Jan 272013
 

Quack corn

Poor popcorn: once known as a healthy, super-easy treat, it has now been hijacked by the likes of microwave-food-companies who would really like you to forget that making said treat at home is really easy and inexpensive so that they can milk you for lots of money for an inferior product. And lets not even mention what movie theaters have done to this humble grain. It’s time to take it back!

Lucky for us, it’s still really simple. Forget all of those companies out there who are trying to sell you popcorn-making gadgets. They don’t have simplicity in mind: they are only trying to separate you from your hard-earned cash. All you need is a pot with a lid and a stove.

And popcorn kernels, of course.

But do you really need me to tell you how to shake some kernels in a pan and pop? Of course not. I am here to offer some inspiration, however! So, let’s begin.

Let’s focus first on the grain. The better-quality kernels you can buy the better your popcorn will be. My personal favorite is crimson popping corn. The only drawback with this variety (and other darkly-colored types) is that since the grain is darker, the finished product can look burned when it most certainly is not.

Crimson popcorn, about to meet duck-fat

Now, let’s discuss the medium. Butter has a long and storied history with popcorn, and for good reason. But let’s get off the beaten path and look towards other fine cooking fats. Olive oil can lend a subtle taste, which is fine, but if you want something a bit more exotic, seek out our feathered friends. Duck fat reigns supreme in the land of rendered cooking fats. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but like so many of my ideas in the kitchen, this one was inspired by the owner of Rancho Gordo, my favorite new-world-foods purveyor.

I had thought about doing this for a long time and finally had the opportunity when Mr. and Mrs. Cheeseburger In Glacial Ice came to visit. Heather shares my passion for all things yummy, and though her husband can sometimes need to be cajoled into food-adventure-territory, he’s often game for it (and at any rate, he would have been over-ruled this time), so I decided that the time of the Quack Corn had come. Now, I could just tell you that it was a resounding success, but I think that this paints a better picture: Mr. and Mrs. Cheesburger moved into a new house shortly thereafter and I sent them a house-warming gift that included some popping corn. Mr. Cheeseburger, seeing another parcel in with the popcorn and unable to contain his hopes and dreams, asked “Is that duck fat???”

I rest my case.

Duck-fat popcorn!

Click for the recipe →

Jan 132013
 

Overnight apple-cran steel-cut oats

Let’s face it: very few of us have tons of time in the morning to cook breakfast. Sure, many of us would love to have a hot breakfast in the morning, but the reality is that when push comes to shove, what we actually would prefer to do is to slap the snooze button a few more times.

Until recently, breakfast was a huge priority. I would always cook something, usually involving left-over veggies scrambled into an egg with some home-made toast and beans. I would still love to be doing that because it’s an incredibly delicious, healthy, and filling breakfast, but with a baby in the house now it’s just not realistic. However, I’m not willing to turn to cereal because I just don’t like it and it’s not remotely filling.

To my happy surprise, I discovered that steel-cut oats and slow-cookers are totally BFFs. This is happy because I can make a week’s worth of healthy and flavorful breakfast for a total time investment of about five minutes, which is how long it takes me to measure everything out, chop up the apples, stir, and turn on the slow-cooker. I haven’t historically been a fan of this appliance, but something like this could totally change my mind.

Continue reading »

Dec 302012
 

Red lentil stew with quinoa

This recipe came to me by way of a dear friend and backpacking/adventure buddy. About a year ago, Heather and I had kicked the planning for our six-day Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim backpacking adventure into high gear and had begun to draft a menu so that I had plenty of time to cook and dehydrate all of our dinners. I was basing much of the menu off of that summer’s Denali menu, but because the Grand Canyon adventure was longer, I needed more meal ideas. Heather suggested this chili, and I was impressed by its credentials. Her husband, a weirdly picky eater, loved it, so I decided to make a test batch.

Now, my husband is not a weirdly picky eater (he’ll eat anything I put in front of him — even the most fail-y of my experiments), but he isn’t normally so vocal about food that he enjoys. He repeatedly enthusiastically complimented it, so I knew I had a winner on my hands. That’s right: it got the stamp of Manproval from both of our husbands! So by all means, hurry up and try this yourself — your taste-buds will thank you!

Red lentil stew with quinoa

For guidance on making this for dehydration, see the “Variations” section at the end of the recipe.

Continue reading »

Dec 092012
 

Turkey soup!

If you’re like me, when you’re cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey carcass (with plenty of bits of meat still clinging to the bones) starts to look a lot like opportunity. I am loathe to ever throw away any animal bones: you can make too many delectable things with them (well, really, I’ve only ever made stock with the bones, but you can make so many things with the stock that it totally counts).

I’m also well-known for not thinking that turkey sandwiches are the bee’s knees. Given left-over turkey, there are several other things that I’d rather make with it, and one of them is soup! I have such a proclivity to it and The Hubs has such a proclivity for the sandwiches that we have always ended up in turkey-turf-wars about how the leftovers are going to be used. Not being possessed of two ovens but still needing to make several sides while the sacrificial bird is cooking, we grill our turkey so the birds we buy have to be relatively small so that it can fit on our Weber — hence, there’s not enough turkey to go around for both of our needs and strife ensues. This year, I avoided marital turkey-drama by buying two birds. I was so proud of myself for coming up with a solution to the problem, but then I went and shot myself in the foot by discovering turkey pot-pies, creating yet another need for large amounts of turkey. What’s a cook to do? And don’t you dare suggest I buy yet another bird: it’s not that it’s madness, it that there isn’t enough room in our cooler to brine three of them!

So, without any further adieu, I present a recipe for turkey soup, which is something my family has been making ever since I was a wee one. Like most soups, the ingredient list is more of a suggestion than a rule. It’s also slow-cooker friendly, which we found to be very welcome this year, since, well, y’know how on Thanksgiving Friday you don’t want to cook at all? Well, I kinda screwed that one up big-time by experimenting with the pot-pies, so come Saturday we really super-mega didn’t want to cook, but luckily I had slow-cookered up a big batch of this the night before. Victory, “turkey soup” is thy name.

Continue reading »

Dec 072009
 

Let’s be real for a minute. We all know that beefy burgers are bad for us, right? Even if you’re like me and you don’t particularly like 98% of the burgers out there (the rosemary burger at the Bear Tooth Grill in Anchorage is the lone exception, in case you were wondering. And while we’re on the topic of the Bear Tooth, that burger is served with scrumptious garlic-cilantro fries – utterly unfair. Again, I don’t particularly like the fries at 98% of restaurants, but the Bear Tooth is the one place I will get them. Holy digression, Batman!) it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you just want to eat something that you can hold like a burger, like a sandwich piled so high you have to unhinge your jaw just to shove it in. Ahi burgers are a great way to fill this niche, but what if you live in, ahem, a desert and have spotty access to good seafood?

Rancho Gordo midnight black beans

A lot of people turn to garden-burgers, and they are… oh, how do I put this delicately?… absolute rubbish. I once heard a Brit say that the idea repulsed him, since they call their lawns gardens over there, and he imagined it being full of yard clippings. Really, I don’t think he was far off the mark.

So, because of those disgusting facsimiles of real food, vegetarian burgers get a bad rap that they truly don’t deserve. Done right, they’re substantial and full of flavor. No, they don’t taste like beef, but they’re not supposed to, and in my opinion, they’re much more delicious than all but 2% of the cow burgers out there. They’re far more healthy and honestly I think they’re even heartier and more filling.

You may be thinking “Sure, Stacey, it’s obvious that a tree-hugger like yourself would love these, but what about people who really enjoy meat?” I’ll bring in Exhibit A, The Hubs, one who is much happier than me to eat beef. He actually requests these on a regular basis, so, to borrow an awesome phrase from Heather, they get the stamp of Manproval!

Of course, in a recipe like this ingredients matter. I can’t stress enough how much better these are when used with heirloom beans that I know to be less than a year old, as opposed to the five-to-ten years-old beans that you’ll find in on supermarket shelves. As usual, I have been gaga over the results I’ve gotten with Rancho Gordo midnight black beans, but you will still get good results with supermarket beans – you will just need to cook them longer and use more aromatics and spices to flavor them. Canned beans will work just fine too if you want to make these on short notice.

I think that the only thing that could really make these black bean burgers even better is a good homemade whole-wheat burger bun. I have yet to branch out into those but I shall soon! These were photographed on bagels that had been baked that day. Unconventional, yes, but who am I to say no to using whatever fresh homemade bread I have on hand as an alternative to store-bought buns?

So pull out your stores of black beans and get a-soakin’. Treat yourself to a real black bean burger and revel in the fact that you can finally have a burger that tastes great and is actually good for you!

Black bean burgers on a home-made bagel

Click for the recipe →

Nov 062009
 

By now, you’ve probably been able to tell that I’m having a love affair with Rancho Gordo beans. They’re just so damn good (and good for you) – I can’t help trying to put them into every food imaginable. I love them so much that someone who possibly lives in my house may have possibly placed an order for 45 pounds of beans from them a couple of weeks ago. My thinking was that I was buying a year’s worth of beans, but at the rate I’m finding fantastic recipes, the ten pounds of garbanzos may only last a couple of months. We’re not even going to mention the fifteen pounds of black beans and fifteen pounds of borlottis that arrived in the same shipment. But I digress.

I’ve recently started reading the Rancho Gordo blog and was ecstatic to find this particular recipe on there last week. It sounded so delicious, so healthy, and so satisfying, that I had to hurry up and make some chicken stock post-haste (as we had just run out two days before – like I’ve said before, the stuff burns a hole in my freezer) so that I could put this soup on the table.

Clearly, I hadn’t really been paying attention when I read up on the ingredients – I must have just been skimming for the produce I would need to add to the grocery list. So I didn’t really notice that it called for cinnamon until I was mise en place-ing everything. It was such a pleasant surprise though – we Americans are really missing out by regarding cinnamon as a wholly sweet spice rather than something that can be used to great effect in savory dishes. It brought a whole new dimension to the soup: adding a fullness not otherwise present and bringing to mind the most comforting of comfort foods. Try this on a cold, dreary winter night with a glass of lush cabernet and discover it for yourself!

Chickpea soup with barley and chard

Click for the recipe →

Nov 012009
 

Right now I’ve got bagels for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge retarding in the fridge, but I decided that I’m kinda overdosing on all that white flour and it’s high time that I posted a whole-grain bread. This particular bread is one of my favorites for its challenges, its fun, and its textures and I can’t believe that it’s taken me more than two years to get around to sharing it.

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

First, its challenges: this bread contains a lot of chewy, delicious bulgar wheat berries. However, all those grains can really get in the way with the formation of long gluten strands. As a result, I don’t usually achieve the humongous rise that my basic whole wheat and oatmeal loaves have spoiled me with, but really, it’s ok – the flavor more than makes up fr it! Also, this dough is very soft and slippery (more on that later), which means that if you start daydreaming while you’re supposed to be focusing on push, fold, rotate, push, fold, rotate, then it could end up shooting across the room. Now, the last challenge: occasionally the dough will tear, freeing an avalanche of bulgar across the kneading board. Not to worry, you’ll learn soon enough how to poke the grains back into the dough, conceal the tear with a couple of folds, and keep kneading like a pro. Crisis managed!

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

Secondly, this dough is a lot of fun. This was my first truly enriched bread and it uses a novel way to incorporate the butter into the dough: you smear it across the board and let the dough soak it up as you knead! It’s pretty ingenious, and if it wasn’t for the bulgar dotting the surface of the dough it would be the poster child for satiny and supple. It also makes the dough very soft, so if you’re looking for the culprit causing the above challenges, look no further.

Thirdly, the texture of this bread is just out of this world. In addition to the butter doing marvelous things to the taste and texture, the buttermilk acts as a dough conditioner, making it even lighter, more complex, and more delicate tasting. Throughout baking, the bulgar keeps its toothy texture and it even makes me want to nibble at the bread little by little, picking out the grains so I can eat them separately. If you can tear yourself away from eating it plain, it’s pretty devastating on a sandwich piled high with some home-roasted chicken and some fresh produce.

So if you’re in the mood for a whole-grain bread that is still wholesome and delicious but puts a new spin on the old formula, try this recipe on for size. It’s well worth the effort!

Warning: do not toast and butter - you will consume the whole loaf that way!
Nikon D50

Continue reading »

Oct 252009
 

I’ve never been a big fan of rice. The way Americans do it is just so… blah. Brown rice suffers even more than the typical white rice. Some inspiration is needed, and fast!

Bored with rice?  Bring some new flavors into the mix
Nikon D50

We’re not going to even talk about boxed products like Rice A Roni – all I can taste is chemicals, and if you’re daring enough to face the three-inch list of ingredients, you’ll find MSG or its precursors. Yuck! Many people have tried to liven up rice by adding chicken broth or stock, but this too is problematic. If you use commercial broth, you’re left with something unpalatably salty. If you use homemade stock, the gelatin interacts with the grains somehow, leaving a gross, sticky mess that is incapable of absorbing all of its cooking liquid. I have tried many, many times to find a good water-to-stock ratio that will flavor the rice but won’t leave it gummy and waterlogged but have failed every time. Clearly, another approach is in order.

Bored with rice?  Bring some new flavors into the mix
Nikon D50

First off, I gave up any hope in making plain brown rice interesting. I needed to infuse some other flavors, and fast. So one day at a local health food store, I parked myself in front of the bulk bins and started picking and choosing some different grains to make my rice more interesting and more textured. I was very happy with my chosen blend – brown rice, wild rice, wheat berries, and rye berries – because it definitely had more flavor and it had a marvelous toothiness to it, but I still wanted more.

To find something suitable, I took my cue from a land where rice is actually a staple grain, figuring that they, of all people, would know how to make it interesting. I settled upon some inspiration from spiced Indian rice dishes that I love so well and opted for a pilaf that begins with whole spices. This, too, was better, but it still needed something more. Little by little, I whittled my way down to the solution, adding and subtracting things, until last night, I finally hit upon a solution I loved. Even The Hubs liked it! At long last, rice – and most especially, healthy brown rice – has been delivered from tasteless purgatory.

The finished pilaf: flavorful rice,at last!
Nikon D50

Continue reading »

Oct 042009
 

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been cooking. It doesn’t matter what your favorite cuisine is or whether or not you actually know that you’re looking for something: there is a recipe out there for each of us that we have been yearning to make.

In this dish, I found mine: whether I knew it or not, zuppa di farro is the type of Italian food I’ve been trying to make since I learned how to cook.

No, it’s not smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It isn’t pasta and there is neither a meatball nor a wine-soaked pan-fried chicken cutlet to be found. But this, folks, is the real deal – it’s not Italian-American, it’s apologetically Tuscan.

Not that the Tuscans have a single thing to apologize for in their cuisine. The days I spent in Florence and Siena were non-stop food bliss. And though I never tried this soup while I was over there, as soon as I tasted it I knew that zuppa di farro was unmistakably at home there.

Cesare Casella, the author of this recipe’s cookbook, said that this soup is like the Italian equivalent of chicken soup – it cures all ills. It screams comfort food, and the moment it hit my lips I wished that the temperature would drop a good forty degrees and that the rain would start falling in sheets from the sky. So the next time a day like that rolls around, take my advice: put on a cozy chunky sweater and lounge around the house with a good book in your hand and a somnolent hound at your feet while a pot of this simmers away on the stove.

Zuppa di farro

Click for the recipe →

Sep 062009
 

As I mentioned in the previous entry, since moving to Tucson, Cory and I have really gotten into grilling our dinners. I’m enamored of the ease of it all – after so long of being confined to a kitchen in a cold climate, making fairly elaborate meals, it’s a relief to so some basic prep work and then hand off the food to Cory to cook it. The wonderful part is that we’re not sacrificing any flavor or quality with the method.

Fresh mango salsa for the tacos
Nikon D50

Fish is our protein of choice as often as we can get it – not as easy as it sounds in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Cory and I started enumerating our favorite fish tonight over dinner, and it turns out that Cory’s favorite happen to be one his plate. We got especially hooked on it when we were in Hawaii a year and a half ago because, really, does it get any better than when it’s fresh off the boat, raw, and prepared in a poke? If you can’t get it that way, it’s best prepared simply, with as little cooking as possible.

Orange bell peppers and broccoli cook on the grill
Nikon D50

With that in mind, we set out to create something yummy that would complement not only the flavor of the fish itself but also the memories of our time on the Island. What we whipped together tastes fresh and light, with just the right texture between the rare ahi and crispy slaw and the sweet and tart flavors brought in by the salsa and lime. The avocado ties it all together and just makes everything better, just like it always does. Enjoy the tacos with the grilled veggies and a chilled dry white wine to tie together a healthy and satisfying summer meal!

Fresh ahi wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla, topped, with salsa, served with grilled vegetables and white wine
Nikon D50

Continue reading »

%d bloggers like this: