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A little something

9 Jul

Dear friends,

Let’s be honest, shall be? Both because we can and because we should. And because I like you, and at least one of you likes me. Okay, just one. And I’ll take that.

The truth is, it hasn’t been you. It’s been me. No, really. It may be July, but outside my kitchen window, my new hostas are being splattered with rain. Likewise, the last few months have been pretty rain-splattered for me, if I may speak in symbols (and I may, since I am an editor-writer and did major in English; altogether, I have license). You see, I had a loss in April. A very, very big, painful loss, which I won’t ever be able to describe and don’t want to. To make the story short, I have been a grieving mother. I wish I could tell you more, because I’m sure some of you have suffered equally. But I hope that you’ll understand that it’s very hard, even now, to talk about, to think about, to still be experiencing. And going into depth, well, might make me sort of sink (did you like that analogy, too? Get it? Depth–sinking–like in a pool).

Anyway, I thought and thought and thought about whether to tell you, not to tell you, suddenly appear in the dark of night with some new, passionate post about how I’ve gone to pick strawberries at a you-pick farm three times in the last three weeks and have made jam for the first time, and isn’t summer glorious and all that, and take a look at my first garden, my broccoli is enormous. But I felt like this absence…I felt like I should at least say something. I’m also trying to see at least one positive angle look on this mother’s cross of a challenge, which is that sometime, someone will read this very post and be in similar pain and ask for help. And I’m hoping that at that time, I will be able to help.

But enough about that. What I can also say is that I’ve returned, I’m hoping, for good. There’s a lot of food to be talked about, so we will. After all, this is a site about food! And loving it. Doesn’t salt balance chocolate and honey and lime love each other? So I suppose we must have some bitter and some sweet, even on a food blog. But let’s stick mostly to sweet, okay? Deal.

And now. Something simple, not even a recipe, but a discovery. Some background: fruit and chocolate are good friends. We know it from the depths of our chocolate-covered-strawberry hearts, from the shores of fondue pools to the banks of rasperry hot chocolate (my way of putting in some patriotic words in place of posting for the Fourth). And yet…Nutella…and cherries? Yes, of course! And one day, in a fit of hunger and a greedy abundance of cherries (see thrice-picking of strawberries, above), I thought, “Need whole grains. Toast. Check. Need protein…Nutella…not really, but close enough. Need…cherries? Yes, cherries!” And there you have it, my entire revelation, which, if you were here, you’d know about in five seconds instead of reading it in thirty. But it needed a story; I couldn’t very well say, “Hey, you should put Nutella on your whole-wheat toast and then put sliced cherries on top. And eat it.” On the other hand, I just did.

The case, evidence as dark as ever.

The case, evidence as dark as ever.

The judgment. It was a righteous judgment. I continued to judge.

The judgment. It was a righteous judgment. I continued to judge.

-Erin

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Fast Monday Night Dinner

14 Dec
One bowl to clean up after dinner! What's not to love?

One bowl to clean up after dinner! What's not to love?

I don’t about all of you, but come Monday, I’m not all up for a rollicking dinner complete with accessories and baking. Especially since I’ve started an on-site contract job (if anyone’s seen “The Office,” I am Ryan—the second-class “temp”), it goes like this: get home, think of food, think I should make food, wonder when the Man is coming home, think about making food, look in my pantry, have aspirations for way more than I should at that time (who’s making homemade marshmallows before dinner?!), look in the fridge, look online for inspiration in food that other people make, repeat. Something along those lines. This process continues until I’m humbled and hungry enough to wonder if we have any leftover Halloween candy and, if we do, well, there you have it. Three Musketeers for an appetizer.

Making dinner is good for you

As nine million news reports have told you, however, these are tough times we’re in, especially in this country, and a girl (and her man) deserve to eat something decent even when they might have to shovel the driveway and contemplate why they haven’t done anything about food storage, since some of the broadcasts could leave you to believe that the apocalypse is tomorrow. In which case, it really would be unfortunate that I haven’t done anything in the way of preserving with my six bags of from-the-orchard apples besides hoard them. And on the other hand, my methods of preservation include Tupperware and freezers, so all is not lost.

The point is that even though I might be inclined to make the bad decision of finishing off the sugar cookies from last weekend while I’m hungry, this really isn’t necessary. Lately, fresh food is it when cooking, and I’m all for it. This sometimes involves a lot of prep work, as I oughta know—I probably go through four onions, a bag of carrots, and a bag of celery a week just for soup bases. It doesn’t have to, though, and yes, all those euphemisms about flavors “singing” when the food is simply prepared actually isn’t a bad idea. Though if my food does start singing, I kind of want it to singing to a rendition of “Gesu Bambino” at the moment.

This is less of a recipe and more of a pattern—my nutrition background and concern with the composition of what I put in my mouth demands that my eating and cooking style be not only tasty, but check off the necessary macro and micronutrients. Yes. I literally think, “Grain…check. Protein…check. Vegetable…check. Dairy?” Not every meal needs to have every one of those groups, since I can push and pull during the day—my lunches tend to be very vegetable- and fruit-stocked, so it’s okay if I don’t load up on that group at dinner. This meal is basically a result of my thinking—grain (soba noodles), check. Protein (fried egg), check. Vegetable (sprouts, haha—no, not just for my name), check. I fry the egg in a little olive oil to get some good fat in, especially for the Man, and dinner is done. I’m talking five-ish minute here, maybe longer if you aren’t able to cook the sprouts and noodles at the same time, for example.

Nutritional lowdown

Speaking of soba noodles. Don’t be afraid. I know. They’re Japanese. And you’ve never eaten them. And yes, they do taste kind of funny. But look here. They’re a whole grain, and even though they’re buckwheat, not whole wheat, and whole wheat is kind of a nutritional American Idol finalist of grains, buckwheat is like the girl who’s still pretty great but just didn’t get the record deal. Buckwheat is actually a seed, not a grain, and related to rhubarb. Just don’t go putting it in pie, because I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be good.

As for nutritional benefits, buckwheat (soba noodles) has a range of refuted plusses, including blood sugar regulation, an alternative to gluten (it seems like more and more people are sensitive to gluten), and something about menopause. Which I have no comment on, but apparently it’s a good thing. Buckwheat, I mean.

Brussels sprouts, well, you know about those guys. Relative to broccoli and all cruciferous vegetables, including our friends the cabbages. Yes, they taste somewhat like metal and a little bitter. Season, season, season, and cut into smaller pieces. Like their family members, they’re good for fiber, some iron (though not as bioavailable as other sources), some potassium, and other trace minerals.

Eggs. These are our friends, okay? I know there were some nasty rumors about them in the past. The 80s and 90s were not a good time for them, and I think they’d rather forget those decades. We’ve treated them wrong, we’ve put them down, and what have they done? Built us muscles, given us slow-release energy, and stuck our cookies and baked goods together, covered our fried goods and emulsified our lives. They deserve more. And they don’t ask for much. And in this case, they like to be fried in some olive oil.

Soba Noodles With Fried Egg

From “raw” to eating: 10 min., appx.

Makes: Two meal-sized servings

½ lb. soba noodles
¼ one purple onion, cut into large dices
½ lb. brussels sprouts
olive oil, for frying
four eggs
cracked pepper
salt, to taste
soy sauce, for seasoning at the table

Cook soba noodles according to package directions. Set aside.

Halve sprouts; score halves with a small ‘X.’ Set aside. Heat a grill pan—medium heat. Put a few swirls of olive oil in the pan. Toss in onion, followed by the sprouts, cut side down. Cook until sprouts are nearly golden, and ignore the fact that these vegetables have my name. It is coincidence, but a jolly one. And no, I do not eat sprouts every night just for the fun of it.

While the sprouts are cooking, fry up your eggs in batches of two at a time. Crack two of the eggs into the pan; crack some pepper and sprinkle some salt on the top. Cook two or three minutes on each side, flipping once (optional; this is the “hard yolk” way).

Add soba noodles to the pan with the sprouts. Heat through.

Divide noodles, sprouts, and eggs between two large-ish bowls. I like to put the noodles on the bottom, sprouts over that, and two eggs flopped on top.

Pass around the soy sauce and enjoy the fact that you made dinner in maybe ten minutes.

Grown-up Mac and Cheese: Sage and Ham Version

6 Oct
As you can see, it was well-liked.

As you can see, it was well-liked.

I grew up on the blue box macaroni and cheese (yes, you know the one), and at the time, I thought it was delightful. In fact, it was a sure sign of affluence in my mind when my friends had character macaroni—when the pasta was shaped like a Barbie or whatever. Those were fancy friends, and I probably should’ve done a better job keeping in contact with such rich people. However, you grow up, and as your body gets bigger, your mind gets stronger, and it’s great to learn! ‘Cause knowledge is power! Actually, those are lines from “Schoolhouse Rock,” but still applicable, as well as catchy; hopefully, your taste buds grew up when you got older, too. My mom’s dreams were realized, I believe, when I would eat fish.

Despite my obvious and impressive maturation, good ‘ol mac ‘n cheese still has a homey appeal, and its place in the American psyche will probably never change. Still, the blue box won’t cut it anymore, so it’s time for an upgrade.

I make several versions of grown-up macaroni and cheese: tomato-pea, herbs de Provence, some with white cheeses, some with orange cheese, some with soft cheese, and some with hard. If I were really a high-roller, I’d be melting things like Gouda or gruyere in here, but I’ll have to dream. If you do put some higher-end, gourmet cheeses in, leave me a comment and let me know which ones you use. And if you could, please come bring me some to try. I’m a very nice person.

~Erin

Grown-up Macaroni and Cheese: Ham and Sage

This recipe includes one my lengthier instruction sections, and a few more steps than usual. Don’t be daunted, though—as with everything else I make, there’s nothing complicated here. If you can make “blue box” macaroni and cheese, you can do this. And you’ll be very glad you did!

From “raw” to eating: 30 min., appx.

Makes: a huge bowl full, 8+ servings

Inside:

1 lb. whole-wheat macaroni

1 ½ C milk
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, smashed
6 whole cloves
1/8 t nutmeg, grated

2 T butter
2 T milk

½ lb. smoked ham, cubed
~6 mature (large) leaves fresh sage (about 1 T), chopped into ribbons or flecks
½ C shredded parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly-cracked pepper, to taste

1/3 C pre-seasoned panko bread crumbs (or make your own)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1-2 T liquid the pasta cooked in. Put macaroni in a large bowl (you’ll be cooking in this bowl.) Add ham and sage (don’t need to mix at this point). Set aside.

Poke the cloves in the onion—like studding an orange with cloves at Christmastime.

Put milk, studded onion, smashed garlic, a little salt, and some pepper in a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan on medium-low heat on a stovetop. While the milk heats up, make a roux: in the same pan you cooked the macaroni in, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to make a roux. Set aside.

When the milk just barely starts to steam, remove from heat (you don’t want to develop a skin on the milk). Remove and discard clove-onion and garlic. (Technique note: you’ve just infused the milk. This technique allows a liquid to take on flavors without retaining the things you used to flavor it (onion, garlic). You’ll recognize this technique from tea-making. Hooray, you!)

Combine roux and milk mixture. Stir to fully incorporate. Gently pour over macaroni mixture. Stir in parmesan cheese. Top with bread crumb mixture.

Cook at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until set (doesn’t jiggle). Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Makes excellent, cuttable leftovers.

A cool salad for warm weather: Middle-Eastern cracked wheat (tabouleh) salad

2 Jul

First off, happy Independence Day, everyone! I’m lake-bound to camp, [watch MM] fish, bike, spend time with MM’s family, and generally get dirty. I hope all you US citizens have some plans for celebrating this beautiful land we’re blessed to live in and the sacrifices made so we could enjoy it.

Speaking of Independence Day, here’s one to make this weekend–a cool, summery salad with garden-fresh vegetables, lemon, and pretty green herbs.

The story of tabouleh goes like this: on a fine, clear day in June, I decided anyway to go inside of a refrigerated store anyway. It was not so bad though; I took a stroll down my favorite aisles: the exotic foods aisles. Dun, dun, dun.

Banners hung from the ceiling that read, “Italian,” “German,” “Scandinavian,” “Japanese,” “Latin,” and the like hung above sections of foods I’d either never heard of or never attempted to incorporate into my diet. In other words, jars of pre-made curry sauces (maybe better than what I make!), packages of udon noodles, savory (I imagined, anyway) matzo ball soups, tamarind soda, ginseng energy drinks with the ginseng looking like seaweed in water–even a simple package of coconut cookies billed simultaneously as both Latin (Spanish language) and South Asian (its location in the aisles) tempted me. I imagined a Japanese-themed dinner-and-movie date night for MM and me, recognizing Jewish holidays with matzo ball soup despite being definitely not Jewish and definitely not knowing what a matzo anything is, etc. I am amazing at making up scenarios to make create exotic meals.

I restrained; however, Midwestern Meateater knows my penchant for anything foreign-sounding, -looking, or -tasting, so he usually encourages me to pick up a couple of items: “no, honey, get that. Get the thing…that green thing in the jar. It’s okay. You’ll use it somehow. No, it’ll be good. No, not like last time.” Thus was born tabouleh.

Truthfully, I’ve wanted to taste tabouleh since high school, when my friends and I listened to a song called “Nose Ring Girl,” where the remembered line was “and buy her hummus, and tabulis, and bobbagunush, and rice cakes, rice cakes, rice cakes!” (We shouted the much-loved words at the last part.) It’s classy that I wanted to make a dish based on the lyrics of a band called Nerf Herder, isn’t it? Yes.

Tabouleh turns out to be highly good for you, and just like it sounds, rather breezy and vegetable-y. Light and summery, with only a bit of cooking involved. And heck, if it’s hot enough where you are, maybe you can just set your pot ‘o water outside and it’ll boil anyway. I will feel sorry for you if that’s the case, though. Wear your sunscreen.

Tabouleh works excellently as a vegetarian side dish. The lemon, herbs, tomatoes, and cucumbers in this Middle-Eastern just make you want to grow a garden. Or borrow from your neighbor’s. It would be fantastic this weekend as a Fourth of July side, and unlike other things I make, I don’t think it is too far-out. I’d dare to call it crowd-pleasing, in fact.

Nutritional low-down on tabouleh:

Tomatoes are a natural source of that purportedly anti-cancer agent, lycopene. Tomatoes are full of good things–face it, non-tomato eaters. Cucumbers, like other water-holding vegetables, are low in calories, but what you may not know is that they are a good source of vitamin K. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting (in nutrition classes, we were told to remember “K” for “clotting”…the English major here always thought that was contradictory). Vitamin K also aids in bone formation and fetus development. So, pregnant friends, eat up! Olive oil’s benefits have been touted loudly and much these days, so I won’t cover that here, but feel free to ask in your comments if you want some information.

Bulgur, or cracked wheat, was the main question mark for me, since my Western American ways didn’t associate with bulgur until now, but I had my nutritional suspicions. Turns out bulgur is a fantastic source of insoluble fiber. You need both insoluble (not dissolving) and soluble (dissolving) fiber in your diet, and Americans have a tough time in their refined-grains diet in getting enough of either kind. It’s been used in traditional cultures for a long time because it’s inexpensive but hearty; bulgur provides more fiber and protein than brown rice, but is lower in calories. In other words, you out there looking to put on your teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy, yada yada bikini, this song goes out to you.

Tabouleh salad

This recipe comes straight, yes, from the back of a package of bulgur. No kidding. Well, a girl’s gotta start somewhere. I’ve added some notes where needed and have also inserted some information—this recipe is bare bones when it comes to details. I suppose the assumption is that if you bought this, you don’t need the recipe because your grandmother and mother made it and you learned at 10 years old to make it.

Go heavier on the salt—it only says to taste but the flavors won’t pop otherwise—and use fresh lemons if you can. Don’t skip any of the herbs, even if the mint sounds funny. Do it, I tell you! You’ll love me later.

From “raw” to eating: 20 minutes (plus time to chill)

Makes: 4 C, or a big bowl full (see notes)

½ C medium burghol (cracked wheat) (Esprout note: burghol = bulgur. Referred to hereafter as bulgur. I used more like 2 C, so it made a mixing bowl full.)
1 C chopped [fresh] tomatoes
1 C chopped cucumbers
1 C chopped green onions (Esprout note: I used white.)
1 C chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ C chopped mint leaves
½ C fresh lemon juice
1/3 extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (Esprout note: see head notes for salt recommendation.)

Wash bulgur, changing the water a few times. Drain, cover with boiling hot water and set aside. (Esprout note: feel free to cook like you would pasta, filling a pot with water, waiting for it to boil, then adding the bulgur.)

Chop all vegetables and combine with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. (Esprout note: I made the dressing of olive oil, lemon, and salt/pepper separately, then added it to the bulgur/wheat mixture.)

Drain bulgur through strainer and press out water as much as possible. (Esprout note: Really. Press. This stuff is dense. I found it helped to shake the strainer a few times to jostle water out.) toss bulgur into vegetable mixture.

Chill for one hour before serving.

Happy Independence Day, everyone! I love you, United States of America, where tabouleh is welcome in your grocery store aisles!

Fruit and coconut pan-toasted granola

19 Jun

Pan-toasted granola atop plain yogurt and sliced green grapes

This might also be called not-patient-enough-to-wait-for-the-oven granola, because that’s how I made it. I was at the crossroads of a small problem—I wanted a crunchy granola to top my plain yogurt with, but I was hungry past of the point of actually heating up the oven. (Lame, I know, but it birthed a fast recipe for you!)

Nutritional low-down

A Mayo Clinic R.D. (that’s registered dietician in layman talk) touted granola a la this: “Dietitian’s tip: Granola is a cereal-like combination of dried fruits, grains and nuts. Though it’s a good source of protein and fiber, granola can also be high in fat and calories, especially the store-bought varieties. Watch your portion sizes or create your own granola to limit the amount of fat, calories and sugar in each serving.”

The Mayo Clinic also has a few (well-known) things about snacking and weight-loss here. And what do you know? They highlight three food groups/areas included in this very recipe—whole grains, fruits, and nuts and seeds. To qualify for the last “healthy snack” category (dairy), simply toss some of your granola your favorite low-fat yogurt.

Here’s my granola philosophy:

In other words, store-bought = not so good for you or anyone else + can be expensive (but yes, still tastes good).

Make-at-home granola = high nutrient density + cheap & possibly already around + textury, highly tasty, and versatile = why aren’t you making some now?

If you’re looking for something fast, tasty, and nutritious–with a bit of crunch–then this is something for your weekday fare, too.

Variations on a theme

Feel free to add in a few things you like, too—here are some suggestions to get you started with your own take on this creation:

  • Unsalted nuts like walnuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, and macadamia nuts
  • Other dried fruits—banana chips, prunes (not just for the elderly!)
  • Candied orange, lemon, or lime peel
  • Fruit juices like orange or grapefruit juice—use to sweeten and flavor naturally

Enjoy!

-E

Fruit and coconut pan-toasted granola

From raw to eating: 15-20 minutes

Makes: 4+ cups’ worth—enough for many breakfasts

Inside:
3 ½ C rolled oats
1 T powdered milk
4 T brown sugar (not packed)
2 ½ T honey
2 ½ T vegetable oil (I used canola)
½ C sweetened shredded coconut
4 T unsalted, plain sunflower seeds
½ C chopped dried fruit (I used dried cranberries and apricots)

Combine all ingredients but dried fruit in a large bowl. Use either your (clean) hands or a fork and gently mix together until you’ve got one (relatively) homogenous mix.

Place a large, shallow pan on medium heat. Give it a couple of minutes to get nice and hot, and, working in batches, make yourself some granola! Stir with a wooden spoon every couple of minutes; each batch will need about seven minutes’ time to fully toast. When the oats have turned a deep golden, brown sugar color, you’re done.

The granola will chunk up as it cools, but this particular recipe yields looser granola. Store granola in an airtight container for 4-6 weeks. (And when I say 4-6 weeks, I’ll be honest—I’m totally guessing. You could bet right that it’d be eaten at my house much sooner than that, but if not, I’d keep it around just as long as I felt like it! I can’t see any foodborne illness or even staleness happening with our hearty granola friends in that time.

Hurrah!