu. Sprinkle romano cheese to taste.

Fresh Salad Rolls
8-10 spring roll wrappers
Warm water
8 oz. rice vermicelli, cooked
1 mango, julienned
1/2 cup cucumber, julienned
4 tbsp. cilanto, chopped coarsely
2 tsp. lime juice
2 spring onions, chopped

In a medium sized bowl, mix together vermicelli, mango, cucumber, cilantro, lime juice and spring onions.

For each spring roll wrapper, place in warm water and place on a work surface. Distribute two tbsp. filling onto wrapper, and then fold spring roll wrapper over. Tuck sides in and then roll over onto rest of skin. (This part may take practice--if you've ever worked in a Mexican restaurant like I have you instinctively know how to wrap a burrito, but I've heard horror stories on this one). Place on serving plate and if you need to layer rolls, place wax paper or plastic wrap between layers. I refrigerate first so the spring roll wrappers have time to "set."

Simple Salad Roll Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
1 tsp. lime juice
1/2 tsp. lime rind

Combine all ingredients. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to two hours.

Note: I didn't actually work from any strict recipes here, so you might have to adjust....probably a lot....I can remember to write down my bank account number but my head is firmly planted elsewhere most of the time.

14 July 2008

Teaching and Eating

This summer has been anything but lazy. I'm currently revamping a syllabus I have worked with a number of times after being assigned to teach introductory college writing in the fall for the first time in a few years. In previous courses I have used food as both a theme and a metaphor for the writing process. When we prepare a meal, we learn the basics of cooking first and we gather the ingredients needed to prepare a specific dish, and we stock our pantries full of staples that will be conducive to nourishment for later meals. When we eat a meal, we develop a taste for ingredients that we actively seek out in later meals, noting texture and depth and complexity of each particle that touches our tongues. This process of eating is not much different than the acquisition of a writing voice or style, and just as food nourishes the body, writing nourishes the soul through the fulfillment of our need to communicate with one another. Learning to write is much like learning to cook, complete with kitchen disasters that resonate with the painstaking process of writing an effective essay. Getting a D on an essay is much like burning the roast, and I find that students identify with this equation not only because all humans eat, but because thematic courses based on metaphor reveal to them (however subconsciously) that ever-so-important skill they will need to succeed in college: critical thinking.

Thinking critically is a difficult skill for students to learn, and food is a great example of how thinking about texts and ideas can open up a more complex understanding of a system beyond just one grain of salt. As Mark Kurlansky's great history of salt suggests, salt is not just the substance we look for when the meatloaf is dry and tasteless, but rather has been the building blocks of civilization (and to an extent, life) for thousands of years. The rise of Venice, the fall of the French monarchy, and the mobility of nomadic civilizations have all been linked to salt, and it is through a process of eye-opening "ohhhs" and "ahhhs" that students begin to see a simple relationship (French fries and salt) turn into one of complexity and serious grey areas. It is with a heavy heart that I watch my students discover time and again the salty root of Native American massacres (many battles were instigated by the substance) but I'm always amazed and proud of their willingness to discover and answer questions.

As I assemble my syllabus and choose readings for the course, I am drawn to those texts which investigate the simple elements of food and their more complex cultural construction--kind of like one ingredient in a very tasty stew.

Currently probing:

13 July 2008

I am apparently obsessed with pasta

You know, there's nothing like a food blog to reveal a food obsession you've been harboring. I make pasta ALL the time. I generally only make rice because I'm tired of eating pasta, and as you can see, I have never been one to follow the Atkins craze (or any diet, for that matter--I'm from the midwest people: WE EAT THERE).

Recently I became obsessed with that great pasta offshoot that can only be found at our local co-op in Moscow, Idaho: "alternative" pasta. I've permanently traded in "regular" pasta for whole wheat, and recently I've decided to try every pasta alternative I can find. Brown rice pasta, soybean pasta, spelt pasta....the possibilities are endless, and I'm hoping tasty. Last week I bought brown rice pasta with a shape name that I absolutely cannot remember for the life of me. Even after I looked up a list of pasta shapes I couldn't find the type--I swear it was something like "chiocolle" or "chocolle" or "I forgot." It looks a little more like orecchiette than cho-something but what do I know?

The best part about making a pasta dish for me is that I get to use my staples--Costco chicken sausages (I've got 'em all, baby!) and whatever pasta shape I find desirable--and dress it up with new ingredients.

For this recipe, I chose some beautiful organic produce I found at the co-op and the Moscow Farmers Market. Red and yellow bell peppers in strips, onions, very fresh asparagus and fresh shredded basil were tossed with the chicken sausage and garlic, and drizzled with olive oil. I adore vegetables, and I have to say that throwing in some fresh spring onions at the last minute was a great decision--the other onions were soft while the spring onions added crunch.

My verdict on the new pasta shape? Yum. Nom. I'll take it. But then again, you can't trust me seeing as if I could marry pasta, I probably would. Although I'm pretty sure Fox News would denounce my life choices...

11 July 2008

Arugula ravioli and gorgonzola cream sauce

I'm a jerk. As you can see above, I completely forgot to take pictures of this dish, despite the fact that I made it special for the husband on our six month wedding anniversary last week (cheesy, yes. fun, yes.). I got some awesome (read: AWESOME) arugula at the farmers market that was more fragrant than any arugula I have ever encountered, and I needed something to make that was more substantial than peppery arugula on a chicken sandwich, so I made arugula ravioli. Yum! I must say that the arugula lost much of its peppery flair during the cooking process but the zing was slightly recognizable. Would I make this again? Maybe if I found extremely fresh, locally grown arugula again in the near future. Do I desperately want to make my own ravioli dough? Absolutely. Until I fork over the dough for making the dough, I will have to settle for wonton wrappers, which unfortunately have a tendency to break apart during the cooking process. One alteration to that process seemed to work pretty well--I sort of half steamed the wontons with the steamer insert on my giant pasta cooker. I half submerged and half steamed the ravioli, and it seemed to help keep the bulk of the ravioli fully intact.

Arugula Ravioli
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces arugula, washed, dried, coarse stems removed and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs measured from 2 slices or one half of a roll, pulsed in the food processor until reduced to soft crumbs (I used bakery wheat bread for this step)
1/3 cup finely grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg yolk (reserve egg white for sealing)
1 half-batch of fresh pasta–or–1 package of wonton wrappers
1 egg white beaten with two tablespoons of water to seal ravioli

To Make Filling
Heat olive oil in a large pan at medium heat. Saute shallots and garlic for 7 to 10 minutes, until they are soft and translucent, but not brown. Add arugula, turning and stirring it frequently, until it has cooked down, its water has largely evaporated but it hasn’t lost it’s color — about 3 to 5 minutes. Let mixture cool, then add bread crumbs and Romano cheese. Taste filling and season it as needed with salt and pepper. Add the egg yolk, stirring mixture until combined. Set aside.
To Make Ravioli From Wonton Wrappers
Line 2 baking sheets with heavy-duty foil; spray foil with nonstick spray. Place 4 wonton wrappers on work surface; cover remaining wrappers with plastic to prevent drying. Lightly brush entire surface of each wrapper with egg white. Spoon 1 generous teaspoon filling into center of each wrapper. Fold wrappers diagonally in half, forming triangles. Press edges firmly to seal. Arrange ravioli on prepared sheets. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
Cooking time will vary, depending on the thickness of your dough.

10 July 2008

Flowers Ahoy!

My garden is enjoying itself. Everywhere I look blooms are blooming, plants are planting and herbs are....herbing? Here is some more beauty:


03 July 2008

Not being technologically savvy sucks

So I just posted something that ended up at the bottom of my blog (not sure why). Look for beans, greens and the fourth of July. Does anyone know how to change the dates on blog posts? Am I forever doomed??? Should I employ a 12-yr.-old who knows what he or she is doing?

Jamaican Rice and Peas

When I was in college, there was a little Jamaican restaurant tucked into a deli in Oak Park that I used to frequent whenever I had the taste for that delicious and well-known dish, rice and peas. Of course when most people think of Jamaican cuisine, the ever ubiquitous "jerk" chicken or pork comes to mind, but the frugal and pleasantly spiced "national dish" is the beauty you see above. Great for vegetarians (just substitute veggie broth for the chicken broth/stock) and bean lovers alike, I fell in love with the simple, creamy and earthy flavors that intermingle in this dish. Sage, allspice, coconut, jalapeno, and thyme don't fight for attention but rather join forces. I can recall the first time I ever ordered it, thinking that it would satisfy my taste for peas (my obsession with peas runs deep). Little did I know however that "peas" in Jamaica actually refers to kidney beans and/or pigeon peas. I wasn't disappointed by this discovery since after the first bite the essence of coconut and the creamy yet crisp texture of kidney beans revealed to me nothing short of a miracle. My first words after consuming this dish for the first time? Mazel tov.

Here's my favorite at-home recipe for this great summer dish. I served it with chicken tacos since I was a little tired of serving black bean stew, but it's also a great barbeque party dish since this recipe yields enough rice and peas to actually feed the population of Jamaica. And thankfully, on a hot summer day, this dish does not need to stew in the pot as long as black bean stew.

Jamaican Rice and Peas

Jamaican Beans & Rice

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 chopped red or green pepper (I actually used a yellow pepper)

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 small jalapeno chili, veins and seeds discarded, minced

1 1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves (I used fresh from the garden)

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

1/2 tsp. ground sage (again from the garden)

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

2 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth (using chicken stock adds a fuller flavor)

1 can coconut milk (or use 2 tbsp. coconut cream and increase your broth/stock accordingly)

Two 15 oz. cans red beans or black beans, drained and rinsed, or 3 cups cooked dry packaged beans

2 cups cubed and peeled sweet potatoes (1/2 inch cubes) (skip this step if in a hurry but it's worth the time if you have it)

3 Tbsp. lime juice

1 1/2 cups rice (if you can, use brown rice--healthy and no one will notice with all of the colors in this dish)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven. Add onions and garlic almost soft and almost translucent. Add spices, sweet potato and peppers. Stir for a minute. Add broth or stock, then coconut milk and kidney beans. Bring to a boil, and then add rice. Turn heat to low-medium and cover. No peeking! Simmer for twenty or so minutes (or until rice is done) and remove from heat. Add a squeeze of lime juice.

01 July 2008

The bounty of summer crops

Now that summer is permanently in place for the next couple of months, my fruit and vegetable garden couldn't be happier. Of course, the 95 degree weather for the past couple of days has forced me to consider a cheap and eco-friendly way to shield my lettuce and tomato plants from the intensity of the sun, but I see some clear plastic bags and reusable materials from my fountain of junk (ie., the basement) coming to the rescue while it's still mostly overcast today. I know a lot of people go out and buy shade props, but I think this might be a useful way to get rid of some of my junk...until fall.

I've started a system for crops that has proven quite effective, but unfortunately takes up an extraordinary amount of time at staggered intervals. With a mixture of peat moss, Miracle Gro timed release fertilizer soil and vermiculite, I'm starting seedlings in my old egg crates and sour cream containers. I have learned since the last time I planted everything all at once, I cannot use up three pounds of snap peas. I just can't. I eat snap peas like many people eat potato chips, and anyone unlucky enough to sit next to me in a graduate seminar knows that I will happily munch on them until the bag runs empty. But during the summer, when the heat forces me to put the bag away and lament the lack of air conditioning in my life instead of stuffing my face, I needed a more reasonable system.

The photo above is of an old concrete sink (I imagine from a basement laundry area) that my landlord had turned into a cute little greenhouse for the side garden. It's easy really--just plant your seedlings, water, cover the greenhouse with the old recycled window frame and wait for the bounty to emerge. Once I transplant the lettuce (see above) I grew this past week, I imagine I can probably knock on some doors and share the wealth. Since the greenhouse is the perfect climate for growing seedlings, I've begun staggering their germination at two week intervals (good sense for the growing food price climate of the supermarket and even better for my gardening obsession).

And if you get the chance and you're in Pullman, stop by Scotty and Suzanne's wonderful Living in the Garden nursery, and you might just get to see some of their awesome recycled art.

Sweet Home Blogger Award

Thanks to Jessica at foodmayhem.com, I now have my very own Sweet Home Blogger Award! Woo hoo! While I'm flattered, I'm always envious of her site's beautiful pictures and her fantastic reviews. It's hard not to imagine a dish that she has described.

So on to the passing of the torch as they say.

Not Eating Out in New York: http://www.noteatingoutinny.com Another site I check religiously. The pictures are always enticing, the commentary often hilarious and humble, and the recipes....there are no words. Cathy's motto "Consuming Less, Eating More" is one I am personally in line with, and while I don't have the personal discipline to stay away from prepared food as long as she has, she is a kitchen inspiration. From what I have heard in the rumor world, Cathy's also writing a book about her experiences. She can bet I'll be waiting anxiously to scoop it up, and hopefully pick her mental cabinets for a few good recipes.