B is for basil and burdock- day 4

A nutrition researcher at the U of M was on MPR today talking about childhood obesity. She introduced a relatively new term, which identifies an issue facing adolescent populations today. “Food illiteracy”. She told a story about a 9 year old boy to whom she was providing dinner. She placed a baked potato in front of the kid.
“What’s that” The child asked, totally ignorant of the relationship between the brown crusty thing on his plate and his favorite side dish which comes in waffle, shoe string, steak, seasoned, and chili cheese variety.

I confess, I didn’t actually hear the program first hand. I was walking back from the gym, watching a squirrel greedily dig up a hidden stash of acorns, and marvelling about how similar his stare down resembled that of a park junky. The phone buzzing in my pocket caught me off guard. I hit the green button.
“Oh hi” I said. In an era of caller ID there is no need for formalities.
“Do you realize that some kids don’t even know what a potato looks like?” Christina launched right into her reason for calling.
“I am not surprised” I said, remembering my experience working with the Minneapolis high school kids on a farm.

“Will you go and pick some basil for me?” I once asked a kid.
“Whazzit look like?” he replied, puzzled.
“Well, um, it’s green and..” Words failed me. The baggy clothed student cocked his head to the side and rolled his eyes and said.
“howm I supposed to find that. It’s ALL green out dere!”
“Okay I’ll come with you” I said, slightly bitter because I did not want to leave the stove. We shuffled out into the field, and I felt my bitterness fade as I watched the kid bend down and pick the leaves I pointed to. He brought them to his nose and sniffed a little.
“Damn, that smells goooood” he said (I didn’t want to break the moment to scold him for swearing, so I let it slide). We filled our basket with basil, and went back into the kitchen. He clutched a sprig of basil in his hand for the entire rest of the day, wafting it in front of his friends, braving the risk of being taunted, and teaching them how to read in the language of food.

B is for basil and burdock

Kinpira Gobo
Peel and shred (using the shredder attachment on a food processor makes this process easy)
3 burdock root pieces (about 1 foot long)
5 large sweet carrots
In a large frying pan, heat
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or just use 2 Tbsp toasted sesame if you love the flavor)
add the shredded burdock and carrot and
4 cloves of minced garlic
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp mirin
cook for about 15 min on medium to high heat, stirring constantly. Turn the heat off and add 1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds and 1 tsp rice vinegar
This is a slightly different version of the traditional Japanese dish, I am told that the Japanese do not use vinegar and add a bit of sugar to their recipe.

Basil and citrus honey mustard dressing on chopped romaine
In a large salad bowl, whisk
the juice from 1 lemon
the juice from 1/2 orange
2 tsp honey
2 tsp grey poupon Dijon mustard (I considered using wasabi, but I couldn’t find any in my cupboard)
1 1/2 tsp french basil
1/2 tsp ume plum vinegar
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp chopped leeks
When the dressing is thoroughly mixed, add about 1/2 a large bunch of chopped romaine lettuce. Season with salt and pepper (and orange zest if you want to get fancy)

Salmon
Rinse and pat with a paper towel until it is EXTREMELY dry 12 oz of salmon (assuming 2 very hungry people are eating this dinner) Now, here is my salmon trick. Coat the bottom of your frying pan with olive oil, and heat the pan until it is really hot, almost smoking. Place the whole fish face down in the oil and immediately shuffle the pan a little so it doesn’t stick. It is really important that the fish is dry, because otherwise the oil will pop up and burn you (and you get a better brown that way). Cook for about 1 min, then flip to the skin side and do the same thing. Remove from the pan and place into a baking dish. Squeeze the juice from 1 orange on top. Add the whites from 2 leeks, some salt, pepper, and orange zest. Shake about 1/2 tsp of soy sauce on top. Sprinkle lightly with brown sugar (as though it were salt). Bake at 350 for about 15 min (or 12-18 min, less if you prefer it pink, more if you like it a little well).

Enjoy!

Christina’s vote: I would consider doing time for this dinner.

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28 days of dinner at home- Day 3 Equipt dinner

The little shih tzu sat perfectly poised on the spongy black matted floor, his paws turned out like a ballerina in first position. The fur around his eyes was stained brown, and contrasted with his perfectly groomed white fir like smeared makeup on a fashion model. His head moved gently up and down, eyes never blinking, as he followed the repetition of my pulls. I was hanging, lengthwise, from a low bar, my legs splayed out in front of me like a person lodged under a car.

“10 more reps! Go!” Leslie said, her voice pure with cheer. “Pull from your lats, not your biceps” Said Jeff. “Imagine pulling your elbows down” Leslie chimed in. The dog just stared, coaching me with his eyes. He was the toughest critic in the room. “Tomorrow you are going to feel like you have been kicked by a mule” Jeff said. The disconcerting thing about this statement is that if anyone knows exactly what being kicked by a mule feels like, it’s Jeff.

Jeff was raised on a farm, then after moving to the twin cities entered into a career as a personal trainer. It was here that he met Leslie, an established marathon coach with the most impressive endurance running history of any woman I have ever met. Leslie has run for over 100 miles straight around the same 3 mile stretch. Together Leslie and Jeff started up Equipt fitness, a small personal training studio, where they employ the many marvelous uses of the kettle bell. They have a keen eye for poor form, and can tell you exactly how to adjust your movements so that no time in the gym goes to waste.

When Leslie asked me if I wanted to work on a fitness challenge with her, I felt honored, and jumped at the opportunity. Specifically, we are planning to build up to being able to do a respectable set of pull-ups. Why pull-ups? Why not pull-ups! So this afternoon, I found myself hanging from a bar with crooked arms, shaking to near convulsions, watching the shih tsu on the floor silently stare me down. ‘is that all you got’ the dog seemed to say. His bottom teeth protruding out of his mouth. Then I heard Leslie’s voice, “Three, two, one”.
I dropped to the floor.

Simply roasted chicken with zucchini saute and sweet leek rice.

The chicken
Preheat the oven to 425. Rinse and pat dry
2 split chicken breasts (with the bone and skin on)
Take 6 cloves of garlic and cut the tops off, leaving the rest of the skin on. coat the bottom of a casserole dish with a few tsp of olive oil and place the chicken and garlic in the dish. Massage the top of the chicken skin with about 1 Tbsp butter, then sprinkle with a little salt. Put the dish in the oven, uncovered, for 20 min. Then take the chicken out and turn it over and cook for 5 more min. Take it out a final time, flip it over again and sprinkle with fresh thyme and oregano (or dried). cook for 10 more min, until the juices run clear. Take the garlic out of its shell and use as a garnish.
optional: Before cooking the chicken, bruise some fresh lemon grass with the side of your knife and add it to the pan. I swear it gives the chicken a lemony flavor (Christina said she didn’t notice it, so I have left it out of the recipe).

The zucchini
2 zucchini
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
6 sun dried tomatoes, re hydrated in hot water and drained
fresh ground pepper
fresh thyme
fresh oregano
Heat the oil and add the salt and zucchini. If you wait until the oil is hot to add the vegetable, the zucchini will absorb less of the oil and not will have a more fresh flavor. Add the garlic as soon as the zucchini starts to sizzle. When the color of the zucchini changes from stark white to greenish yellow, sprinkle the herbs and sun dried tomatoes (diced into small pieces). Season with ground pepper.

The rice
Take yesterdays Persian rice out of the fridge (assuming you have leftovers). If you do not have leftovers, see the previous post. In a small pot, heat a tiny bit of oil (enough to cover the bottom). Add 1 leek, rinsed, halved, and sliced (use only the white part). After they soften but before they brown, add 1 cup of the cooked rice to the leeks. Give a few stirs, turn off the heat and cover the rice until ready to serve.

Christina’s vote: I got to eat a good meal and work my bicep bringing my fork to my mouth!

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28 Days of Dinner at Home: Day 2- Letter to Friend

Dear friend,
I know that things are really hard right now. You feel like you have just stepped out of the warmth, and everything is cold and unfamiliar. Sharp edges dog your path, threatening to bite you with steel teeth. The world is moving so fast that it makes you spin, and you just want to pull the covers over your head and scream. With each clumsy new task you attempt, you feel more and more doubtful. Gravity threatens to pull you down, like a baby spoon dropped from a highchair. With a splat everything is messy. You clench your fists and close your eyes and hope to wake up when it’s over.
Upon the backdrop of your inner eyelids, you watch a movie of your life. See how you dropped the edge of the table, lifted your little sausage link legs, stomped out a little march, and then promptly toppled over. How good it felt to cry hot tears, and to be swooped up and held!
Remember when you walked into the new school. You screamed because you didn’t want to leave those arms. You couldn’t imagine a whole day without them! After you were too tired to carry on, the little girl sitting next to you handed you a piece of macaroni. It was not long before you discovered a new talent for macaroni art. Your were so pleased with yourself!
Remember when you failed that history test. You were so embarrassed that you hid your test score from all the other kids, and ran out of the classroom. Something made you tell your brother when you got home, and he made you laugh at your attachment to the idea of instant perfection.
Remember when you learned, as an adult, how to swim freestyle? You could barely get from one end of the pool to the other, and you felt humbled and out of breath every time you tried. “Enjoy this time” your friend said “because soon you will swim with ease and you will take it for granted”. She was right.
With every encroaching shadow you have learned to grow toward the sun, twisting this way and that, adding new rings to the pattern of your life. Each time the shadow comes you seem to forget how to find the sun, until the gentle wind whispers against your leaves and you suddenly feel yourself glistening.
Just wait.
It always comes.
Eggplant Kuku with Persian Dill Rice and Sesame Carrots
Note: I have never made Kuku before, so I loosely followed a recipe out of the divine Najmieh Batmanglij’s “New Food of Life”(I highly recommend this cookbook if you are at all interested in the elegant and labor intensive art of Persian cooking.)

Eggplant Kuku

1 medium eggplant
~1/2 cup grapeseed oil
salt
2 small yellow onions, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
2 Tbsp Sabzi (can buy from Caspian if you are in MN, or other Persian market)
3 tsp saffron water (dissolve 1/4 tsp saffron into 1 Tbsp hot water)
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 Tbsp all purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
I made this recipe with the eggplant skins on. You can peel them if you prefer. If you peel the eggplant, do that first..then slice the thing into rounds. Lay them flat and sprinkle them with salt. Allow them to sweat out their brown and foul tasting liquid. Squeeze them into a paper towel and pat them dry (they should be quite spongy now). Heat about half of the grapeseed oil in a frying pan and add the eggplant. Add the onions, and a pinch of salt, and stir until everything browns and gets a little mushy. Add more oil as you need to to prevent sticking. If things get too hot, you can de-glaze with a little water or wine (I actually accidentally used sherry vinegar, we’ll see how it turns out!) Add the garlic and cook a few min more. Remove from the heat, pour the mixture into a bowl and mash with a fork.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with a fork and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Then add the eggplant mixture, blending thoroughly. Lightly oil about 8 or 9 muffin tins and spoon in the dough. Bake at 350 for 30 min.
Persian Dill Rice
2 cups long grain Basmati rice
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan)
4 cups water
liberal amounts of dill
Saffron water for color (see above)
Wash the rice until the water runs clear (or about 10 times haha) in warm water. Persian rice is fluffy and light, and not at all sticky. This is why it needs to be washed, so that each grain exists as an exquisite, individual entity. Pour the washed and drained rice into a pot with the oil and salt already in the bottom. cook until the rice dries, then pour in 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until the water is gone. Remove from the heat, and fluff with a fork. Sprinkle with dill and saffron water before serving.
Sesame Carrots
slice 4 carrots thin
season with 1 tsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil and some toasted sesame seeds. Adjust to taste.
Christina’s vote: A dinner filled with love.
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28 days of dinner at home- Day 1


Inside Out Pork Cabbage Wraps With Chili Spread, Warm Root Vegetables, and Home Baked Lavash:

Recently, while flipping through a magazine, I saw an article about a New Yorker who committed to dining only at home for 2 years. This I consider to be quite a remarkable feat considering the wealth of restaurants in the city, and the cultural tendency for New Yorker’s to rely on them for nourishment. Most of the people I know who live in New York use their refrigerators mainly to store restaurant take out cartons and condiments (with the occasional appearance of a fancy cheese or some Looza juice). I was impressed by this woman’s resolve to commit to cooking for herself. I brought it up to Christina. “Do you know what this woman did? It’s amazing, why aren’t we living that way!” Christina raised an eyebrow. “Do you want to do that?”

I thought about what it would mean to give up restaurants. There would be benefits. There would be no more driving around full parking lots on Saturday nights, slowly stalking people as they amble out toward their cars hoping that we can snag their spot. There would be no more interruptions during critical moments in our conversation by overly ambitious waiters. No more super salty food and puffy eyed morning after regrets. No more filling our stomachs to the point of pain because of not being able to decipher a normal portion size out of the mound of food which had been presented to us.

There would, of course, be drawbacks. What about our evening walks, where we sometimes find ourselves called by the fragrant wafts of onions grilling and bread toasting. Wouldn’t we long for the leisurely ease of slipping into a cushioned booth and having delicious treats placed before us. What about the people watching in restaurants that Christina loves, and the menu reading that teases my taste imagination. Neither one of us has forgotten about our raw foods experience, and the dis-ease that comes from the act of restriction. “No, I don’t really want to do that,” I said. “but I do like the idea of doing more than soup and salad recipes…how about dinner?”

Lavash

Lavash is a type of Iranian flat bread. I found many different recipes for Lavash and modified them to fit the ingredients and the amount of time I had.

1 ¼ cups warm water

1 tsp active dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

4 cups all purpose unbleached flour

1 ½ tsp salt

1 egg beaten

2 Tbsp melted butter (I think this makes a crisp Lavash, so leave it out if you prefer something softer)

olive oil (to cover)

Poppy seed, sesame seed, and cornmeal.

Dissolve the yeast in the water and add the sugar. Let sit for 10 min. Add 3 cups of the flour, mixing well (about 5 min). Add the egg and butter. Knead the last cup of flour into the bread (using more or less if you need to). Cover with olive oil and plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Punch the dough down and separate into 5 balls. Let sit 5 min. Roll the balls out and top with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. Place on a hot baking sheet in 400 degree oven (sprinkle some cornmeal underneath the dough to prevent it from sticking). Bake for 10 min. on one side, then flip the breads over and bake for 10 min. on the other side.

Chili spread

Remove stems and seeds and simmer 1 dried Ancho chili and 1 New Mexico dried chili in 1 cup of water. Turn the water off and blend the chili’s with 3 cloves of garlic in a mini food processor. Add 3 tsp sugar, 1 tsp red wine vinegar, 2 tsp olive oil, 3 tsp apple cider vinegar, ½ tsp soy sauce and 1 tsp Worcester sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, or whatever else tastes good to you.


Pork

Pound out 2 pork loin chops by covering the chops with a Ziploc bag and pounding with a hammer (don’t actually put the chops in the bag, just put the bag on top of the meat so that there is some protection from the hammer). Paint one side of the chop with chili spread. On one side add some of the cooked vegetable mix (see below..you can add this even if the veggies are not quite done cooking yet as they will cook more in the oven). Roll the pork loin chop and place in an oiled baking dish. Spread some melted butter on the top. Bake at 350 for about 45 min. Remove from the oven, slice and top with chili spread.

Warm Root Vegetable Dish:

In a frying pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil. Add 1 very small sliced onion and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Add ¼ rutabaga and 2 cups diced green cabbage. Add 1 Tbsp butter and ½ tsp salt. Add about 2 Tbsp water, cover and simmer until the water is gone. Add 2 diced carrots, and recover. Turn the heat off and let sit until the rest of dinner is ready. When dinner is ready, reheat the vegetable medley and season with a little rice vinegar.

Christina’s vote: Couldn’t ask for a better beginning. Five stars on the chili spread!

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Vacation at Home Posole


It is Spring break and I have been pining for a vacation. The travel magazines stared out at me from their racks at the gym, like puppies in a pet store. I could have visited with one for the afternoon, but at the end of the day Morocco would have had to be placed neatly back in her pen, and I would have left with my imagination salivating. All last week, my Hungarian professor had been calling me to come in and assigning me typing projects

“I just need you to draw just a few more structures for me…is that okay?” She would say.

No, actually, I am too busy, I thought. You should have asked me to do this last week and not last minute.

“Sure, no problem” I say, smiling sweetly, yet beneath my eyes I am overcooked. I aspire to fool the world into believing that I can handle everything.

“I will be out next week” she says “ve are going on vacation to Mexico..what’s the matter, are you okay, you are not veeling vell?” She says as my eyes start to water. “I am fine, just a little tired, thanks for asking.”

In reality, my craving for a vacation is really just a sign that I need to give myself permission to take a break. I don’t travel well, I never have. I am a notorious vacation ruiner in my family. I once pouted through an entire two week trip to Puerto Rico.

I reflect on this at my desk at home, as I sift through the chemical structures she has asked me to draw. “She makes me so mad” I say to Christina, looking for empathy. “No she doesn’t, you are mad at yourself for not knowing how to say no”. Then mutual laughter. I think of the plaque above my parents sliding glass door that says ‘just say no’. A friend of theirs made it for them because they are unrelentingly over-committed.

The day after finishing my work for the professor, I stopped into her office. “are you all packed for your vacation?” I asked her. “you know somesing” she said, “ve are not gowving!”

“why not?” I asked. “I am too tired. Ve are going to rest and have a vacation at home.” Yes, I thought, this is what I will do too.

When I woke up this morning, I reminded myself that I am on vacation. I also said it about 50 times yesterday throughout the day. “I am on vacation” I said to Christina, during a silent moment in the car. “I know honey, that’s great.” she said. I said it again when we got to the coffee shop, then when we got back into the car again. “I know, I know” she said “that’s great”.

I decided to make a soup that I could really relax with, something that has many levels. Something that releases smells all day long. This pozole recipe begins with roasting a chicken, which is a perfect thing to do on a 60 degree spring day, when you can heat up the kitchen and open the windows without freezing.

Chicken stock:

You can buy this, but I suggest making your own since you will need the cooked chicken to go in the soup.

In a 400 degree oven, roast

1, 4 lb chicken. (brush the outside with butter first, and stuff the inside with 5 garlic cloves, a small bunch of fresh oregano and a small bunch of fresh thyme). When the chicken is done, remove the skin and the meat and set aside. Put the carcass in a large soup pot (about 12 inch diameter) and cover with water. Add 1 Tbsp salt, 2 chopped yellow onions, 5 peeled and chopped carrots, 4 stocks celery. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 2 hours.

Hominy

In a separate pot, boil 2 cups white hominy and 1 cup red (if you can find it, if not you can use canned hominy). If you are lucky enough to have a source of hand made hominy, then it won’t take long to cook it. Just bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 45 min. If you have a dried store-bought variety, you will need to begin boiling the hominy when you put the chicken in and let it slowly boil all day long (about 4 hours). Alternatively, you could soak it overnight and then cook it as you would hand made hominy.

Take the stems and seeds out of 5 large dried New Mexico chilis, and 3 ancho chilis. Simmer them in some water, then blend in a small blender. Drain out the liquid and set aside.

In a large soup pot, add

1 tsp grapeseed oil

1 large white onion, diced.

3 cloves garlic mashed

2 tsp salt

heat for 4 min, then add the chili water.

Add the chicken meat (all of it)

½ small green cabbage (shredded)

the stock (the desired amount)

the hominy, drained

garnish with limes, radishes, and cilantro

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The co-op shopper vegetable soup


“Just to clarify, how much of the flour do you use for the ravioli?” said the smokey voiced newspaper editor on the other end of the line. I paced nervously around the living room, a hot phone glued to one ear causing a stream of sweat to form at the base of my ponytail-lifted temple. “Um, well you won’t end up using the whole pile, it really depends on the weather..just enough until the dough is sticky” I said, feeling stupid. “People will follow your directions EXACTLY” she said “you need to give precise directions, and we don’t have the space to explain all that” I began wishing I were more careful in recording my recipes, more organized.

“I loved that soup you made last week” our friend Gerry said “and I wanted to make it, but the recipe looks difficult to follow”

I am reminded of the saying: when one person tells you that you have a tail it is probably not worth worrying too much about, but when two people tell you you have a tail you better check to see if it’s true. The good news is, once the tail is identified, something can be done about it. One could accentuate one’s tail, cutting slits in the backs of their pants so that the tail could break into the light of day and be waved around free in the wind. In the case of my recipe vagueness, embracing the quality is extremely tempting (who wants to bother with bookkeeping in the kitchen?). It is not very useful, however, and does not fall in line with what I am trying to do.

“What ARE you trying to do Emily?” I ask myself.

If I had a mission statement, it would sound something like this: “To try to inspire people to cook at home, and to inspire the home chef with ideas about how to palatably use fresh produce in everyday cooking.” While sharing my love of food, some stories, and some vague recipe ideas is nice, and entertaining for me, it is not incredibly useful if my recipes can’t be replicated. Thus, I have lined up the measuring cups like soldiers ready for battle. I have a pen and some paper on my kitchen counter. I have called in for the backup set of measuring spoons. I am ready to face my tail head-on, and to begin a new phase of blogging. The mission: to share love, stories, AND recipes that are easy to follow.

On a side note, today is my father’s birthday. I got a lump in my throat while talking to him on the phone this morning, as he told me about what everyone ordered at his birthday dinner last night. I wished I could have been there, but he lives halfway across the continent. The people in my family have very different tastes and dietary restrictions, and finding something that can be enjoyed by everyone can be extremely difficult.

Macrobiotic, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, gluten, casein, soy free, Midwestern-New England vegetable soup. This recipe has a lot of ingredients, however I made sure to record careful measurements of everything I put in, so hopefully it will be easy to follow!

The stock

In a stock pot, add:

2 small yellow onions, chopped

½ Tbsp salt

1 cup water

4 cloves garlic, mashed

bring to a simmer. Prepare the remaining vegetables while the first group of vegetables simmer (about 10 min). Roughly chop and add:

1 cup white mushrooms

½ package of celery

6 carrots

½ Tbsp salt (again)

8 cups water

4 Thai basil leaves

1 Tbsp four peppercorn blend

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (uncovered) for 1 hour. After the hour is up, turn off the heat, strain the stock, return it to the burner and begin the soup.

In a medium sized soup pot, add:

1 Tbsp olive oil

½ tsp salt

½ small yellow onion, diced

½ large russet potato, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced (the smell that reminds me of college)

¼ rutabaga, peeled and diced

2 cups stock

simmer, covered, while you prepare the remaining vegetables (about 10 min)

Add:

5 white mushrooms, diced

1 zucchini, diced

¼ cup cauliflower, broken into small pieces

2 more cups stock

simmer covered for about 10 min. Then add:

12 ounces crushed tomatoes (I used a can of organic, seasoned with basil)

1 tsp dill

¼ tsp white pepper

½ tsp french basil

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp salt

the remaining stock

Simmer for 15-20 min, covered

garnish with 2 chopped green onions and 1 bunch chopped Thai basil

~enjoy

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