Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Portabella Mushrooms Revisted

Here's the picture of the burger I wrote about a few weeks ago. This time, the burgers were even better, if that was possible. My cooking buddy broiled the mushrooms in the oven for 10 minutes or so (until you could hear them sizzling and steam coming off of them). We used a different type of Brie, not triple cream, and it was even softer so that the cheese could be spread across the bread and melt! It looks a little big for the mouth but it has amazing squishing ability because of the ciabatta. It was just fabulosa!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Curried Potatoes

I just adore potatoes in all forms so I came up with this recipe. It's Indian comfort food for the soul. I made it last night with success.

Makes 3 servings
Time: 30 minutes

-1 1/4 lbs (about 4 good sized) Yukon gold potatoes, diced
-1 tsp mustard seeds
-1/2 c diced onion
-1 tbsp vegetable oil (I use canola)
-1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
-1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
-1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
-1/2 tsp chili powder

Cut the potatoes in half length wise. Cut each halve in half again (as if you were scalping a head -- a terrible thought, yes - but the best way I could describe this action. Then cut these into 3 or 4 slices length wise, and then cut into 1/4 inch cubes/rectangles more or less. The smaller the potatoes the faster they will cook.

Heat oil on medium heat in non-stick pan. Throw in mustard seeds and cover until you hear them pop. Add onions and saute until soft. Throw in potatoes and stir until they are thoroughly covered in oil. Toss in all spices and mix until thoroughly absorbed by potatoes. Cover pan, lower heat, and let cook for 15 minutes until potatoes are nice and soft! Occasionally check on potatoes to makes sure they aren't burning and give a quick stir. The non-stick pan is recommended for this dish as it will eliminate burning and other cooking mishaps.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can't really go wrong with the spices -- if you toss in a bit too much it's not going to make the recipe bad or anything. When I made this recipe last night, I only added 1/4 tsp red chili powder but didn't taste it at all hence the modification to 1/2 tsp. You can add more onions (or less) depending on your preference and taste. When they are in season, I sometimes I toss in a small tomato.

Serve with your favorite Indian bread or corn tortillas. This stuff is so darn good if I do say so myself. The picture doesn't do this dish justice and the yellow color is not food dye -- it's the turmeric.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rant of the Week

When I work, I work. When I eat, I eat. It isn't too often that I work and eat simultaneously. I once commented to a former co-worker that when I eat, I really take the time to enjoy my food and that I make it a point not to work while eating or do activities that distract me from eating. Eating time is eating time. She laughed at me and said, "You must cook really interesting foods." She missed the point but to be fair, I couldn't articulate what I feel about food which is that it gives me such immense joy. I like the smells, flavors, and looks to name a few.

For example, in the mornings I like to eat oatmeal with milk, a little brown sugar, and flax meal. Sometimes I throw in a banana or blueberries. When I wake up, I can't wait to eat this breakfast. I try to motivate myself to get up, get my work out out of the way, in anticipation of the first bite. Sometimes I skip my work out.

The 2.5 minutes that it takes for my oats to cook in the microwave can't go by fast enough for me. I'm a like a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse but with infinitely less patience. I stir in my flax meal and brown sugar, and seat myself at the table. I close my eyes, place my hands around the bowl, taking in its warmth, while my face becomes little dewy from the steam of the milk. I open my eyes to see those nutty little oats poking through the frothy white surface. The mild scent of brown sugar tingles my nose while the hairs on the back of my neck stand as the the sun lightly beats down on my back. And then I dig in and I relish every moment. I scrape down my bowl and lick the last tender morsel off my spoon. I am immensely satisfied but a little sad when I see the bottom of my bowl.

Ok, so I really love eating but this breakfast experience I've described is a 15 minute endeavor (including microwave time!). These few precious minutes set the tone for my day and my frame of mind. I won't give them up.

I wouldn't give them up at work either. I would get so irritated (for those that know me, also imagine lots of eye brow action) when co-workers brought their cell phones into the lunch room so that they could continue their work. I wanted to chuck those darn things out the window, not to mention the wall phone (in a kitchen?)! Do people talk while they're in the shower? When is work so important that you can't take 15-20 minutes to just sit, eat, and not talk shop?

I was so excited when I came across a passage (p. 8) in Natural Health, Natural Medicine that articulates my feelings toward eating. Andrew Weil says that our state of mind while eating dictates how well our bodies digest food. But he also talks about giving eating the attention it deserves, just as we do with any other activity.

Thoughts on this?

I'm a bit miffed at myself as I just realized that tomorrow morning I will not be having my delightful breakfast -- I ran out of milk today!

Indian Chickpea Spread

I have to say that I'm now mildly offended by any sort of store bought dip. Companies add so much bad stuff that you can longer taste the primary ingredients. A few weeks back, I commented on the Athenos brand hummus which tastes sweet because of high fructose corn syrup. It masks the taste of the chickpeas themselves which aren't naturally sweet.

Having made two dips this week that are both tasty and so quick and easy to whip up there's really no need to buy them. I know people get a bit intimidated but the white bean dip I wrote about a few days back is seriously a 5 minute endeavor with ingredients you most likely have in your pantry. It would take longer to go to the grocery store to buy a ready made dip, no?

Anyway, I was cruising Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites and found this aromatic and flavorful dip that I tried out on my book club last night. You won't find this in any grocery store.

Makes 2 cups
Time: 20 minutes

-1/2 c minced onions
-1 tsp canola oil
-2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (I prefer minced)
-1 tsp ground coriander
-1/2 tsp ground cumin
-1/2 tsp garam masala
-1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne (I used 1/4)
-1 cup diced tomatoes
-1 1/2 c cooked chickpeas (16 ounce can)
-2 tsp fresh lime juice
-1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
-salt to taste

In a non-stick pan, saute onions in the oil on low heat for about 5 minutes, until softened. I think this step is really important that some folks over look -- a nicely sauteed onion makes a big difference in flavor. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, garam masala, and cayenne and saute for another minute, stirring constantly to prevent sticking (and burning). Stir in the tomatoes, cover, and gently simmer for about 5 minutes.

While this is going on, drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. In a food processor, grind the chickpeas with just enough reserved liquid to make a smooth puree. Stir in the puree into the simmering tomato mixture, add the lime juice and cilantro, and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes. Salt to taste.

Serve hot or cold. I served this with crackers, tortilla chips, and baby carrots.

I used 1/4 tsp cayenne and when the spread is hot, you can feel the heat more but not in bad overwhelming way. When the dip cools down, it's much more tempered but the cayenne still makes itself known. I cheated and used canned diced tomatoes (salted) because tomatoes are not in season. Plus, canned tomatoes provide the necessary juices for good simmering that store bought tomatoes sometimes lack.

By the time I realized I didn't have a good shot of the dip, it was all gone! The picture does not do it justice.

This dip is addicting.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I haven't been a fan of oatmeal cookies because the one's that I have eaten have come from a store bought package. These cookies are filled with who knows what. Have you noticed that oatmeal cookies in stores sometimes tend to lack oatmeal? These cookies should be called something like "X Cookie with a Bit of Oatmeal." But since that's such a ridiculous name that wouldn't sell squat, companies end up deceiving their customers by misnaming their cookies. Enough of that I say.

I have now decided that nothing from a store can beat what can be made at home with a little care and some time. I found this recipe on cakerecipe.com a while ago which rated this recipe 5-stars. I've probably made this recipe 3-4 times now and it's been a favorite at our home.

This is a substantial oatmeal cookie.....not just a few flecks of oatmeal here and there. It has 3 cups of oatmeal -- now that's what I'm talking about! I love the way these taste -- perfectly sweet with an occasional bite into a chocolate chip. It's a little piece of mouth heaven.

Makes 27 cookies

-1 cup (unsalted) butter, softened
-1 cup packed light brown sugar
-1/2 cup white sugar
-2 eggs
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 tsp baking SODA
-1 tsp salt
-3 cups quick-cooking oats
-1 cup chopped walnuts (I left these out)
-1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Mix in the quick oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Comments and Tricks
1. First, this recipe did not make 42 cookies. It made 26 plus one small hardly cookie. I don't think I made unusually large heaping spoonfuls or anything.

2. At 12 minutes, the cookies looked like they weren't done. In fact, they may even look a little 'wet' on top but that's just the butter! This is the way the cookies are supposed to look. This is keeps the cookies moist and chewy. They will continue to cook in their own heat. So don't cook them for longer or you may dry out your cookie (and that's worse than under baking).

3. In general, and not just for this recipe, one should use unsalted butter so that you may control your salt intake and the flavoring of your food. If you use salted butter, you may want to halve the salt amount or eliminate it altogether (so I've read in the reviews).

4. My first batch looked awesome -- the cookies spread out so nicely. The next batches did not spread out as much. This did not diminish the taste just the 'look.' In reading some of the reviews, it says that if this happens it's because the dough has become warm so between batches the dough should be kept in the fridge! I'll have to try that the next time and report back.

5. Add 1 cup of oatmeal at a time -- it will make it easier to blend it into the dough. As you add more, you may need to use your hands to blend everything well. This is what I do.

The critics
I read a few harsh reviews of this recipe. I poo-poo those folks a bit. Lots of comments commented on the low flour to high oatmeal ratio. Well, this is an oatmeal cookie! Some commented that this ratio made it difficult to blend the dough. Yeah it may be a little tough but if you dig in with your hands, you should be fine. It's only in the last 50 years that we've developed all these kitchen gadgets. Some times they work and some times what we're given at birth works better. Don't get me wrong. I love gadgets and have some. But think back to the good old days when such gadgets were unavailable. When something went wrong in the kitchen one could really only look at themself for the error -- there wasn't a gadget to blame. So I leave this entry with that thought.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Roasted Broccoli Revisited

Well, here's a picture of the roasted broccoli I wrote about a week ago or so. This time, I peeled it in the hope that this would make the stems a little less tough. Sadly, the extra effort did not help as much as I thought it would. Nevertheless, still tasty! The first time I made this (without peeling the stems), the stems didn't really turn brown, only the florets. This time the stems turned a bit brown. The brown parts are more flavorful. You can see that the florets are bit a brown though they do not taste burned at all.

Though I used slimmer florets, the broccoli still needed the full 20 minutes to soften. I didn't have to extend the cooking time to 25-30 minutes like the first time. So I guess the general rule of thumb is that the thicker the stem, the more cooking time is needed.

I should have mentioned this in my first entry but didn't. Roasted broccoli does not taste anything like steamed broccoli at all. Roasting broccoli brings out its sweetness (quite a surprise) which is a flavor you don't get when it's steamed. For those that don't care for steamed broccoli, may want to try it this way!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

White Bean Dip

I was cruising the Food network website when I came across this 5 minute bean dip by Ellie Krieger. I think she's great. She's makes tasty, healthy food. When I saw a video clip of this, I thought this would be such a great snack to make.

Makes 6 to 8 servings
Time: 5 minutes

-2 14 oz cans of white cannelini beans (rinsed and drained)
-2 tbsp roasted garlic
-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
-3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
-salt and pepper to taste
-1/4 c parsley leaves

In a food processor, combine all ingredients (except parsley). Process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley. Serve with your favorite chips, crackers, and/or veggies.

This stuff is so good. Once you eat this, you will find that any store bought dip is salty, or so I've been told.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Italian Rice and Chard Soup

So about a week ago, my cooking buddy and I signed up for home delivery of organic, seasonal fruits, vegetables and greens from Farm Fresh to You (FFtY) here in Northern California. We did this for a number of reasons but the primary reasons are to: 1) sustain local small farms and 2) learn more about vegetables and fruits that we would not otherwise select when we're at the grocery store. We did this to shake things up a bit.

Personally, I always seem to return to the same vegetables I know and love. And I really want to broaden my cooking and vegetable knowledge base. So I found chard in our box, a vegetable that I would never buy because I wouldn't know what to do with it. Our box came on Wednesday 5/17. We were at the grocery store at 5/15 trying to decide what to buy to supplement our box. I suggested sauteeing the chard with a little garlic and olive oil (like you do with spinach) which met with the following, "We're really not going to think of anything to do with the chard standing around here without a cookbook." Loosely and dramatically translated, "I don't like that idea at all." So here it is Friday....after a few gorgeous days, it's a bit cooler and rainy. I'm happily at home without a car. What am I to make?

The first thing I come across, Polenta Cakes. They sound delicious but I don't have enough Parmesan or any Ricotta. Then I come across Risotto with Chard but I don't have enough Parmesan or arborio rice. Finally I came across this recipe. I barely had the 1/2 c arborio rice but I had everything else so I gave it whirl.

This is a super easy recipe that could probably be made in 30 minutes if it's not your first time.

Makes 3 servings
Time: 40 minutes

-1-2 bunches green or red chard
-1/4 c olive oil (I used 1/8 c)
-1/4 c chopped onions
-3 c vegetable stock
-1/2 c arborio rice
-1/3 c fresh basil leaves for garnish (I left out because I didn't have any)
-grated fresh Parmesan for garnish

Get some water boiling with salt to blanch the chard leaves and stems.

Separate chard leaves from stems. Cut chard stems into small pieces. When water is boiling, add chard leaves to water and blanch for 15 seconds. Remove leaves with slotted spoon, dump into ice water to stop the cooking. Blanch the stems in the same boiling water, and dump into ice water. Drain and dry everything. Coarsely chop the leaves.

Heat oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add onions and saute until translucent about 3-5 minutes. Add chard stems and rice. Stir until coated with oil. Add stock to rice. Cover and lightly simmer for 15 minutes until rice is just cooked. Add chopped chard and heat through gently. If rice has absorbed most of the stock, add a little more. Soup should be thick. Mine came out almost risotto like.

Serve and garnish with basil and/or Parmesan cheese.

To give you some perspective, before this evening, I had never prepared or eaten chard. It has an earthy taste that is nicely complemented with arborio rice.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cauliflower and Peas

I love recipe books that have indexes where you can look up recipes by ingredient! So I took a look the classic 1000 indian recipes to figure out what the heck I was going to do with a head of cauliflower.

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that is eaten raw with some sort of dip to mask the raw cauli taste or lack there of one but not often eaten cooked in American cuisine. It's kind of like brussell sprouts... they sort of get the shaft, don't they? Cauliflower, in some ways, is like eggplant and tofu in that it absorbs flavoring and spice, which is why it's so great for Indian cooking.

I am not providing the recipe as it appears in 1000 Indian recipes because I made many modifications...everything from how much oil to use to cooking time.

Makes 4 servings
Time: 40 minutes

-2 tbsp oil
-1 tsp mustard seeds
-1 inch ginger root, chopped finely
-1 medium cauliflower, cut into small florets
-2 tsp ground coriander
-1 tsp garam masala
-1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
-1/2 tsp red chili powder (I used 1/4 because I have the really hot stuff)
-1/2 tsp ground turmeric
-9 ounces peas (I used frozen)
-salt to taste
-1 cup water

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet, over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, cover with lid. Let them crackle. Add the ginger and cauliflower and saute for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Stir in coriander, garam masala, cumin, chili, turmeric, salt, and water, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes or until tender, which ever comes first. Stir in the peas (straight from freezer) and simmer for 5 minutes until tender.

You're done! Serve with corn tortillas or your favorite Indian bread or rice.

I didn't go too crazy with modifications. The original recipe called for 6 tbsp oil which I think is just ridiculous. Many a good dish gets ruined with excess oil. Also, the recipe said to simmer the cauliflower for 40 minutes. I was a bit suspicious about this, so I set the timer for 20 minutes and checked after 10 minutes. It was perfect after 10 so I can only imagine the mush that would have been after 40!

This recipe is pretty easy for a beginner. The most challenging part is cutting the cauliflower into florets -- it's about a 10 minute effort. It's a bit crumbly too. But this is a definitely a 1-pot dish so clean up is minimal!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Rant of the Week: Flax Seeds!

So, I haven't written one of these in two weeks! I meant to and then Wed. would slip by.....any way, I want to write about a new addition to my diet. I've been reading two great books on how to help our bodies promote health and wellness from within. I highly recommend Andrew Weil's Spontaneous Healing and Natural Health, Natural Medicine. Reading these books inspired me to make some really easy and beneficial changes to my diet, including adding flax meal.

I started eating 2 tbsp of flax meal per day beginning on 5.1.2006 I added these seeds to my diet because they are great source of omega-3 fatty acids that may protect against heart attacks by thinning the blood. I'm sure we've all heard about the omega-3s many wonderful properties, mainly promoting heart health. But they also have many other qualities including anti-inflammatory properties, which may benefit people who suffer from arthritis.

An often talked about source of omega-3s is salmon but eating fish 2-3 times per week can be pricey and if you're vegetarian, not an option at all. At a $1.59 a pound (at my local Whole Foods), flax seeds are a much cheaper and vegetarian alternative. I keep a bag of whole seeds in the fridge and grind what I need for a week. I toss 2 tbsp into my oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, every morning. They have a nutty taste and have the additional bonus of being a great source of fiber! In stores, you may see golden and/or brown flax seeds. Both contain equal amounts of omega-3s.

For those interested in getting omega-3s from fish, farm raised salmon generally has less omega-3's than wild salmon. Another good source of omega-3s is mackerel which I love to eat when I have sushi.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Raspberry Banana Smoothie

No, it is not Pepto Bismol. It's breakfast in a blender. The inspiration came Eating for IBS where I found a recipe for Strawberry Banana Smoothie. The first time, I made this recipe, I followed this recipe to a T (substituting the frozen strawberries with frozen blueberries). It was a bit sweet with the added honey so the next time, I made it without the honey and it was perfection. For this entry, I decided to try raspberries. Leaving out the honey, I found it to be a bit tart. I used a banana that I had placed in the fridge after it had ripened so that it could not ripen further. However, I believe doing this made the banana lose it's sweetness. So don't use bananas from the fridge.

Makes 2 servings
Time: 5 minutes, if that

-1.5 c frozen fruit of your choice, very slightly thawed
-2/3 c vanilla soy milk
-1 tbsp honey
-1 large ripe but firm banana

My modifications
I changed everything. I used 1 cup of frozen fruit because I was making this for one person, namely me! Skipped the honey depending on ripeness of banana and fruit used. 1 medium sized banana. I don't like soy milk products so I used the real stuff in the same amount since I don't like my smoothies to be so thick that I have to use a spoon to eat it.

I find that this makes one very large serving or 2 smaller servings.

I actually have been drinking these for lunch with the warmer weather we've been having and it's really refreshing and filling without being heavy.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Roasted broccoli

I always eat steamed broccoli so when I saw this recipe on Rachel Ray's 30 minute meals, I had to try it for myself. I would have never thought to roast broccoli but it totally works and the flavor is just incredible! First things first, she uses way to much oil in all of her recipes. To be fair, most chefs call for much more oil than necessary, including Martha Stewart, so as a general rule of thumb start with less because you can always add more later!

The original recipe can be found on the Food network website.

Makes 2 servings
Time: 30 minutes, most of which is oven time

-2 tbsp olive oil
-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
-1 bunch of broccoli, cut into thin long spears
-salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

First, when I say bunch, I mean bunch, not a head, if that makes sense. Trim the end of the broccoli a bit because it tends to be tough....cut about 1 inch to 1.5 inches off. Cut broccoli in half, length wise, and half again, such that you have 4 spears. Hope that makes sense.

In a bowl, toss olive oil, garlic, and salt together. Toss in broccoli and coat event. Place broccoli on non-stick baking sheet, and put sheet on top rack of oven. Roast the broccoli for 25 minutes until ends are crisp, brown, and stalks are tender.

Rachel's recipe calls for 17 to 20 minute minutes of oven time but I found that at that time, the fork test indicated more time. At 25 minutes it was much better. However, when it came time to eat it, I found that the outer skin (on the stems, not the floret part) was a bit tough, and hard to chew and swallow. The inner part of the broccoli was fine. I think next time, I will peel the stem a bit which I think will help with the toughness and reduce the oven time.

The flavor of this broccoli was incredible. The florets were crispy and so flavorful. The olive oil and garlic really enhance the flavor of this veggie so much. I will definitely make this recipe again.

No pictures. Half way through eating the broccoli I realized that I had not taken pictures. I was so excited to eat it that I didn't see the camera on the table.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Corn Bread Revisted

Remember the corn bread I made a weeks back? Well, I decided to try it again but wanted it more moist. So I added another egg to the recipe (for a total of 2, as opposed to 1) and it was definitely more moist and less crumbly. It was a tad less sweet. Overall, I think I actually prefer it the original way. I can't put my finger on it but there is what I consider a very slight odd taste to the bread. It's not horrible or anything but it's distracting to me. It still turned out a beautiful, don't you think? And the flavor is still good. Next time, I'm going to soak the corn meal in milk for 15 minutes and see what happens then.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Basic Stir Fry

If you want a quick and easy way to load up on veggies, a stir fry is definitely the way to go. This recipe is my own creation though I have been inspired by many a chef so I tip my hat to you. I like my recipe because it's simply seasoned so that the flavors of the vegetables are unmasked and shine through.

Makes 2 servings
Cooking time: 30 minutes

-8 oz mushrooms, sliced
-1 c (be generous) frozen multi-colored peppers
-1 c onion, chopped
-1 broccoli bunch, cut into florets
-1 tbsp canola oil
-1 tbsp soy sauce (or to taste)
-3 inch piece of ginger, chopped

Get the rice going.

Heat oil on medium heat in large non-stick skillet. Add onions and ginger, saute until onions are translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Cooking the onions well enhances the flavor of the onions. If you're concerned that the ginger is too much, rest assured that it is not. The flavor is just right. Add the frozen green peppers, saute for 2-3 minutes more. Add broccoli florets and mushrooms. Cover for 3 minutes. Check broccoli with knife to ensure that it is crisp-tender. Remove from heat and add soy sauce. Serve with rice.

If I had thought of it, I would have added a 1 tsp of red chili pepper flakes to the oil to give this recipe some kick. I forgot. Even without this ingredient, this stir-fry was full of flavor. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can modify it in whatever way you want. You can substitute for your favorite veggies or add more according to your own taste and preferences. I've also added tofu for a protein kick.

Our diets are very protein rich. We worry about not getting in enough when in fact we should be worried about getting too much. I recently learned that we only need 4 oz of protein per day so we're probably consuming too much of it. The general rule of thumb is that if you have protein in one of your meals, you won't need it in any other meal. Did you know that if you eat a lot of vegetables you're probably getting enough protein? Who knew? I didn't.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Carrot Orange Salad

I went cooking crazy today having not done anything for the past six days. I've been reading a lot about the importance about beta-caratene in the diet and when I ran across this recipe it spoke to me. Plus, it falls into the 'cool, refreshing' category for warmer weather.

This recipe is so simple and easy. It comes from the Moosewood Restaurant's Low Fat Favorites.

Makes 4-6 servings
Time:15 minutes

-2 or 3 large carrots, peeled and grated (about 4 c)
-2 navel oranges
-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
-1 tbsp honey
-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Grate carrots and set aside.

I skipped the instructions on how to section the orange because I really didn't understand what they were talking about. I'm very visual when it comes to technique. Just peel and get as much of the pith off the orange as you can and toss in with carrots.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, honey, and cinnamon. Pour over the carrot/orange mixture and toss. Before serving, allow salad to sit for at least 10 minutes so the flavors mix. For best results, chill for 3 to 4 hours.

What a nice treat on a hot summer day!

p.s. -- The picture doesn't do it justice.

Middle Eastern Chickpeas with Spinach

It's been six days since my last post. I've been a bit lazy and I hadn't been to the grocery store which makes it hard to cook. Doesn't this remind you of another recipe I made a few weeks back? It has a number of the same ingredients including chickpeas and spinach but tastes better than the aforementioned dish and isn't Indian.

I am going through an elimination diet currently and for the next two weeks I am not eating tomatoes. I can't tell you how many dishes call for tomatoes -- so many! This is one reason why this dish spoke to me. With the weather getting warmer and warmer, it's my goal to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen and eat 'cooler' foods. The dish calls for a yogurt and mint sauce which was so delightful and enhanced the flavor of the chickpeas and spinach.

Makes 4 servings
Time: 35 minutes

Sauce Ingredients
-2/3 c plain nonfat yogurt
-1 small garlic glove, minced or pressed
-1 tsp chopped fresh mint
-dash of salt

-1 c onion, chopped
-2 tsp olive oil
-1 red bell pepper, seeded and cubed
-2 tsp ground coriander
-1 tsp ground cumin
-pinch of saffron
-16 oz can chickpeas (unsalted), with liquid reserve
-10 oz spinach, rinsed, stemmed, and coarsely chopped
-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
-salt and ground black pepper to taste

My modifications
I used 3/4 c frozen multi-colored peppers because it was enough to chop the fresh spinach. I skipped the saffron. I used 15 oz of chickpeas and 9 oz of spinach -- it's what I could find.

Combine the yogurt, garlic, mint, and salt in a bowl and send aside to get the flavors working.

In a skillet, saute the onions in the oil on medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh/frozen bell peppers, coriander, cumin, and saffron and continue to saute for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chickpeas and 1/4 c of their liquid and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the peppers are tender, adding more of the reserved chickpea liquid if needed. Add the spinach, cover, and cook, stirring often, for 2 or 3 minutes until the spinach is bright and wilted. Stir in lemon juice and add salt and pepper.

This can be served with a variety of items including pita, couscous, orzo or rice. I served this with brown rice topped with the yogurt sauce.

The dish is low maintenance except for the chopping of fresh spinach. You could probably avoid this step altogether using frozen chopped spinach. Doing this will halve the time of the recipe though I have to say that the fresh spinach was amazing.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Pancetta and Parmesan Torte

I caught Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network last week and this so excited me. I'm sure you know who Giada is..... the hot brunette that wears tight clothing to emphasize her chest and has perfectly manicured nails as a cook. Hmm. I digress....It is so simple with only 10 minutes of prep and 25 minutes of low maintenance oven time. It looks beautiful but the taste is only so-so. The torte was on the bland side and it was missing something. Perhaps it is because I substituted zucchini for the pancetta. I'm not sure. It wasn't bad. It was definitely edible but it wasn't great either. I was disappointed.

Serves 6
Time: 35 minutes

-1 refrigerated pie crust (half of 15-ounce package), room temperature
-1 teaspoon olive oil
-4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
-2/3 c whipping cream
-1/2 c whole milk
-3 large eggs
-3 tbsp finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
-1/4 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
-2/3 c shredded Parmesan

My modifications
First, I could not for the life of me find a store that carried refrigerated pie crust and I went to 3 stores. To be fair, I did find Pillsbury Pie Crust but it had lard in it and really toxic preservatives in it so there was no way I could purchase it. I ended up buying a good quality frozen pie crust. I don't eat meat so I substituted the pancetta with 4 oz of zucchini which I sauteed lightly and cooled before putting into the egg mixture. I did not add any salt. The salt would have been over kill, especially if you end up using pancetta. The salt from the cheese alone should be enough.

Position the rack on the bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Press the crust into a 9-inch-diameter tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim the edges; set aside.

Heat the oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta (in my case zucchini) and saute until crisp, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta (zucchini) to paper towels and drain. Beat the cream, milk, eggs, parsley, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl to blend. Stir in the cheese and pancetta. Pour the cream mixture into the crust.
Bake the torte until the filling puffs and is golden brown on top, about 25 minutes. Let the torte cool for 15 minutes.

Admittedly, I should have probably used 4 eggs because the eggs I had were on the medium side. And as you can see from the picture above, it did not exactly fill out the pie crust. I placed the pie in the bottom third of my oven and after 25 minutes, I found that it was runny and not golden brown. I know that at this point that I was supposed to take it out to set but I'm not sure that it would have. So I moved it to the top rack for 3.5 minutes and it firmed up.

I am an egg person. I am a quiche person. Reviewers of this recipe gave it 5 stars (even people who substituted the pancetta with veggies). I am giving it a two. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to make it but I wouldn't make it again.

Looks are deceiving.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Funghi Trifolata

Funghi trifolata is Italian for mushroom sauce. First things first. The camera is back! Yeah! It was indeed the memory card so a huge sigh of relief on my part.

The weather has been getting warmer which means I like to eat lighter foods and spend even less time in the kitchen! I enjoy some of the shows on the Food Network Channel and I visit their website regularly for ideas and inspiration! I found a very simple but healthy pasta dish that isn't tomato based by Mario Batali. It has ingredients that you most likely have in your kitchen and takes no more than 30 minutes!

This recipe was rated 'easy' though the recipe calls for making the pasta from scratch. The recipe and ingredients are simple but I imagine it would take longer than the suggested 10 minutes of prep and 20 minutes of cook time for a first timer.

Serves 3-4
Time: 30 minutes

-5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
-1 medium (1 c) Spanish onion, diced
-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
-8 ounces fresh porcini or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced, plus 4 mushrooms thinly sliced
-salt to taste
-1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan
-1/4 c chopped Italian parsley

My modifications
This recipe actually calls for home made pasta but since there are so many quality pastas available in the grocery store, I didn't bother. I used 4 tbsp olive oil rather than 5 and found that this was just right for 14 oz. Of pasta. I used Tinkyada Brown Rice Fettucini (14 oz). I also minced the garlic as opposed to slice because I wasn't careful about reading the directions! And I used cremini because they are cheaper than porcini.

Get the pasta going. Heat oil on medium heat in a good sized non-stick saute pan. Add garlic, onions, mushrooms, and saute for about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste and pasta, along with 1/2 c pasta cooking water, and toss quickly. Add remaining 4 sliced mushrooms and toss again, off heat. Serve immediately, with grated cheese and chopped parsley.

It is really important that you add enough salt because the salt really enhances to flavor of this dish. In fact, I think next time I make this dish, I will cook the pasta with salt as the package suggested. I didn't like the flavor of the 4 mushrooms that were added later. They didn't cook enough in the heat and were a bit a firm which I didn't care for.

Overall though, this was a great dish. So simple, so tasty, so light! A great warm weather dish.

As an aside, I've been reading about cool characteristics of various ingredients that I thought I would pass along.

-Extra virgin olive oil reduces bad cholesterol and maintains good cholesterol while various vegetable oils reduce both.

-Mushrooms contain substantial amounts of B vitamins, selenium, copper and other trace minerals. They also contain antibacterial and other medicinal substances such as triterpenoids, which is an anti-tumor compound.