Usually I am paid to cook, but today (my day off!), I cooked for MYSELF. It always feels so good to do, and I have to admit, I do not do it enough these days. Sure, I make simple things, but I do not spend the day making things without recipes like I used to. It is so nice to be freed from pages of measurements, and it took me a bit to notice how awesome that freedom of creativity truly is. The intuitive chef has not left the building…
Cooking Day Off began by making my mom brunch. We received a phone call in the morning saying my grandfather went to the hospital, so I went to out to do some errands in case my Mom would be going up to be with him. I have only a bicycle, and it is hard to schlep things like gallons of soymilk, eggs, GINORMOUS jugs of vinegar (for daily egg poaching, of course), and loaves of bread that might be smashed. When I got back home, she had not had breakfast yet, so she asked me if the Donnegal Diner was open for business. It sure was!
Next, I set forth to deal with a classic Kitchen Manager fail: pulling product from the cold storage without specific plan or timeline for use. I had this ground venison that I grabbed out of the freezer several days ago, thinking I would make something to use as a wrap filling, or a topping for creamy polenta. On Thursday, my knees hurt so bad after paid cooking (bike accident, running in crappy shoes – now replaced), that all I wanted to do was buy something. I do not feel like that very often, but took the opportunity to enjoy some tandoori chicken from Saffron. I ate leftovers of that for lunch at work on Friday, and then ended up poaching an egg to eat after getting home at 8:30PM, with very sore knees. Saturday and Sunday are the days I wake up at 5 AM to cycle and arrive at
work, er, paid cooking within 15 minutes of 7AM, when my cooking shift begins. I did that until 5:30, then until 4 on Sunday. By Sunday evening I was Very Tired, and had my second poached egg in a wrap for dinner. I LOVE these eggs, by the way. My fantastic co-worker Amy has chickens, and so on Tuesdays she brings in a dozen for me. They are multicolored and a adorable, and taste SO GOOD.
This left me with the going-bad venison in my fridge, a sweet potato and squash that will not cut up or roast themselves, several increasingly brown bananas, and a day off ahead of 6 days not off (paid cooking). This means it would be smart to do some classic kitchen girl planning – a fantastic opportunity!
I sat for a moment creating my plan of execution: I would get the vegetables roasting, and then deal with the venison, which I wanted to make into something to be frozen and eaten on future busy days… what to do with it? Should I make kofta patties? Should I throw together some kind of chili to freeze? ………TACOS!!! While roasting vegetables, I would make taco filling. Which then reminded me of the glut of CSA bell peppers I’d noticed earlier while the Diner was open. I could make a surplus of onion/bell pepper mixture to combine with the venison, and also freeze some of that to use in something else later. The bananas would obviously become banana bread, the last project, which I could throw in the oven and do other awesome Pro Bono Cooking Day Off activities such as: taking a nice long shower, doing/putting away laundry, cleaning up bedroom, looking up ideas for carving the pumpkins I bought today, and forcing myself not to work out so my knees will for sure feel awesome over the next six days.
I will simply post a slide show of what I made, and mention a few things about process/ingredients used/etc.
- I decided to dice the veggies pretty small, add in some onion, garlic, and Pink Lady apple! I decided to make this cold sandwich wrap filling slightly “Asian” (pardon my awful umbrella term there), so I just chopped it all up, tossed the mixture with olive oil, salt, pepper, a bit of sesame oil, rice vinegar, white miso, and some curry powder. Set the oven at 400, then popped in the 13×9 metal pan until everything looked done – checking it periodically and stirring to ensure even cooking.
- I also decided to cook the venison separate from the peppers and onions for a couple reasons. One, I do not use venison often, an was unsure of its fat content. I did not want to have the vegetables be totally soaked in fat while cooking, and if I did that, I could drain the meat in a colander to remove excess oil. I also would be cooking too much of the onion and peppers on purpose, so cooking them separately would mean I could remove as much as I’d like to freeze, and then add in the rest to the meat.
- At the last minute I decided to cook the bell peppers and onions with some minced garlic and a can of stewed tomatoes. I thought that would be a nice addition to whatever I make with the frozen remainder, and make the tacos taste better. The venison turned out not to be as fatty as I expected, and was frankly a bit dry, so I thought the tomatoes would add some moisture in a nice way.
- For the banana bread, I did use a recipe. I have enjoyed Simply Recipes for many years, and realised it had been ages since cooking anything based on her work. My only tweak was in adding about 1/3 cup of greek yogurt to the mix. I think adding some dairy to cookies and quick breads tends to be a good idea.
- After cooking the mixture of roasted vegetables in the refrigerator, I added greek yogurt and some nayonnaise, salt and pepper, dijon mustard, chopped grapes, and a bit more rice vinegar. It is really just a creamy vegetable salad that can be eaten on its own, or in a wrap like I do. It’s just easy and only seems to taste better after a few days. I love the combination of sweet and savory, so omit the grapes and apples if you like, or add in some bacon or tempeh or hard boiled eggs. This is one of those concept recipes I love with infinite potential for flavoring. It’s just so easy and nutritious – a nice change to make something en masse that is not soup for busy days.
It has been some weeks since I updated my Edible Plants series. I am currently listening to the book Farm City: An Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. She lives in Oakland, CA and is able to construct a fantastic urban garden, well ultimately farmstead really, on an abandoned lot next to her house – she calls it her “squat garden.” The writing is humorous and she manages to raise critical issues surrounding the food movement as it pertains to urban people within the larger context of history, industrial agriculture, and the myriad of “fad” or “trendy” takes on how we ought to feed ourselves without a soap box or liturgical ranting style that I felt Gabrielle Hamilton’s writing tended to smack of. I appreciate the humility and genuine nature of her style where she seems to be merely chronicling her own journey and process through making her vision a reality, and making sense of why she is doing it.
This pertains to the Edible Plant Series because one of the cool things I learned from this book (which is littered with facts about the origins of vegetables, the history of animal husbandry, the history and modern place for the “back to the earth” movement), is that carrots are native to Afghanistan! I definitely never would have come up with that if you asked me where I thought they started off there. Another tip towards my discussing carrots today is that my mom ran into our farmer, Dennis, who provides our CSA share. His farm is called Blue Dog Greens (make sure to check out his website, and if you live in the area, consider getting veggies from him – they are SO good!) form which we will begin receiving produce as of June 1! He said that he has had a wonderful growing season, and that his carrots are going to be fantastic. And, if the carrots I have had from him in the past don’t live up to these, we are going to be in for a real treat – they are SO GOOD.
Carrots began their culinary journey in Asia around 5,000 years ago. They did not start out orange! They were typically purple, but other colors existed as well. Bitter in nature, they were first used medicinally, but, as with most plants that are domesticated, the roots became larger and sweeter with time. Apparently, they were considere to be an aphrodisiac 😉
Greeks hated carrots, but the Romans loved them because their culture tended to be more accepting of robust flavors. Eating them cooked and raw, the early Roman cookbook Apicius even includes them in its pages. In the 12th century AD, Moors brought the roots to continental Europe where they spread to Great Britain and were cultivated there before coming to the New World. The orange color has resulted from selective breeding, and tended to be more appealing to the eye. This resulted in carrots becoming widely accepted as something for people to eat.
The Dutch are actually responsible for this change from purple to orange where they were used New World mutant seeds to steer the carrot towards sweetness rather than its typically bitter nature. Yellow carrots (the mutants) were crossed with ye old purple ones, and resulted in orange carrots! They are rumoured to have been adopted by The House of Orange under William I as the national vegetable in honor of the fight for independence from Spain.
Carrots are, thus, delineated into two categories – the original and bitter Eastern variety, and the new Western, under which there are a few general classifications.
- Chantenay carrots are typically shorter and wider with a very thick top and blunt bottom. They tend to be used in canned goods or other processed and pre cooked creations.
- Danvers are conical and have a well defined tip. They are slightly longer than the Chantenay type and can tolerate heavier soils. Developed in the 19th century in Danvers, MA, they are now used for the most part in pureed baby food you buy at the grocery store.
- Imperator carrots are the kind we usually see sold in bags at the store. They are, on average, the third longest of the carrot varietals.
- Nantes are the shortest and are much sweeter than any other type.
They are related to parsnips, best grown in sandy soil and cooler temperatures. They flower after their second year of cultivation – they are biennials. Adding a sweet flavor to dishes when cooked, they are often used in stocks, soups, braises, and other things that are cooked slow and steady. As a side, they are fantastic if you steam or boil them and toss with butter or oil and some chopped herbs, salt and pepper. Carrots are a mainstay of cooking, appearing in the tried and true mirepoix – the base for so many traditional dishes in European cuisine – consisting of celery, carrots, and onion.
We all know carrots are supposedly great for the eyes. If you are focused on Beta Carotene, make sure to cook them for maximum benefits, as only 3% of beta carotene is released during digestion when consumed raw, and jumps to 39% when cooked! Beta Carotene is metabolized into Vitamin A. Eating too many will actually turn your skin orange – this is not a myth. Vitamin A is responsible for improving eyesight (a lack of it actually will negatively affect your night vision). During WWII in England pilots were encouraged to eat more carrots in order to improve their ability to shoot at enemy targets. Carrots are also known to help with improving digestion, fighting off intestinal parasites, and mitigating both tonsillitis and constipation.
Something else I would love to share with you is this piece I listened to earlier today on NPR’s show Being. They show’s host interviews chef Dan Barber in front of a live audience. He is a chef at the Blue Hill Farm restaurants in New York – they have two locations: one on Manhattan and another in the Hudson Valley on a farm. He is a visionary and smart person who happens to also be quite funny. I appreciate his take on food, and I like this particular piece as it focuses on ethical issues surrounding the local food movement. I felt like it was particularly timely given that I am listening to the previously mentioned book! As Susan and my Mom would say, a case of Mexican Wrestler Syndrome 🙂 I encourage you guys to listen to it and check out the restaurants when you’re on the East Coast. For good measure, I will toss out this recipe for his scrambled eggs recipe that I found!
A couple of weeks ago I told you all we are now sprouting our own seeds. The first batch was successful, and they are SO good. Just like getting fresh lettuce out of the garden and not the store, these sprouts definitely taste better.
Alfalfa is a crop native to Iran (it is also known as lucerne). Generally it is used as a “green manure” or a feed crop for cattle or other farm animals. Alfalfa made its way to Europe around 491 BCE, showing up in Greece after the Persians invaded there. In the second century BCE, they showed up in China. There alfafa was also typically used in these places also as livestock feed, but people would eat it in times of famine or shortage out of desperation. It was notably consumed for this reason durin Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
A perennial crop (meaning you can plant it and it will grow again the next year by reseeding itself), it grows well in either warm temperate, or cool subtropical settings. It has deep roots, and is able to grow even in very dry places. It is a member of the clover family that grows 3 leaves that have a serrated tip upon short stalks. Alfalfa flowers are blue or purple and small. It is a legume, which means it fixes nitrogen in the soil – a very important process that actually improves soil conditions (unlike corn which tends to leach nutrients without replacing anything at all). It is a fantastic crop to grow as part of responsible farming within a crop rotation cycle in between crops of less soil-friendly plants.
The sprouts are easy to make by soaking them overnight in a thin layer that is covered, then leaving them in a warm place to sprout. They must be drained twice a day, and will sprout within a few days! The sprouts are mild (unlike other more intense varieties, such as sprouted onion, broccoli, etc.). They have a nutty, mild flavor that is versatile in its uses on salads, sandwiches, or garnish. The mature alfalfa plant has a pungent, earthy flavor and its young leaves are eaten as a vegetable in China.
The sprouts are extremely nutritions, containing high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin K, and minerals introduced by the soil they are grown in. They have been used throughout the world in traditional medicine – both Chinese, Ayurvedic, and now modern alternative medicine as a solution to urinary tract infections, digestive ailments, ulcers, arthritis, and fluid retention. Important to note, though, is that all legume sprouts contain toxins, so eating them in moderation or cooking them is important to take into consideration.
I have been putting the sprouts on green leaf salads mainly, but I made this panzanella salad for my mom to take with her to work for her class to eat. We had this loaf of day old black bean salsa bread, some stale chips, and so I made a quick migas/panzanella dish.
Spicy Bean & Salsa Panzanella Migas Fusion
- 2-3 cups cubed bread, toasted until dried out
- 1 cup stale chips, crumbled up
- 1/2 cup onion, finely minced
- 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup store bought salsa, or diced tomatoes
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- juice of a lemon or lime & zest
- salt & pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp coriander
- chili powder to taste
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 cup hard cheese (I used asiago because that’s what we had)
- 1-2 cups spinach or arugula
- Chop up your bread, and spread it out on a jelly roll pan. Place it in the oven and turn it on to 350. Check on it periodically and once it is dry, you can take it out.
- Drain your can of beans in a colander, and rinse.
- Heat up 1 tbsp olive oil in a saute pan, and begin to saute your onions and mushrooms until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and you can add in some of the spices mentioned in the list to flavor the vegetables if you like. Mix in the beans at this point.
- In a large bowl, mix the rest of the olive oil through cheese with a whisk, add in the bread, and toss. Add in the sauteed vegetables and continue to toss. If the mixture is dry, you can add more oil or citrus.
- Mix in the arugula, and place in a serving dish. Top with sprouts!
I love this dessert so much. Last time I made it was the classic way, with cherries. I made little muffin sized ones, which was a nice twist. This time I twisted it by using strawberries, while cooking it in the traditional large pan. The recipe is the same one I used before, on this time substituting the strawberries. Make sure you butter the pan really well, or it will stick and get all messed up when you try to serve it.
The swirl on this is a store bought balsamic reduction sauce I put on things all the time. Balsamic vinegar makes a fantastic addition to fruity desserts because of its sweet and tangy nature, it compliments berries especially well. I recommend a splash in any cobbler, crumble, or clafoutis you make this season!
I would also like to share some music with everyone this morning. My friends have released a fantastic new album you all should totally check out. Grand & Noble has been working hard on getting this out, and will hopefully be playing some shows this summer in Chicago and surrounding areas! You can listen to the tracks, and buy the album here. My favorite tracks (at the moment) are In Effigy and Send Me On My Way.
I know I said I was going to write about citrus on page 69, but have changed my mind. Lately I have been thinking about not eating enough things like kale, chard, spinach, mustard greens, etc. I used to eat a lot of these delicious plants, but somehow they fell off my radar within the past few years. I know that the darker the greens, the healthier. I don’t know anything about the nutritional profile, or the history. Perhaps the book and a little other research will shed light upon this.
My book says that kale was the primary green vegetable consumed at the end of the Middle Ages throughout Europe. It is a Scottish name which was actually spread via writers from Scotland who wrote about rural life there – it was actually a synonym for dinner! They are part of the Acephala Group of brassicas. It is a descendent of wild cabbage that does not develop a head. They range from flatter leafed to extremely curly and compact. Some varieties people tend to eat, while others are reserved mainly for animal feed.
In Southern cooking, kale, as well as other deep greens, are often simmered with a large chunk of meat to tenderize the leaves, as well as impart delicious meaty flavor. In my own cooking, I usually used it as I would spinach – throwing it in at the end of a soup, using it in stir fries, and even in pasta or pizza sauce. Why not add in a nutritional powerhouse whenever possible? (I am writing this to remind myself to start doing this again.)
Nutritionally speaking, kale is packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. According to our friend Wikipedia, it is “very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxathin, and reasonably rich in calcium.. indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells… also a good source of carotenoids.” While cooking it reduces the anti-cancer properties, boiling, steaming, microwaving (ew), or stir frying is does not diminish its nutritional profile very much. So, making a lovely massaged kale salad is the best way to go if you want to maintain those cancer fighting properties.
Something else I used to make often with kale (since we got so much of it in our winter CSA) was a simple sauteed side dish. My mom showed me this one, actually, and all you do is rinse it, de-stem it, chop it up if you want. Then mince a whole bunch of garlic, melt butter or toss olive oil into a big pan, and lightly brown that. Next, toss in the kale, add salt and pepper, and allow it to wilt to your liking. Sometimes I would grate some parmesan into it, and squirt lemon over the top. You can also add in any herbs you would like, some cayenne pepper would be good. Or even take an Asian twist and use some toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds! I will make something with kale within the week – if I do not, definitely call me out 😉
Oh, and please comment letting me know any awesome kale recipes you have up your sleeves. I know somebody does!
And Two Annoucements:
- A few days ago, my mom reveled she has this cute sprout making tower. Tonight we started our first batch! You put 1 tbsp seeds into each tray, and then pour some water into the top. It trickles down through all the trays via these nifty siphons, and after a few days voila! Sprouts! Cannot wait to put them in ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. So good. I know you can do this with a mason jar and screen, but sometimes you gotta love random toys like this one. We also have a yogurt maker… Stay tuned.
- My dad hung up the awesome chalkboard I groundscored from this alley while I was living in Chicago. I have towed it from there to Michigan, to DC, and now back here. It is finally being properly utilized. I need smaller chalk – all I have is awesome day glow sidewalk chalk (which will get used, but not on this sign). I will write about this recipe tomorrow.
I am taking pause at the moment. There is dough (butter browned, of course, a test splash of Kalamazoo Coffee Chiapas Altura from my Favorite Color mug, and no extra salt) in my great grandmother’s yellow bowl, spoons sticking out at odd angles. There is a batch already nearly done in the oven, and another tray ready to go in. These are thank you cookies for my neighbor who kindly fixed my bike’s brakes a few days ago. Earlier I decided that I want to do a weekly post about edible plants. I am involved with the Potluck Cookoff at 315 W. Walnut St. and am becoming re-immersed in people who wonder whether there will be rhubarb in two weeks, or need to make sure they cover their gardens when April snow is forecast.
I have tended a garden for years, grabbing up basil leaves and warm tomatoes for that morning’s breakfast, but all the plants were bought from a greenhouse. They tell you how much shade (or not shade) the variety will need, what is in season, and how long to expect it will be before harvest time. I know nothing about gardening. I am, now, in a position to learn a lot. My dear friend is our master gardener, and has now planted rows of peas, beets, greens, chard, radishes, and soon so much more. This is one of those chances where proximity, knowledge, friendship, and home all converge. I think I might be able to learn a thing or two about plants this year.
While cleaning out my closet, in which I found that retro journal a few weeks ago, I also found all my boxes of books. I organized them as such: Read. Unread. The book I plan to use as an aid for this project was given to me by my Aunt Ginny several years ago for Christmas when it became clear I was Supposed To Cook A Lot. It called Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. The book actually crept into my memory in the midst of my return to Michigan, while walking along side Aunt Ginny at the Botanic Gardens located next to Congress on the National Mall. I was so happy to see little signs with Black Bean Tree, and Curry Plant, Cilantro, all growing in one room and teaching toursits in jean shorts what food looks like in one of its earlier forms of consumption – before the burrito or Thai lunch special hits their lips.
I am going to start on page 64 – Fruits: Citrus. Tonight I will decide about how I want to proceed with this, as there are so many varieties that I want to learn and tell everyone about, but then I would just be rewriting the book… The book actually starts out with a lot of background, history, and information about modern issues such as shipping, food availability, and how many mouths there are on this planet that all need something all the time. I think that this book, along with the Flavor Bible, would be good additions to anyone’s library beyond those shiny oversized food porn cookbooks/coffee table fodder.
This is also where I would like to give a general call to my readers to please get involved and comment – if you would like to share information you have about plants, gardening, and ingredients, I would love nothing more than to hear it. Pouring words from my brain through fingertips to your screen and the internet is all well and good, and that is the nature of the beast, but getting to know the people I see only as Site Statistics sure does make me curious about you guys. Maybe you would like to say hi? 🙂
(These cookies are, by the way, turning out well. And there are way too many, so I am glad I have a neighbor to share them with, otherwise I might have to do a little more walking than usual in the next few days.)
I have pushed the pause button on my audiobook, and I would like to tell you about it. Gabrielle Hamilton’s book Blood, Bones, & Butter was kindly reserved for me by my mom. I just threw it on the other day without even reading the back, and I have to say, I am loving it. It is hitting the spot given various things about life, etc. etc. so it is nice to feel less alone and perhaps shine someone else’s light down my own path – sure makes it all seem less scary when you can do that, doesn’t it? Well, I would highly recommend the book. It’s funny because Gabriella has ended up in many places that are so familiar to me, and I like that a lot. She makes food at a summer camp in the Berkshires, writes of getting supplies in Pittsfield, and now is attending grad school in Ann Arbor at U of M. While I do not pretend to be anything but a midwesterner, having just left the East Coast and returned back to the mitten makes me smile to hear her words about and observations of this part of the country’s contrast to her life in New York City. It is much appreciated. While I like to think I can hold my own at penthouse parties, to look at expensive dresses without blinking an eye, I am always going to be more myself in cut offs, grilling in a back yard with loud music blasting. I am still not a grown up. So yeah, check out this book.
I have not heard this sound in ages, and I thought all you PBS kids might appreciate these as an end to my book review post: &
Since moving home I have become increasingly nostalgic. Looking through my old boxes of important items, I have found cards from my grandmothers, old Onion articles I thought were super funny and printed, and AOL emails with that classic footer included.
I also found my old photos, journals, and notes passed in classes from friends.
One of my favorite discoveries has been this:
My grandma Huggett – my namesake – got this for me at Goodwill. I wrote about receiving the journal in its first entry recounts this gift, says my cat is super cute, includes the requisite middle school related gossip (with such gems as being pissed at a friend for dating this guy I made out with and definitely liked), self loathing, and a tale of horseback riding lessons! Oh, to be 13…… The last entry apologizes to the book itself by stating there is not enough room to include photos, and that I would be switching to a new book, but there ought not be any hard feelings. (You know you’re overly sensitive when you apologize to inanimate objects. Just sayin’.)
Moral of the story: be kind to yourself, especially with the words you say in your head. Inner monologue that is mean will not get you anywhere except back to square one. I should also say that to encourage this in those you see around you, especially young people, would be a good thing for the world. Though, lord knows, they don’t always listen…
I am so not into spirituality, otherworldliness, ghosts, and things of that nature. I do, however, enjoy horoscopes and zodiac descriptions sometimes. I usually check out Astrobarry for that. This journal has descriptions of Astrological signs that I thought were interesting.
A deep, mysterious character; often deceptive in telling the truth. Very rhythmical and fond of dancing. Gentle and amiable. Inclined to procrastinate. Prone to making excuses to justify their actions. Not so good in financial affairs, but astonishingly accurate if necessary. Mathematical ability great. A gentle and subtle speaker. Domestic. In public affairs sound and conservative. Shrewd in tactics, ingenious. Make a good scientist, philosopher or clergyman. Best friends – Aquarius or Gemini.
What strikes me about this is how accurate it is in the way I see myself, even though this journal is 50 years old.
My mom & other people:
An all around person, but specializing in nothing. Fond of imparting knowledge to others. An excellent teacher, a good surgeon, and a poor mathematician. Kind, generous, and courageous. Common sense stupendous, but too practical to be visionary. Never gives quick or drastic decisions; too restrand and discreet. Writes fluently and pleasantly, but too superficial to be real authors. Many bachelors. A good public citizen. Best companions – Gemini & Libra.
Another sign I have dealt with a great deal, for good measure:
Both active and passive, their determination of an idea cannot be balked, but if hert they can lose heart. Idealistic, poetic, romantic and imaginative, often times lazy. Inspiring teachers or guides. Rarely strongly intellectual. Spiritually developed. Moody. Easily adaptable to environment. Writes fluently and pleasantly, but unoriginal. Easily swayed and should cultivate independence, generally taking the line of least resistance. Enjoy working with their hands. Best friends – Pices & Scorpio.
If anyone is curious about their retro astrology, let me know 🙂