Monday, March 17, 2008

Irish Soda Bread

In celebration of St. Patty's Day, here is a yummy festive recipe for you from my mother's recipe box.

-4 C. flour, sifted
-1/4 C. sugar
-1 tsp. salt
-1 tsp. baking powder
-2 Tbls. caraway seeds
-1/4 C butter
-2 C. raisins
-1 1/3 C. buttermilk
-1 egg
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1 beaten egg yolk

1. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Mix.
2. Add caraway seeds and cut in butter. Mix until contents are "grainy".
3. Add raisins.
4. In another bowl, combine buttermilk, egg, and baking soda. Stir into the dry mix.
5. Turn dough out onto floured board or counter and knead until smooth. Shape into a round ball.
6. Grease a 2 qt. casserole dish (bonus points if it has a lid). Score the top of the ball with a cross and brush the beaten egg yolk across the top.
7. Bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees.
8. Cool bread for 10 minutes in pot or pan, and then cool on rack.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Apple Cinnamon Rice Pudding

This is really a apple cinnamon risotto, but that sounds less appetizing than rice pudding. This risotto makes a great and healthy dessert, and doubles as a tasty winter breakfast if you're so inclined. The rice will keep for a few days in the refrigerator, in a tightly sealed container.

And as always, the key to a super-creamy risotto is constant stirring. Enlist a helper.

-2 Tbls butter
-1 1/2 C. arborio rice
-1/2 C. apple wine (optional)
-3 to 4 C. apple cider or juice
-3 granny smith (or other tart variety) apples
-2 to 4 tsp. cinnamon (to taste)
-2 Tbls brown sugar
-pinch sea salt

1. In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the rice and stir constantly over medium-high heat until fragrant; about 2 minutes.
2. Pour in the apple wine, or if omitted, pour in 1/2 C. apple cider/juice. Stir as the wine cooks off and when the rice is dry, add 1 C. apple cider. Turn heat to medium. Stir constantly to allow the rice to soak up the liquid and release gooey starch.
3. Have your helper peel, core, and finely chop (1/4" cubes) the apples. Add to the skillet with the rice.
4. When rice is dry again, pour in another cup of cider. Continue stirring until liquid is absorbed, adding more liquid, stirring until absorbed, etc. until all the cider has been absorbed into the dish and rice is chewy/no longer hard in the middle.
5. Add cinnamon, brown sugar, and sea salt and stir until the sugar dissolves. Taste and season with more salt or sugar if necessary. Don't put too much sugar in, though, or the sweet overwhelms the apple.
6. Serve warm next to a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
7. Groan in ecstasy.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Curried Salmon on a bed of Morrocan Couscous

Using wild salmon is imperative--if you're lucky enough to have a fishmonger (or access to the internet) you can ask/look for Yukon King Salmon. Yukon River salmon has the highest fat content of all salmon--nearly 35% of the fish is oil. Salmon, and their fat in particular, are so good for you; they're full of Omega oil, which is beneficial for hearts and brains.

If you're not a fan of couscous, you can substitute any fragrant whole grain such as brown basmati rice or farro.

The recipe will make enough couscous for leftovers. You can add shredded rotisserie chicken to it for another filling, healthy meal.

-1 Lb salmon steak, cut into two portions
-2 tsp. curry powder of your choosing
-4 to 5 handfuls of large pearl couscous
-1 Tbls. rock salt
-1 carrot, washed and grated
-1 1/2 C. golden raisins
-1/2 C. sliced almonds
-1/2 sweet or red onion, finely diced
-1 C. to 1 1/2 C. full fat plain yogurt (a mild yogurt works well here, I used Brown Cow)
-3 to 4 tsp. curry powder (more or less to taste)

1. Preheat your oven to 450. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. Fill large heavy bottomed dutch oven 2/3 full of hot water. Add rock salt and bring to rolling boil. Add couscous to boiling water and let boil gently, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until done. Drain well and set aside.
3. Place salmon steaks, skin side down, onto the foil-covered baking sheet and sprinkle each piece with 1 tsp. of the curry powder.
4. Bake salmon steaks (if approx. 1" thick in the middle) 9-10 minutes for medium-well; adjust baking time according to your preference.
5. While salmon bakes, add carrot, raisins, almonds, and onion to the couscous.
6. Mix together the yogurt and curry powder in a small bowl.
7. Pour yogurt mixture over couscous and stir well.
8. Spoon couscous mixture into two plates or bowls. Place one salmon steak on each plate.

Dig in!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Less Process, The Better

I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth as some might have surmised... I've just been distracted by other virtual ventures and the long snowy winter has taken its toll on my attention span. I've been experimenting in the kitchen but haven't had any where-with-all to post about any of it.

At any rate, I was recently inspired by a friend: she is in the process of changing her family's diet for medical reasons. She's looking more and more at whole grains and fresh produce, as well as less fatty meats and oils, and having a hard time finding affordable sources--that aren't crap.

For her, and anyone else who is looking for unprocessed foods, I thought I'd post a list of resources for goodies I prefer to use. It's difficult to find healthy and fresh meats, produce, and pantry staples -- let alone cheaply. With gasoline near $4 a gallon and wheat trading at nearly $30 a bushel (Farm Girls know wheat used to trade in the not so distant past at $5 a bushel!) everything is more expensive. But there are cheaper ways to get the whole foods you're looking for with just a few simple clicks...

Here are some of my hints and sources for sussing out tasty treats you can feel good about putting into you and your loved ones' bodies. In later posts we'll be exploring sources for grass-fed meats and dairy, and fresh produce. Today, we'll start with Pantry Staples.

Pantry Staples

Grains, especially whole grains, are not abundant in the middle of the Midwest. Strangely enough, most farmland here is devoted to corn and soybeans, and I'm not talking sweet corn or edamame. The harvests from the fields I drive by every day end up in bottles of oil, detergents, petroleum, etc., and perhaps most insidious, high fructose corn syrup. That's right folks, the same sweetener used in most commercially processed food comes from the same plant used to make modern gasoline. But that's another diatribe for another day.

The grains and seeds I use most in my kitchen are whole wheat flour, brown basmati rice, flax, and millet. They're really, really good for you. Also, it sounds hippie-dippie, but if minimally processed grains make up the base of your diet for a few weeks, you'll soon develop a preference and taste for them over refined grains like white flour and white rice. Trust me here: at 15 my favorite food was white sandwich bread, smooshed into tiny doughy balls. Sorry Wonderbread, but the thought of you now is not only not appetizing, its repulsive.

Pretty much every grocery store these days carries whole wheat bread, but read the labels carefully because many "healthy" and "wholesome" loaves contain high fructose corn syrup. When I don't make my own bread, the national brand we buy most often is Pepperidge Farm. Most of their loaves are sweetened with brown sugar. Many varieties have other seeds and grains mixed in--birdseed bread. Yummy! If you're making bread from scratch (it's really not that hard!) King Arthur makes a great whole wheat flour for everyday use. Bob's Red Mill makes a whole wheat pastry flour and it really does make yummy pastries. If you're just wading into whole grains, by all means, gradually substitute more whole grain flour for white flour in your recipes. For most applications, it doesn't have to be all or nothing.

Speaking of Bob's Red Mill, they are a company worth checking out. Most grocery stores have a small "Bob's" display or end cap near either the baking aisle or the organic aisle, if you're lucky enough to have one. Take a peek and experiment with some of the grains and flours they offer: millet (good for your heart, and when cooked makes a convincing substitute for fluffy mashed potatoes), quinoa (a complete protein and full of cardiovascular benefits), semolina flour (for pasta), almond meal (the best cherry crumble topping), etc. You can also order their products from their website in quantity for good prices.

If you're looking to increase the amount of whole grains in your diet, then buying whole wheat pasta is a very easy route. It's cheap and if you like your "regular" pasta al dente, you'll never notice a difference. It's quick and easy to toss lots of vegetables into a pasta sauce as well. I'm always looking for ways to eat more vegetables--I don't usually like veggies "by themselves", but mixed into something else. (The Beau likes to tell me vegetables are the vehicle by which I consume dairy, ha.) I don't really have any specific sources, as whole wheat pasta is available in even crummy groceries these days. I will say that a great weeknight staple in my kitchen is Annie's Whole Wheat Mac & Cheese. It's not the gloppy neon orange stuff of your childhood, but rather tasty and grown-up. The [powdered & white] sauce doesn't have any crap in it and you can mix it with butter and milk, olive oil, or just plain water. The pasta is whole wheat of course, and it's so fast to mix in a little sauteed onion or shallots, tomatoes and/or tomato paste, bacon or ground turkey, and fresh baby spinach--e voila, you have yourself a complete meal in less than 10 minutes. (Plus the time it takes to boil water.) Annie's is one of the few pre-packaged meals I'll eat and adore.

For rice and lentils, I turn to one of my favorite online stores, IShopIndian. Their brown basmati rice is amazingly fragrant and tasty. (I wish they made basmati rice perfume!) You can cook brown basmati rice like pasta, which makes cooking rice perfectly so much easier. They stock all sorts of lentils, which are called "dal" in Hindi. Yum.

Moving on to salt and spices...

If you're using salt, do use a sea salt of some kind. This way you're getting lots of minerals in addition to the sodium. Sea salts also tend to taste saltier than typical iodized salt, so you get more bang for less buck. Sel gris (literally gray salt) is moist and slightly gray in color. I buy mine from my local market, but a Google search for sel gris yields lots of hits. More expensive but even better is Maldon salt. It's a finishing salt with a crispy, quirky pyramid structure and very salty (but not obnoxious) taste. You eat less salt than if you were eating iodized or kosher salt. Many Maldon aficionados never go back--in fact, there are quite a few converts who now carry a small bag with them when they travel or eat out.

If I'm looking for salt alternatives, I most often turn to--you guessed it--Indian spices. They're really not that scary. Do check out the spices area of the IShopIndian storefront. Indian spices are full of flavor--perfect for minimizing sodium intake without sacrificing interest--and many spices we commonly use in the West are Indian in origin. You'll find them much cheaper in Indian stores. Cinnamon, for example, is substantially cheaper and fresher on IShopIndian than in your local grocery store. If you have a coffee grinder, you can grind your own powdered spices from whole and save even more. I can purchase a 4 oz. bag of cinnamon sticks that when ground, will last me 6 months--for $3.50. (And I go through cinnamon the way some people go through diet soda.) Purchasing the same amount from my local grocery would easily top $50. I've done the math.

Just a note: if you plan on griding your own spices, be sure to purchase a stainless steel-bowl type grinder. Plastic-bowl grinders will quickly absorb the tastes of whatever is ground inside them. Mustard-cinnamon-clove coffee isn't very refreshing.

Some basic good Indian Spices to have on hand:

-Garlic, of course. Fresh garlic is the salt of Indian food. Unsurprisingly, garlic powder makes an excellent sodium substitute in non-ethnic cuisine.

-Ginger. Ginger is the other "biggie" Indian food ingredient. Often, garlic and ginger pastes are combined with plain yogurt and used as a marinade for meat.

-Jaggery. Jaggery is a kind of sugar; much like brown sugar. (Not the brown sugar sprayed with molasses, but true dark brown cane sugar.) It is most often made with sugar cane but sometimes is made from date or sago palms. If you must use sugar, please use jaggery or a [true] brown sugar when you can: they are full of minerals and better for you than refined sugars. There is evidence jaggery even protects against lung diseases caused by inhaling particulates.

-Cardamom. I could muse forever about cardamom. I adore it mixed in with ground meat. Most people feel very strongly about cardamom; they either love it or hate it. Try green cardamom pods first and use them sparingly to see if you like them--be aware that using too much cardamom, especially for those not used to the spice, will make your food taste like potpourri.

-Chilis. Even if you don't like hot-spicy foods, use a small pinch every now and then. Capsacin is very good for the body and in small enough quantity, you won't really taste the heat.

-Cinnamon. Cinnamon is a fundamental spice in Indian cuisine. Hardly anyone hates cinnamon and recent research suggests it lowers blood sugar (in a good way) substantially. Use it. A lot. There is nothing better [smelling or tasting] in the world than onions and cinnamon sweating in a skillet together.

-Tumeric. Tumeric is a spice many people are already familiar with--it is bright yellow and has an indescribable taste. Tumeric gives color and earthiness to curry blends and to rice-based dishes, and it fights cancer. Don't use too much or your dish will end up bitter. If you mix tumeric and plastic bowls or utensils, expect the plastic to be yellow forever.

-Garam Masala. Garam masala is actually a blend of spices. Every mix is slightly different and you can certainly make your own, but it's a great place to start if you want just a little Indian flavor. Garam masala isn't hot-spicy, but savory; think cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, cardamom, star anise, etc. It works really well with vegetables and red meats.

-Mace. Mace is the skin covering the nutmeg seed. It's not hot like the spray would have you believe; it tastes like nutmeg only slightly fruitier and less bitter.

-Amchur. Amchur is one most people in the West have never heard of and it is worth seeking out. Amchur is the dried (and often powdered) flesh of green mangoes. It's tart and sweet and sour at the same time. You can use amchur like you would use lemon. Yum!

-Kalongi. Kalongi is sometimes called Nigella. It's the seeds from onions. They're very earthy and just barely oniony. Talk about delicious--the seeds are perfect as a spice or sprinkled on top of or into breads. Add them to ground beef or turkey meatballs. Great with potatoes. Very versatile.

-Panch Puran. Spelled many different ways (ponch piran, punch phoran, etc.) but pronounced the same "pawnch purr ahn". Like garam masala, panch puran is a spice blend. It's native to Bengali (if you care) and is literally translated as "5 spices". The 5 spices are mustard, kalongi, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, and cumin seeds. Sometimes a spice similar to celery seed is also included. Typically it's tossed into a hot pan until it pops at the start of a vegetable curry, but use your imagination and combine it with rice or with fish. Fragrant and tasty.

Dried fruit is so good for you, and a wonderful alternative to crappy mid-winter tasteless produce. Unfortunately, most commercially produced dried fruit is sweetened with sugar (or HFCS, horrors) and contains preservatives as well. I purchased dried sour cherries in bulk from Surfas, a chef's supply store. Be sure to look at their other offerings, both food and equipment based. It's vast and interesting. King's Orchards also offers unsweetened sour cherries. Good luck searching for dried unsweetened cranberries. I have been looking for years and have yet to find a reputable source. Raisins are naturally sweet, of course, so they need little sugar. Golden raisins are my favorite; they're plumper. I love to make mild curries with rice and turkey, and sprinkle golden raisins on top. Roasted chicken with onions, garlic, and raisins is also heavenly.

So that about wraps it up for pantry items--I'm sure I'll think of more and will do a second post at that time. What are your favorite sources for yummy, unprocessed pantry staples?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Lemon Drop Martinis in a Mason Jar

I had a rather stressful house project this weekend and made a sort of Lemon-Drop-Meets-Martini to cope.

Unhealthy defense mechanism, perhaps. Delicious cocktail, definitely!

Remember, y'all, it's five o'clock somewhere.

You'll need a medium-sized mason jar and 2 chilled martini glasses for this recipe.

-lotsa lemon juice (I squeeze my own every weekend so I'm not really sure how many lemons; I'd guess 4)
-lemon vodka (Smirnoff makes a good one, though Stolichnaya is so much more fun to say)
-1/2 C sugar, divided (to taste; I used a bit less but I like mine quite sour), plus 2 tablespoons
-ice cubes
-cold water

1. Fill the mason jar one-third full with the lemon juice. If you use fresh lemons, it's so much better. And if there's pulp in there, you can convince yourself that your tonic has health benefits.
2. Add vodka to 2/3 full. This will equate to several Tara Reid style splashes. I'd guess somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 -4 jiggers.
3. Add 1/2 C sugar. Add ice cubes to the top.
4. Seal the jar and shake until sugar dissolves.
4. Pull your martini glasses out and rim with sugar if you like.
5. Add 1 Tbls sugar to each glass. Fill glasses halfway with mason jar mix (straining ice cubes out). Top off with ice cold water. Stir gently to dissolve sugar.

You'll have a little leftover for another half glass or so.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Stuffed & Rolled Turkey Breast

This makes a delicious, moist turkey breast... And it looks pretty if you're a better "wrapper" than I am.

*Note to chef: you'll need kitchen twine. Or if you discover that your cats have destroyed your kitchen twine, as I did, thin hemp twine works just fine.

-1 turkey breast, skinned and boneless but not sliced in any way (I couldn't find one, so I had to buy the whole shebang--the chest of a turkey, basically--and seperate the breasts myself
-1 package full fat cream cheese
-1 package (2 C) shredded mozzie cheese
-1 large onion or 3 small onions, minced
-2 Tbls garlic, minced
-2-3 Tbls olive oil
-1 C. frozen spinach, thawed, with all the water squeezed out
-approx. 1 Tbls each of your favorite fresh herbs--I used basil, marjoram, oregano, thyme, chives, parsley, and tarragon
-salt and pepper to taste
-vegetable oil
-1-2 Tbls sugar

1. Prep your turkey breast: butterfly it and gently pound between 2 sheets of Caran wrap until about 1/2" thick. Curse if it helps you. Don't put too much swing behind the meat hammer though, or you'll tear through the breast. There ain't no patchin' meat, kiddos!
2. In a skillet, saute the onion and half of the garlic in the olive oil until translucent.
3. Combine skillet and cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl. Rest 1 minute, and then stir until cream cheese is completely melted.
4. Add your herbs and the remaining garlic. Stir. Add the spinach and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Spread the filling over the flattened breast--the turkey's, you horn-dogs--making sure to leave 1/2" around the edge bare.
6. Now put your back into it and roll that puppy... Be careful not to get excited and squeeze too hard or your filling will go everywhere.
7. Tie the roll every inch with the twine. Tuck ends under if you can, and tie a bit of twine lengthwise to keep the filling from coming out the ends of the roll.
8. Put your roll into a loaf pan and lightly coat with vegetable oil. Use your fingers! Then sprinkle the sugar over the rolled breast. Season with salt and pepper.
9. Bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours, turning every 30 minutes.
10. After you remove the turkey from the oven, tent with foil and rest 15 minutes. Then slice and serve.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

My Cookbook of the Moment

The Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook

I say this is my cookbook of the moment but truly, it will be my cookbook forever. I've never seen--or tasted--so many absolutely delicious recipes from one book before. A friend recommended this title to me--and of course I scoffed because y'all know I'm perhaps the least likely to ever call myself a 'newlywed'--but I caved after she brought in the Moroccan-spiced chicken breasts.

So cave, y'all, and purchase this a-maaaazing collection of recipes. Your husband--or partner, or boyfriend, or girlfriend, or neighbor will thank you for it!