Ingredients

30 Days of Vitamix: Vert du Jour (Green of the day smoothie)

Green smoothie of the day - today's green smoothie has a smooth frothy texture, fiber, a bit of protein and lots of refreshing sweet-tart flavor. Sweetness comes entirely from the citrus and we get an antioxidant boost from the matcha and the mint. With a Vitamix you can blend oats and even seeds into a perfectly smooth drink. Enjoy! Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple
  • 1/2 Sumo (or other) orange
  • 1 1/2 small Japanese (or English) cucumber
  • Two small frozen kale chunks*
  • two springs fresh mint leaves, stripped off stem
  • 3 TBSP oats soaked in water ten minutes
  • 1 tsp matcha
  • small handful fresh baby spinach
  • juice of one small lime
  • juice of half Meyer lemon
  • 1 TBSP pepitas (raw unsalted pumpkin seeds)

Directions:

Soak oats in cold water while you chop other ingredients.

Chunks of apple, citrus in bottom, then add cucumber. Sprinkle in matcha, seeds, mint. Add a handful of ice and about 1/4C of cold water.

Vert_du_Jour

 

Vert du Jour

With the greens and mint and oats I kept thinking of that very old children's ditty my father once told me about: "Mairzy doats" anyone remember it? ("Mares eat oats and Does eat oats and Little Lambs eat Ivy, a Kidd'll eat Ivy too, wouldn't you? or Mairzy Doats and Dosey Doats and liddle amzy divey a kiddly divey too wooden shoe.")

Pro-Tip

*Blanch and freeze mint, or greens like spinach or kale. Freeze in Mini muffin tin or small ice cube trays then pop into zip top bags. These portioned out ready to go ingredients in your freezer make a quick smoothie a breeze. Once blanched and frozen, greens are easy to add to pastas, soups, stews, as well as your next Vert du Jour.

Spinach_mint_tin

Mint leaves ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Baby Spinach

Onigiri, Omusubi and a sometimes good Hapa

This article (thanks Rf Koda!) inspired me to create a new Pinterest board. Good Hapa/Bad Hapa which is a phrase I've been kicking around a while. Hapa is a term for half Japanese and used to be derogatory. Now hapas (of many Asian stripes) have relcaimed it as a positive. In my own life, many times I hear an internal voice scolding me for being unJapanese in some small way. Food is one of the best ways in to a culture. I'll collect some things there.

Rice Balls

Onigiri and Omusubi ("O" is feminine honorific, many drop it. In the past, one could tell when a service man learned his Japanese from a woman during the war if he used the feminine expressions of words. In Japan, men do not use these prefixes.)

So "onigiri or omusubi" are two regional words for the same thing: rice balls. Usually, but not always covered in nori. Unilke sushi rice, it is not vinegared rice but just salted. Inside is a filling of some sort, usually pickled or preserved plum or vegetables or some simmered or stewed fish.

So ends our Good Hapa/Bad Hapa lesson for the day. *bows*Final Onigiri collage

Check out this excellent article Around Japan in 47 RiceBalls. Thanks to Rf Koda for flagging this article for me. Her family grows the most excellent Japanese heirloom varietal rices. Check them out - Koda Farms!

* Tea Do in Chinatown makes great onigiri to order! Delicious treat.

So Glad You Asked! What is Canola Oil?

I'm starting a new feature here, a series called "So Glad You Asked!" - I want to hear from you. I'll tackle topics like ingredients you're curious about, techniques, recipe revisions or whatever piques your culinary curiosity...for example:

  • What coriander is? How to use it?
  • Wondering about a new cuisine and looking for a starter recipe?
  • Curious about an ingredient?
  • Pros and Cons of the latest fad or trend?

All are fair game. Simply drop a comment with your question. If you're curious, you know lots of other people are, too. I'm going to get the ball rolling by answering a question one of my private cooking clients asked about.

What is Canola Oil? 

Some people have shied away from canola oil because they don't know where it comes from. We know peanut oil comes from peanuts. Olive oil from olives. Corn oil from corn. But what the heck is a "canola" anyway?

Turns out - nothing! It's actually a made up name for rapeseed oil, originated by the Canadian rapeseed oil marketers to get around the unfortunate association we have with the word "rape" in English. Rapeseed is from the rape plant -brassica napum -from the Latin rāpum turnip. It's a member of the mustard family - see the color of the flowers below? What does that remind you of? Think of "broccoli rabe"  or "rape" ("rah-pay"), rapini. These are all derived from the same plant and name. In fact broccoli rabe is cime di rape which is "head of the turnip" in Italian. So this whole turnip/mustard/brassicacae plant family - it's one you need to know. First, because, well, brassicas = YUM. Second, they're really healthy. Third, they're easier to incorporate than you may think. Try blanching and freezing in a muffin tin. Then you've got portions ready to go into a soup, stew or smoothie.

Did you know?

Another superfood we all love today goes by a new name, it used to be called Colewort. Do you know what this is? Kale!

In fact, the Colewort family includes kale, collards, cabbages, broccoli, kolrabi ...

rapeseed oil AKA Canola

 

But what about that nasty "scientific" report I heard about? 

There is no shortage of misinformation on this product but I urge you to look at Snopes.com for a handy analysis of this silliness. One of the oft-cited "dangers" goes back to the historic uses of rapeseed oil in China. Taking what was grown primarily for livestock feed (a common purpose for the plant to this day) the seeds were pressed into oil but not refined. Today's Canola oil is refined. What difference does this make? Nutritionally the older version of unrefined rapeseed oil was not healthy for high heat cooking. It contained potentially unhealthy levels of erucic acid. Some animal studies in the 1970s showed ill effects from erucic acid.

Today's Canola oil is a different product. The composition is actually a very healthy oil. Canola oil contains more oleic acid and alpha linoleic acid than erucic.

From WebMD

  • Canola oil has 7% saturated fat, compared to 12% for sunflower oil, 13% for corn oil, and 15% for olive oil. There's solid evidence low fat is not the answer, it's the type of fat we should be concerned about.
  • It is very high in healthier unsaturated fats. It's higher in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than any other oil except flaxseed oil.

canola

Uses for Canola oil

Rapeseed oil has a light, neutral flavor and high smoke point. It's a great choice for dishes when you don't want the flavor of olive oil or peanut oil. It can be used in salads, stir fries, even baking.

Look at this gorgeous Chiffon Cake made with Canola oil in place of butter.

  • Canola oil has the lowest saturated fat
  • is trans-fat free
  • is a good plant-based source of Omega 3 fatty acids

More info on Omega 3s.

And if you have food allergies, as I do, you need to know what oil your restaurant is using. "Vegetable oil" can be problematic if you have soy allergy, for example. Here's a great post by Amy (Adventures of an Allergic Foodie) that covers some of the fine points. Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil: What You Need to Know. From what I've read, there's some room for disagreement on whether highly refined oils contain enough particles to trigger a reaction. As Amy discovered, you may have to learn what your body will tolerate. Hopefully you can avoid trauma in the education process.

 

So Glad You Asked about Canola Oil. 

Now, what other culinary questions do you have?

 

30 Days of Vitamix: Lemon Meringue Pie Smoothie

One of the best things about winter is citrus. Enjoying citrus on a cold, snowy morning is one of our digressions from "eating local." I have had lemon chess pie, lemon bars, and lemon meringue pie on my mind. Thanks to my in-laws, I have a big supply of beautiful, organic Meyer lemons. This is a delicious and healthy smoothie that evokes a lemon meringue pie, with a side of virtue.

Enjoy!

Lemon Meringue Pie Smoothie

  • Juice & zest of 1 lemon, preferably Meyer
  • 1/4 C plain soy yogurt (you can use any plain yogurt you prefer)
  • 2 Tbsp oats
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1-2 tsp ground flax
  • 1/3 C frozen banana slices
  • 1/3 C frozen mango chunks
  • 1 tsp honey, or more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • handful of ice

Lemon meringue pie smoothie

 

  1. Buzz up the oats in the Vitamix first, for a smoother texture.
  2. Add fruit, mango for sweetness and banana for custardy texture. Yogurt also adds protein and smooth tartness.
  3. Add ground flax seed, ginger, lemon juice and zest, egg whites. (If you're worried about raw egg whites or immune compromised, omit or use pasteurized cartoned egg whites.)
  4. Top with a handful of ice and set your Vitamix on smoothie.

 

 

 

Tips:

  • Did you know: heart healthy oats are a cinch to incorporate in smoothies? In this one, I buzzed up the oats first for a really smooth texture.
  • Egg whites are a good source of protein
  • Flax seed brings all kinds of nutrition- ALA or alpha-linoleic acid for one. Buy whole flax seeds and store in your freezer. I grind about a half a cup at a time and keep it in a shaker jar on the counter. Shake on/in smoothies, shake on oatmeal in the morning, salads at night.

Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies - Dipped and Salted and Wonderful

It's easy to love a site that delivers consistent recipes you can trust. There are a couple I turn to often, particularly if I'm making something I haven't made in awhile. I know I can trust their straightforward technique and reliable results. Elise Bauer's Simply Recipes is as advertised. Simply Recipes. Check out her chocolate crinkles. I have adopted her recipe as a regular in my rotation and I like to mix matcha powder in the confectioner's sugar. Michael Ruhlman also writes in a confident, clear voice and I enjoy the expert comments and his wife Donna Turner Ruhlman's beautiful photographs. Check out his All Strain cloths. I'm a new convert and I'll be writing about them soon so stay tuned.

Milk and _______

COOKIES - yes? YES. I favor savory and salty more than sweets, maybe that's why I cannot stop eating these peanut butter cookies. This is positively the best recipe I've found for peanut butter cookies. Many of my clients seek Kitchen Confidence help when they'd like to improve their health and their enjoyment of food. Sometimes they think it means they have to give up cookies like these.

PB Cookies2 4 (1)

 

Personally, I don't do deprivation well. If I try to deny myself something I like, I only wind up craving it more. Instead, I've worked on other things, like portion control and exercise. Another new rule is that any "junk" should be homemade. Much easier to control the quality of the food if you make it yourself. Cookies are a perfect example. Buy a box at the store and you're likely to get all sorts of salt and sugar and chemicals you don't need. And they won't be as satisfying as homemade. Ever.

When I bake cookies, I can not only omit the dairy, eliminate contact with tree nuts, for my allergies (very hard to control in store-bought); I can also use healthier flours and make just the cookies I want. The other thing you can do when you follow the "if I make it myself" rule is to freeze dough and just make a small batch at a time. Just because a recipe produces 6 dozen cookies doesn't mean I have to have 6 dozen cookies sitting around making eyes at me.

PB Cookies2 2 (1) PB Cookies2 1 (1)

 

 

I made a couple dozen for sharing and rolled the dough in parchment paper  and popped it in the freezer. When the next craving came on, I did some exercise first then sliced and baked one dozen. Inspiration and good dairy-free chocolate struck, so I melted, dipped and sprinkled with a little bit of crunchy Maldon Sea Salt.

Perfect.

Big Thanks to David Leite, Founder of Leite's Culinaria - another of my favorite and very reliable sites. I had the pleasure of interviewing David years ago, around the time his first book came out. He was already quite well-known but could not have been nicer to talk to. I love his book. His site has one thing many sites do not have: testers! You KNOW a recipe he posts will WORK. This is culinary gold, especially for new or less confident cooks. Nothing irritates me more than when a client shows me a recipe they "failed" at - and I look at it and can instantly see it's a crap recipe. From an untested site.

I recommend these sites, this cookie recipe and don't worry about having cookies in the house. You know "Leite" is Portugese for milk? How perfect is that?

 Cookie PlatterPeanut Butter Cookies, Chocolate Crinkles, and Bourbon Orange Chocolate Truffles

Jam thumbprints in the back.

30 Days of Vitamix - Say hello to Red!

I like red for so many reasons. It's lucky. It's life. It can pull me out of blue. It's the color of World AIDS Day, the color of Women's Heart Health. And it's just plain sexeh.

Meet Red

There's my early Xmas/Birthday present: a Pro Series Vitamix in Candy Apple Red. I'm calling her "Red." She's strong. Powerful. Occasionally loud. Gets the job done. I think we're going to be good friends. I hope she'll last half as long as my old handmixer did. (see Ode to a Handmixer.) That little Black & Decker handmixer, bought my first year of law school just died. I mean, like last week. The Waring anniversary blender a couple weeks ago. I thought I could make do with the food processor but I'm telling you, I'm a fool in love.

Red

There's Red. She's a beauty, isn't she?

 

As I registered her, I saw something about an affiliate program. Well, stay tuned on that.

#30DaysofVitamix

I'm starting a new series here: "30 Days of Vitamix". I'll be including posts on using the Vitamix. I'll cover techniques, ingredients to know, tips, and recipes, including some healthy and some boozy inspirations. Frozen Negroni anyone?  Here's a taste of just some of the things we'll be writing about soon.

 

 

Vitamix Collage

Thanks to my wonderful husband for this terrific gift! A great addition to the family!

No Soggy Bottoms! One Perfect Pumpkin Pie with Meringue Topping for Thanksgiving

Who doesn't love pie? I do, and I have had to learn to make them at home since the advent of my dairy allergy. Impossible to eat one out. Pie without butter? Is it any good? Yes. Yes it is. This recipe represents the best of three different recipes and many years of hosting, preparing, feasting. I culled two techniques from the venerable Rose Levy Berenbaum, a crust I love from Amy Traverso and a meringue topping from David Leite. I'll share the full recipe below along with some other terrific tips I've picked up along the way. Won't you join me? Pull up a fork!

two apple pies
two apple pies

Apple Pies for a birthday girl

strawberry_rhubarb_pie
strawberry_rhubarb_pie

Strawberry Rhubarb 

sweet potato pie
sweet potato pie
pm pie
pm pie

One Pumpkin Pie to Rule Them All

Pie Nation, Pie Boxes and more

  • Crust Dust: If you're making a fruit pie, this tip from Pie it Forward is worth the book. Gesine Bullock-Prado makes beautiful pies and some of her best tips can be yours. A soggy bottom is not a good thing. Not in most situations and certainly not in pies.
  • If you're taking a pie to someone's house, the Pie Box is essential!
Pie box 2
Pie box 2

Large enough to accommodate an Emile Henry pie dish

Pie Rules

There are some rules I'd say are non-negotiable.

  1. Make sure the fats are cold, and stay cold.
  2. Work quickly, calmly and with authority. If the fats get warm then pop it back into the fridge
  3. Always let the dough rest before rolling it out. But wait - Dorie Greenspan doyenne of Parisienne food says maybe not? Leite's Culinaria's Renaee Schettler Rossi asks "WWDD"? What Would Dorie Do?

Hm. Seems we have been given permission to ignore some of the rules. I'M IN!

Unified Pie Theory

So here's my unified theory of pie. It's okay to break rules and pick the best parts of various recipes.

My favorite crust at the moment is from Amy Traverso's Apple Lover's Cookbook. The Double Crust pie is a winner. To that, I add Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie & Pastry Bible. I use the cooked custard technique as well as her terrific technique of crushed gingersnaps to line the bottom of the pie. It helps prevent the dreaded soggy bottom, much like the Crust Dust above for fruit pies. If you can enjoy nuts add pecans to the gingersnaps. 4 (2") gingersnaps and 1/4 C pecan halves. I just use 6 Snappy Gingersnaps.

Also, cooking the pumpkin puree and spices, blending in the food processor makes for a smooth, rich filling.

Finally, I loved the addition of a meringue topping and all who enjoyed it agreed. I have Leite's Culinaria to thank for that inspiration. Pumpkin Meringue Pie. And if you need some pie crimping ideas, say no more.

GivingThanks Daily - Today's tips and recipes for a stress-free Thanksgiving

I've just put my pie dough in the fridge. Made crackers for pre dinner nibbles. (Pretzel crisps from Ivy Manning's great Cracker's and Dips book, a gift for anyone with food allergies who cannot find salty, crunchy snacks in the grocery store.) I'll do some other things tonight and work on tomorrow's post and last shopping list. Picking up the turkey tomrrow! How y'all doing? 

Today's To Do:

1. Create a List of Notes for Thanksgiving 2015 (done)

2. Make ginger snaps (done)

3. Make and freeze or can some cranberry something (done)

(okay, this post is a few days in the making...) 

Your New Cranberry Recipe:

This year I'm adding Cranberry-Raspberry sauce from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry. More soon on that. For now, I'll just say, if you've had any thoughts about preserving, making jam, pickles, charcuterie or wondered what to do with those wonderful pantry items after you've created them, this is the book for you. If you've hesitated because you thought you might not be able to do this without someone showing you step-by-step how to do it; this is the book for you. If you thought you really didn't need one more canning book; this is the book for you.

I can't wait to share more with you. I've got a couple other things up my sleeve. For now, let me say this will be part of our Thanksgiving this year and I could not be happier. Many swooning cooks out there are splattering the pages of their copy of this book. Many are posting lovely recipes. I'm sharing this link from from Kate at SnowFlake Kitchen because her post includes a COCKTAIL which was one of the first things I thought of when I tasted this.  Come on who's got a new Thanksgiving cocktail using some cranberry sauce?

 

Cranberry 4

Sexy Sauce

For now, I promised to share my cranberry sauce recipe.  Remember the "I heart spreadsheets" post yesterday? Here's why #3 makes so much sense. Otherwise I may have forgotten that adding pomegranate seeds was a win.

 

Tomorrow: Pie tips

  • Crust dust
  • Breaking rules (AKA "WWDD")
  • Pumpkin pie to beat all pumpkin pies (I pull together three recipes for the single best, most awesome winning pumpkin pie)

 

More Links for You

 

Are you a traditionalist - same menu every Thanksgiving or a try something new type? I've been dying to try an Asian or a Southwest version. Have to do it on one of the other 364 days of the year though.

What are you working on this Thanksgiving?

Colossal Roundup of Thanksgiving Recipes - Including our Black Pepper- Fennel Seed Biscuits

Good friends Denise and Lenny AKA ChezUs.com have compiled a gorgeous round up of dishes from across the country. They've culled the blogs and compiled a mammoth list of terrific links to recipes for every component of your Givingthanks meal. If you're looking for a little inspiration grab a mug of tea and click away!  

black pepper fennel seed biscuits

 

Black pepper - fennel seed biscuits. These are dairyfree, "buttermilk" biscuits.

Pro tip: Biscuits are an easy thing to make ahead and freeze.

Scones Fit for a Pascha - or Holiday Guests

Delighted to share another recipe I developed for Pascha Chocolates. Find the recipe here on their site. These are free of the top 8 allergens, free of gluten, too. You could make them with regular ingredients if allergens are not part of your family, too.

SCONES_FIN 006

 

These include blueberries but you could use cherries or even dried cranberries for a holiday treat. I also cut them into smaller squares for little hands. Please enjoy!

 

Witches, Marathons and Meetings - Falling for Fennel

Fennel is one of my favorite spices. While actually the fruit of the fennel plant (Foeniculum vulgare ) we typically refer to these tiny ridged and fragrant fruits, as seeds. fennel seed

The word “fennel” derives from the Roman for “fragrant hay” and has a lovely scent. I adore the fennel bulb, shaved thin in salads, roasted with root veg, or diced into marinara. I save the fronds to top salads or fish and the middle, green stalks go into my stock bag in the freezer. Fennel pollen is said to be what angels would sprinkle from their wings.

Fennel apple celery2

Fennel grows or is cultivated in temperate climes the world over, but is most associated with Mediterranean and Indian cuisines. Chinese Five Spice powder includes it, as does the Bengali version, panch phoron. Italians call the plant finocchio (also a slang term for cross-dressers) and admire the flavor as well as the quality of aiding digestion.

  • Back in Shakespearean times fennel was thought to ward off witches. Some believe it has magical powers including protection, longevity, purification, and healing.
  • Marathon (Marathonas) is the place where the Greeks defeated the Persians in 490. It is said the fields were abundant with fennel.
  • Puritans brought “meeting seeds” to chew during long sermons, dill and fennel were among them.

Fennel_Collage

Clockwise from top: Bulb of fennel; fennel, celery, Granny Smith apple; fennel pollen pork chops; shaved fennel, green apple, celery salad, fennel fronds, fennel pollen. 

Using Fennel Today

We now know that fennel is an excellent source of Vitamin C. It’s got antimicrobial qualities as well as potassium, and antioxidants. Many cultures value its mild anise or licorice flavor and chew the seeds after eating both for breath-freshening and to aid in digestion. Garnish fish dishes or salads with the fronds. Pork and chicken both love fennel. Try the seeds in your next rib rub. Or how about in biscuits?

Fennel_biscuit

 

Recipe: Fennel Seed - Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits

Teaching Kitchen Confidence clients biscuit technique is always a delight. Everyone loves a biscuit! I always recommend Nathalie Dupree's Southern Biscuits cookbook. I've modifeld her recipe ever so slightly to include a generous amount of both fennel seed and freshly ground black pepper. I also modified it to make them dairy-free, but you may feel free to use dairy.

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups AP flour (+ 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tabelspoon fennel seed, crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup chilled shortening roughly cut into 1/4" pieces
  • 1/4 cup chilled shortening roughly cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I use So Delicious Dairy-free Coconut milk, soured with 1-2 tablespoons Bragg's Cider Vinegar)
  • softened butter for brushing

A note on ingredients: I like to use a combination of Nutiva Red Palm and Coconut Oil and Spectrum All Vegetable Shortening.

Directions:

A note on technique: Perfect biscuits require attention to three Ts: Technique, Temperature, Touch. Technique - fold and pat - no kneading! Cut straight down, not turning! Temperature - cold fat. Touch - quick work makes tender biscuits.

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Butter a 9" cake pan or large cast iron skillet.
  2. Measure your shortening and use a butter knife to scoop into 1/4" and 1/2" size pats. I wipe the knife on the edge of a bowl. Place bowl in freezer to harden the fats.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk 2 C of flour, baking powder, salt, spices, baking soda.
  4. Take the shortening out and pinch the pats into the flour, beginning with the smaller chunks. Be fast as you don't want the fat to melt. Snap and rub the larger chunks into the flour.
  5. Make a hollow in the center of the flour-fat mixture and pour in 3/4 C of the butter milk. Mix just until dry ingredients are moistened and you have a sticky dough.
  6. Lightly flour your clean counter, turn the dough onto the counter. If some flour remains in bowl, dribble a little more buttermilk into the bowl to pick it up.
  7. Pat or lightly roll your dough out to about 1/2" thickness. Fold and pat a few times, working quickly and ending with a dough circle about 3/4" thick.
  8. Use a biscuit cutter, dipped in flour, cut straight down, remove biscuit to pan. An offset metal spatula is helpful. Cut close to maximize first batch, the re-rolled scraps will be less tender but still tasty.
  9. Lightly brush biscuits with the leftover buttermilk.
  10. Bake 6 minutes then rotate pan. Bake another 10 or so minutes until they're golden brown. (milk and milk substitutes brown differently, you may wish to turn on the broiler a minute or so to get a nice brown top.)
  11. Remove from oven, brush lightly with soft butter.

These are perfect with Curried Kuri Squash Bisque, with turkey or pork meals, or just on their own. ENJOY.

 

An Evening of Beer, History, and a Boatload of Oysters

  Well I'm on my way shortly here to a terrific event at Harpoon Brewery.

Imagine a giant Venn Diagram with Oysters, Beer, History, Culinary Geekdom all intersecting. THAT is where we'll be tonight!

 

CB

An Evening of Beer, History, and a Boatload of Oysters... Tickets, Boston - Eventbrite.

CIS Chix, A Step in the Right Direction, Towards Dinner. My Chat with National Geographic's The Plate

I was delighted to speak with Charlotte McGuinn Freeman and Maryn McKenna of National Geographic column, The Plate. Bring Back Home Economics: Three Food Writers on Teaching People to Cook – The Plate: Maryn McKenna.

The three of us were inspired by the success of Leanne Brown's Good and Cheap, a cookbook designed to address the needs of people receiving public assistance, showing them how to cook on an extremely limited budget. See Could You Eat Well on $4 a Day?

Many of us manage to feed ourselves and our families  well, while many more struggle with the basics. Some lacking money, some lacking skills, for others it's both. Have you ever come home from grocery shopping and wondered what the heck to do with all the random stuff you bought? So often people have mentioned to me that they don't know how to roast a chicken.

Cast Iron Cooking

The topic of how to use a CIS never gets old (see the Kitchn for this recent post and its long comment thread). I love my cast iron skillet and it's the perfect vessel for people on a budget. They're cheap They're nearly indestructible. They are multi-purpose tools that can be used to fry, roast, and bake. In fact, the older they get, the better.

Five steps to roasted chicken

 

On Gastrodiplomacy and Teaching Cooking

One of the ideas I've had for "selling" the need to schools to reinstate home ec is to make it an interdisciplinary learning platform. It's easy to use cooking as a way to teach simple things to youngsters (e.g. which is wet? which is dry? which bowl is the biggest? the smallest?) all the way up to university (culinary anthropology, history, politics of the plate and just this week the first PhD of Chocolate program was announced.)

As if by magic while I was photo editing, magically, this link appeared today in my Facebook stream. Gastrodiplomacy: Cooking up a Tasty Lesson on World Peace. At American University they're doing just this sort of food-centric interdisplinary teaching, though there it seems to be centered around eating out, rather than cooking. No reason we couldn't have both.

During our chat, we lamented the old days of the Food Network. When Molto Mario had the pull-down map and would cook while teaching history, geography. Alton Brown's Good Eats that teaches very basics to fancy stuff in a straightforward and entertaining fashion.

While we think about food, cooking as a life skill and how to reinvent Home Economics, let's first just roast a simple chicken.

Cast Iron Skillet Chix

I realized I keep thinking of this as "CIS Chix" Cast iron skillet chicken. "CIS" is a new term used in the field of gender identity studies and advocacy. It's a way to challenge the assumed majority behind the current thinking of gender. Rather than "transgender" as the "other" we can view sexuality on a continuum from CIS to Trans, CIS simply means someone who identifies with the gender that would be culturally assigned to the sex one has been assigned at birth. So I'm CIS female, identifying myself as female and having been born with those parts.

So dinner + an update from the gender identity front. Learning makes me hungry. Let's go!

 

Step 1 - Get a CIS

They are so very useful and cheap. You will use it a lifetime and then hand it down to some fortunate friend, nephew or niece. In fact, a garage sale is an excellent place to scoop one up for cheap. They're easy to recondition. They're also cheap new. But any way, just get one already.

Step 2 - Get a chicken

Commercial chickens are fed such horrible diets and are raised in such awful ways, that we limit our intake to Lilac Hedge Farms or Bell & Evans from Whole Foods.

Step 3 - Optional step - air dry chicken

Letting chicken rest in fridge nekkid, will allow the skin to dry out. This is a good thing if you like crispy skin. Overnight is best but even 1-3 hours will help. This method of roasting makes it less necessary than regular lower heat roasting but I try to do this when I can because I adore crunchy, crispy things.

Step 4a - Optional - herb butter

Again, totally optional. If you're at all new and feel overwhelmed. Skip it. You can simply rub a little oil or butter and sprinkle with S&P. Really. It'll be fine.

If you are inclined, chop some herbs up, maybe mash some garlic with some salt and then mix with softened butter. Or maybe you have a dried herb blend you could add to butter or oil. You can slide some between the breast meat and skin. And/or simply massage your bird with the seasoned oil or butter.

CIS Chicken 7

Step 4 - Pop the thighs open

The chicken's, not yours. That comes later if you like. Right now simply grasp the drumstick and thigh and bend down/outward from the body. You will feel a pop and see the tip of the thigh bone peek out. This is good. When your bird hits that preheated skillet, the dark meat will instantly begin to cook. This evens out the differential between the breast meat and thigh meat. A common challenge is cooking the thigh meat thoroughly enough without drying out the breast meat. This technique solves that issue.

Step 5 - Preheat oven to 500 degrees with the skillet

Place your empty skillet into your clean oven and preaheat to 500. That's a very hot oven. (Most chickens roasted in conventional ways go into a 350 or so oven.) Once the oven and skillet are preheated, carefully slide that hot pan out and place your chicken right on that dry, screaming hot skillet.

CIS Chicken 6

Now, you will have 30-40 minutes to do with, what you like.

CIS Chicken 10

At 30 minutes, I usually add some greens to the pan. Carefully, with tongs. The greens will begin to wilt in the hot pan and rendered chicken fat (mmm chicken fat). This particular day I added chard (stems chopped, leaves cut into ribbons) and two cloves of garlic, sliced thin. I had these GIANT leaves of rainbow chard so I just used two leaves.

CIS Chicken Chard

I also began my potatoes roasting. Back around step three, you can place potatoes in a pot of boiling water and par cook, till they're tender but not fully done. Then in our final roasting step, you add a sheet pan to the oven with some schmaltz or duck fat or high heat oil (not olive oil, it will burn). Again, the hot pan starts the crisping of the potatoes. CIS Chicken 14When the potatoes are done, drain the water, toss some smoked paprika, salt and pepper with the potatoes you've lightly smashed in the hot pan. Put the lid back on and shake the bejezus out of it. This will coat all those potatoes with the seasoned flour. Scrape all that good stuff onto the pre-heated sheet pan, and back into the oven. Toss them around the pan to get some fat/oil on all the potatoes.

Your chicken will be done around the 40 minute mark. Carefully remove that hot iron pan and beautiful bird - placing on a trivet or the stovetop. (I like to leave a potholder on the handle of the pan to remind myself not to grab it. The CIS will retain heat for a long time.) Let the chicken rest. Resist picking at the crispy bits if you can.

CIS Chicken 12

If you'd like something fresh, you can toss chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, thinly sliced onion with some olive oil and a splash of vinegar. These are purple cherokees and green zebras.

CIS Chicken 15 CIS Chicken 16

 

 

Coconut Chai Panna Cotta

This is an easy recipe that comes together in minutes. I was inspired by two beautiful mangos, sitting on a platter in my kitchen. I also drew inspiration from Josh Lewin's list of indispensible Indian ingredients. A nice prelude to his upcoming Bread & Salt dinner, you should go if you haven't dined with Josh and Katrian yet. Or even if you have. Thinking about the ingredients I love and the items on hand, I put this panna cotta together.

Roses and a Queen

 

Culinary rosebuds figure in the cuisines of ancients Romans, Persians, Indians all use them and rosewater is distilled essence of rose is a favorite ingredient in baking. Gulab jamun is an Indian sweet of fried balls of sweetened condense milk drizzled with rose scented syrup.

Cardamom, those little green pods in the photo, are a wonderful addition to both sweet and savory dishes. Known as the Queen of Spices you might be surprised at the diversity of ways you can employ cardamom. Along with rose, it's a component of ras al hanout the complex spice blend that gives tagines of North Africa their unique fragrance. It appears in rices, curries, puddings and cookies.

Cardamom is in the ginger family the aromatic pods have notes of camphor, eucalyptus and pine. Hand-harvested and air-dried, it's nearly as costly as saffron. It's native to India's Ghat Mountains and Sri Lanka. In India one of the first foods babies are fed is cardamom-scented rice. Try dropping a pod or two in the next pot of rice you make or substituting cardamom for cinnamon in cookies. coconut chai panna cotta 2

Coconut Chai Panna Cotta

Panna cotta literally means cooked cream. It's an easy dessert, especially well-suited to dinner guests and warm weather. Why? It needs to be made ahead of time! Panna cotta is a favorite of mine as it's easy to make dairy-free. In this version I use a combination of canned coconut milk as you find in Asian markets and coconut based milk alternatives you find in regular grocery stores.

Chai spices are warm and often contain cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg. Here's a lovely story and recipe from my friend Raghavan Iyer.

A note about vanilla sugar: Have you ever used whole vanilla bean? It's wonderful and the great thing about the fragrant pods is that you get dual use from them. Usually recipes will ask you to scrape the sticky middle out of the pod - but don't throw away the pod itself! Drop it into a jar of sugar and put in the cabinet. In a short time, you'll have vanilla sugar. Use one bean, whole or scraped to 2 cups of sugar.

Ingredients:

  • 1 14 oz can coconut milk, divided
  • 1 packet gelatin (you could also use agar agar for a totally vegan version)
  • ~ 1/2 C milk substitute (like So Delicious Coconut Milk)
  • 1/4 C vanilla sugar (or regular sugar + 1/4 tsp vanilla)
  • 6 dried rosebuds (culinary)
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • 1-2 TBSP chai spice (here I used the last of my Arvinda's blend)

Directions:

  1. Reserve about 1/2 C of cocunut milk in a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over it, whisk to dissolve.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring remaining coconut milk/milk subst (to fill 2 C measure) just to boil with with sugar, chai spice, rosebuds and cardamom pods. Do not scorch, reduce heat to medium.
  3. Stir until sugar has dissolved and milk has become infused with the spices, just a few minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, whisk in the dissolved gelatin (which will look like snow-white mashed potatoes at this point.)
  5. Strain into small cups. Decorate if you wish with rose petals, chill.

coconut chai panna cotta 1

Serve with slices of fresh, ripe mango.

 

Tuscan Garlic & Herb Salt

Herbs and Spices can enliven your cooking with out added fat. Simple herb salts like this one can play well with lamb, beef, chicken and pork. It's also terrific on roasted potatoes. Mix it into softened butter or olive oil to roast a chicken or sprinkle over barley. You're getting the picture, right? True utility player. photo 3

One of the best ways to perk up your cooking is with fresh herbs and spices. But what about dried? We always worry they’ve been kicking around the spice cabinet too long. Often, we are correct.

Here’s a post with tips on various spice blends as well as links to some great resources. One of my new favorites, is inspired by Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s Splendid Table.

I call it Tuscan Garlic & Herb Salt. I use quite a bit less salt than her recipe calls for and it’s heavenly on a roast chicken (place a little with butter under the skin), with pork, or potatoes. It’s so simple to make, and your hands and house will smell divine in the process. Try it with these proportions and adjust to your own tastes.

The technique could not be simpler:

  • Take one bunch of fresh rosemary, one of fresh sage, about 4-5 good sized cloves of garlic and about 1/4 C of Kosher salt.
  • Peel the garlic cloves, removing any green sprouts (they indicate the garlic is a bit old and they’ll add bitterness.)
  • Pick the sage leaves from their stems, zip the rosemary leaves off their woody stems by pinching and dragging in the opposite direction from how the grow (tip backwards).
  • Give your garlic a few rough chops and begin adding herbs and salt. Chop, chop, chop with a good sharp knife, holding the tip down with one hand and bringing the handle of the knife up and down — much like one of those old school paper cutters.
  • Dry out on the counter on a cookie sheet for a couple of days or overnight in the oven with the light on/or if you have a dehydrating function set to low.

It’s done when it’s no longer moist. This time will vary depending on the method you use and where you live.

Store in a pretty little jar, or any old jar, but just try it. I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

photo 2

Now, get chopping! Need to brush up those knife skills? We’ve got you covered with Kitchen Confidence!

 

Sobremesa "over the table" stories and laughs: the very best part of the meal

I had planned a Japanese meal in my head. I really did. Little braised meatballs made with okara, nimono soy-simmered vegetables, hakkusai with yuzu kosho, rice, miso soup...my favorite matcha panna cotta. Then a little bug (me) a sprained foot (him) got in the way of the shopping. As I began to mull over alternative menus for this upcoming dinner, I stumbled across a random tweet or post somewhere with the word “sobremesa” which I’d totally forgotten.

It’s a simple word that conjures such warmth, evoking more than a single word should. Sobremesa, literally “over the table” it refers to the lingering conversation, laughter that happens with friends after a good meal. The Spanish have elevated it to an art form, of course, and many Latin cultures carry on after dinner in this way. I’ve seen dinner parties that seemed as if the whole evening was only foreplay. Dancing might break out. Joking and naughty tale shared or a remembrance of the last party, absent friends are toasted.

This is the warm feeling people will remember fondly, long after the meal. When we were planning our wedding and I reached the freaking-out point, Caleb stopped me and said, "This is our day. What do we want people to remember?" I said I wanted them to be filled with warm memories of good food and a good time. That clarified things for us and I was able to (mostly) ignore the distractions that came along with that process. Almost ten years later, I think that’s what folks remember from our wedding.

tapas

Sobremesa

These are the best moments in life when the phones are put away, the laughs continue, the stories unfold.

When you’ve eaten, drunk wine. You’re comfy, maybe a little fuzzy, but enjoying the company - when the right pieces come together -- this is what you get: sobremesa. People don’t want to leave the table.There may be nibbles and crumbs, the last dregs of one bottle, the need to open another. Maybe another round of food, or at least some cookies or bread comes out. Some digestif. On and on it goes.

Begin with the end in mind

This is how our dinner comes together - I begin with the end in mind. I think this is a good starting point for anyone planning a dinner, a party, a brunch, even a wedding. Don’t be distracted by someone’s notion of “the perfect dinner” or the “ultimate appetizer” or “drop dead gorgeous dessert.” Stress is the number one killer of any party plan.

Think of a good time, create an atmosphere that will invite your guests to relax. Some nice music, not jarring, not too loud, a lively but gentle soundtrack for the evening. Some candles for a soft glow. Think about what you can do ahead, so you too, can relax and enjoy your company. Our guests this night: Elissa Altman, author of Poor Man's Feast and her wife Susan Turner, Senior Designer at Random House who just published the Big New Yorker Book of Cats. My former Duckathalon teammates had yet to meet Doc. It was their anniversary, too. Much toasting ensued.

I was trying to make a meal with some gluten-free options, dairy-free, but all delicious.

Here’s what we ended up with:

  • Coca de Pimientos Rojos y Tomates - Catalonian Flatbread with roasted peppers and tomato; one with chorizo, caramelised onions and roasted peppers. (not gluten-free, but I needed to test the Baking Steel and wanted a variety of nibbles.)
  • Jamon w/figs - Fold jamon with figs, spear  (in my case, scrunch jamon, spear with figs macerated in their own syrup)
  • Tortilla Española - made ahead, cut into squares (gluten-free)
  • Gambas al ajillo - sizzling garlic shrimp
  • Paella "Brut"- chorizo, chicken, shrimp, peppers, artichokes ("brut" means rustic, not really one or another regional style)

paella brut

Bubbles to celebrate good friends, accomplishments, plans, the new year. (La Vida al Camp Cava - Macabeu, Xarello, Parellada grapes I came to know in Valencia. Bright citrus notes, good acid, fine bubbles usually found in more expensive bottles. One of the top 100 wines of 2013 according to the International Wine Report.)

Wine with dinner - Garnacha from old vines: a perfect blend of new world fruit forward and old world structure and minerality. Garnacha (Grenache) . (Breca Garnacha 2011)  Drinks well above its price point. Robert Parker said:  "Frankly, I was at a loss for words when I tasted it. It may be the most amazing wine I have ever tasted at this price in over three decades. The wine world is changing, and Jorge Ordonez and his associates deserve a huge amount of credit for producing something this remarkable at this price point. Consumers should fill their trunks with these beauties."              

Matcha & black sesame layered panna cotta with lemon-ginger simple syrup; genmai cha.

IMG_1044

Chocolate velvet poundcake.

choc velvet pound cake

Fernet Leopold - Amaro from Colorado, minty, herby, lovely.

And laughs. And stories. More laughs. Ah... sobremesa the perfect end to an evening.

Dead Easy Chocolate Snack Cake - Spiked with Chile

When I was freshly diagnosed with my dairy allergy, I was lamenting to a friend that my days of cake were behind me. Not so fast, she said. You've gotta try this recipe for "Amazon Cake." No dairy needed. Well, I've no idea what part of the "Amazon" this thing hails from, but tongue firmly planted in cheek, I gave it a whirl and added some geographic flair.

Amazon_Collage_tagged

Chocolate-chile Spiked Snack Cake

If you recall the boxed "Snakin' Cake" of the '70s this is something like that. Needs no frosting. A dusting of confectioner's sugar if you like. Or ice it, you could even make a double batch and frost it. Here, I've added a hint of heat, a bit of Kahlua, and some espresso. You may easily omit all three - using a full 1C of water.  Ancho chile is a mild chile with chocolatey undertones, it pairs well with chocolate.

Making with or for kids, simply omit the chile and Kahlua. You could pretend that dusting it with confectioner's sugar is making it snow!

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups sifted flour (I use 1 C AP and 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tsp espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
  • 1 C cold water minus 1 TBSP
  • 1 TBSP Kahlua
  • 5 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

 Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar and salt.  If using, include espresso powder, chile here.
  3. In a large liquid measuring cup, measure 1C of cold water, replace 1 TBSP of it with 1 TBSP of Kahlua, if using.
  4. Whisk together the oil, vanilla and vinegar with the water.
  5. Whisk into the dry ingredients, blending until completely lump-free.
  6. Pour into a greased 9-inch round cake pan.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently.  Cool before removing from pan (yes this matters)  and dusting with confectioners’ sugar, or frosting if desired.

 

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

 

Happy New Year 2014 - Hope and Resolutions

On this side of the first storm of the year, we're hunkered down, cooking and baking and grateful for our work-at-home status. We've got about one foot of snow so far and north of the city (where Doc works) they got two feet!

I guess I missed my opportunity to empty the pots and clean up my fire escape garden...

Snowy pots

I saw this tip on a Pinterest board and added it to my Beautiful and Useful Things board. I love the look, as well as the idea of putting something out for our feathered friends. If you're on Pinterest, come find me and see what I'm curating there. I have boards (essentially virtual or online bulletin boards) on various interests from travel, to Eating and Drinking, clothes, Cookbook Hoarders, random interesting things. I've just started a board on Chinese New Year and on New Year, New You. I have a board for Kitchen Confidence tips, too.

And now that it's up - we wait for the birds to discover this wreath of cranberries, sunflower seeds, spelt flakes and amaranth seeds.

Hoping, Resolving, Doing

As we look forward to the New Year, think about ways to look after others - whether birds or people. I'm hoping to develop a regular habit of small kindnesses. But hope only gets us so far. Resolutions, too. Rather than resolutions (often grand statements that are not quantified and to which we lose accountability round about mid-January), why not think of resolving in this way:

  • Take a broad goal, such as "eat more vegetables" and make it quantifiable.

Goals we can count, measure, track have a much greater chance of being incorporated into our lives than mushy, if well-intentioned ones. How about "make one new vegetable dish per week?" Even if you chose per month by next January you would have tried a dozen new things!

You can take something familiar, say carrots. And learn a new way to eat them. If you currently only eat them in juice or salads, learn a roasted carrot recipe. I'm very intrigued by roasting carrots, (try with cardamom and oil or add a touch of honey and vinegar at the end). Or simmer with parsnips and finish with butter and cream if you want to add some indulgence. Or bake into muffins.

Alternately, you can pick an entirely new vegetable. Kale Chips anyone? If that's not new to you, how about celtuce? Or Shanghai bok choy?

Sometimes it helps to have a group that you can be accountable to. I began 30 day fitness challenges a couple months ago and am now on my fifth having done abs, arms, squats, butt. Thanks to Vivian for the inspiration! Now doing burpees and alternating days of the others. Crazy. You can find the Omni Fitness Challenge group on Facebook if you want to join us.

Next!

I saw another idea I liked, I think the author called it a happiness jar. Each day random moments of joy or happiness happen, then we forget about them. Her idea is pause to write them down. Then she puts the paper scraps in a large jar. Later in the year, I guess on a bad day it would be particularly useful, you can reach in and pull one out to remember. I suppose you could use social media like Twitter, or Facebook to mark these moments. I try to end each day with a pause to think about what I'm grateful for. Usually, I forget. A new habit with a physical presence might help.

I would suggest a stack of pretty paper, like origami paper, next to a jar. That would be a visual reminder. This would be fun with kids.

  • Want to do a food challenge? Root vegetables? Grains? What would you choose? 
  • Are you on Pinterest? We could do a group board and we could pick one vegetable a week and each post how we made it.

What are your goals? What creative ways have you adopted to bring these ideas into practice?