Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wrap Up

Well, it's my last post of Vegan MoFo and I accomplished my goal of writing 5 days a week for the month.  Hooray!  I was surprised at how much easier it is to write 5 days a week vs. 7 (my goal in past years).  It wasn't too hard to manage.

I thought I'd wrap up Vegan MoFo with a wrap up of my garden for the year.  Really, I still have a bit of  collards and kale out there that I'm harvesting as needed.  But the garden's basically done for the year and I have my final tallies for the harvest!

The big winner for 2010?  Cucumbers!  I harvested 73 pounds of them!  Next up is tomatoes at 67 pounds and green beans at 28 pounds.  Total yield is 202.7 pounds!  That's a lot of food...

I'm pretty disappointed in my tomato harvest- it was about half of last year's yield because of the weird weather this year.  I had my hopes high with that early spring, but then the cold came early, too.  Luckily I was able to get a few cases from the farmers' market for my canning purposes.

The overall harvest was only 9 pounds more than last year's, despite more intense planting.

My canning totals are down from last year, mostly because I was more planful about what I really needed and would use during the year.  I ended up with 134 pints of salsa, pickles, jam, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, soup, onions, okra, etc.  (not all in pint jars- some is actually in quarts and 1/2 pints, of course).

Why keep all these records?  If you have to ask, then you don't know me very well.  I like records for the sake of records.  But, seriously, I like to think that if I wanted to I could compare the price of my seeds and manure to the value of the veggies and fruit that I harvest and find out how much money I saved.  And I love trying to increase my garden yields and remember exactly how many jars of salsa it takes to last us through a year (the answer?  I don't know!  I've never made enough!).  For example, I found out last year that I don't really need 13 quarts of cucumber pickles.  So I made slightly less this year (it was tough to make less, though, because of the bumper crop of cukes!).

Another reason I love these records?  Years ago my friend Morgen shared an old canning cookbook with me that her mom used [Shout out to Sandy!].  In it her mother had recorded the quantities of canned goods she produced- I was in awe!  She had canned so much and kept such careful notes.  And it was so cool for Morgen (also an avid canner) to get to see her mother's notes and carry on her tradition.  I'm keeping notes now in hopes that some day my stepsons might have gardens of their own and crave the pickles that their mean ol' stepmother made.  We'll see...

Monday, November 29, 2010

When I'm Not Cooking

This past weekend I got a lot done.  But that didn't include cooking.  I did a serious deep clean of the kids' room and rearranged the furniture.  Mike and I filled cracks in the house with foam insulation.  We repaired the back of the fridge (don't ask).  We covered all the windows in plastic film to cut down on drafts.  I ordered and picked up our photo holiday cards and a few gifts.

Luckily we had Thanksgiving leftovers so I didn't starve, because I didn't cook at all.

My leftover potatoes and spinach casserole became potato cakes for Saturday morning breakfast and I ate stuffing/dressing for at least 3 more meals.

 Last night I was exhausted and couldn't eat stuffing again.  So I opted for the fruit and nut plate.  Fresh fruit was a nice change!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving- In photos

Cornbread batter poured into hot oil in the cast iron skillet...yum!

Snow works good for cooling down cornbread quickly.

It was a little sad to break apart all that cornbread for dressing. I might have eaten a bite or two.

Appetizers: Homemade cornichons and pickled green beans
(Not pictured: roasted chestnuts)

Cranberry ginger jam (also canned up about 6 half pints for later)

Marinated & roasted portabellos

Super creamy rosemary mashed potatoes by Mike's mom

Cornbread dressing

Spinach casserole

Roasted parsnips, carrots and red onion with balsamic glaze

My plate (pre-cranberry jam)

Mike eyeing the pecan pie truffles

Pumpkin ice cream pie with salted caramel sauce

Hot cider mulled with craisins

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On the Table

Like every year, my Thanksgiving dinner is on Friday.  So today, while all of you are stressing out...I'm enjoying an extra day off work, relaxing and slowly prepping ingredients for tomorrow's meal.  But don't be too jealous.  Having Thanksgiving on Friday means that Thursday is a little lonely.  And that everyone coming to my dinner has already had their fill of Thanksgiving the day before.  Plus, half of my guests are omnivores!

I planned out my meal and then peeked at my post from last year.  Surprise!  I planned nearly the exact same thing that I did the year before.

To start:
Homemade pickles (green bean, cucumber, okra, beet)
Roasted chestnuts
Hot local cider

For the meal:
Cornbread dressing
Mashed potatoes
Spinach casserole
Roasted portabellos
Roasted garden carrots and parsnips
Cranberry sauce

For dessert:
Pumpkin ice cream pie with GF graham crust and a salted caramel sauce
Pecan pie truffles

Mike just asked me if this was going to be enough food.  I had my doubts until I saw it all written out.  This should do it.  I'll get ya'll some photos tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grapefruit Memories

I am ridiculously excited for grapefruit season to be here again!  The Texas grapefruits started coming in at the co-op last week and they're fantastic.  I'm working my way through a giant bag right now!

It was only last year that I started really liking grapefruit.  And if it's not organic Texas grapefruit, I'm not interested (s-n-o-b-b-y).  I remember the first time I had grapefruit as a little girl.  I was in Virginia visiting my Granny Sue and she had some Texas grapefruits (kind of funny that instead of trying Texas grapefruit in Texas, my home state, I tried it in Virginia).  Anyways, it was a little bitter and she sprinkled some sugar over the top.  This opened new doors for me.  I remember spooning the lightly sweetened grapefruit juice out of the rind to get the last bit.  And it felt very civilized and proper to eat grapefruit (a very grown up fruit) alongside my grandmother, probably because my Granny Sue was a very proper lady.

One of my favorite things about grapefruit is that it practically requires its own special spoon.  That just makes it even more fun!  I used to reserve my mom's grapefruit spoons for eating ice cream or weird frozen fruit juice slushy experiments that were too hard.  The sharp sides of the spoon shaved off thin layers to the treats, but it was a little scary to eat with a sharp spoon.  I can't really recommend letting children do this...  Now I have a single grapefruit spoon that I've taken to stashing in my purse after breakfast so that I can have a grapefruit snack at work, too.  Thankfully my mom is mailing a package soon and including a couple of her spoons I so enjoyed using when I was little.

If you're not a grapefruit fan, try the Texas red/pink grapefruits a try- They're sweeter than all the others!  And if you don't like them straight-up, try them in a salad like this.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Favorite Teas

This past weekend I had a bit of an adventure with all the freezing rain and ice in Minnesota. I was at a friend's house in Minneapolis celebrating her birthday until about midnight and then left to go home.  Surprise!  Freezing rain and the iciest conditions I've ever seen!  

That'll teach me to not check the weather before going out.  I scraped the car and tried to drive a couple blocks, but even at about 5 mph I was sliding all over the place.  Not one to risk my life or precious new car, I turned around (very, very slowly) and headed back to the party.  

Luckily several friends offered to put me up for the night.  I opted to walk the 15 blocks to sleep in an actual bed.  It was ridiculous trying to walk there- We were sliding all over the place!  I didn't pick up my feet the entire walk and there were several close calls, shrieks and a little bit of crawling.  But we made it.  

And although it was a little thing, I was so comforted to drink a cup of my favorite tea when we got to my friends' house.  I'm not too picky about tea- it just needs to be decaf.  But to have my very favorite tea after such a cold, wet and slippery night was just delicious.  

This got me thinking about my favorite teas (that and the fact that it's freezing cold in the house right now), so I thought I'd share them with you.  

My favorite tea?  Yogi Tea's Rooibos Chai.  It's my bedtime ritual to enjoy a cup of this.  Sometimes it's my morning ritual, too.  I love that it's calming and spicy and tastes fantastic with a splash of almond milk.  

Other favorites, in order of favorite-ness:

Yogi Lemon Ginger- Other lemon ginger teas are also good, but I think this is the best.  I like to add a little extra lemon and honey.  Perfect for sore throats, upset stomach or just a delightful cup of tea.

Yogi Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut- This is a dessert tea.  It's sweet and has a fantastic vanilla flavor.  It's also really good with some almond milk added, but doesn't need anything!

Peppermint Tea- I really prefer the Traditional Medicines brand, but Yogi Tea peppermint is okay, too.  The TM brand is so refreshing and pure and I can steep it forever and it never gets overpowering.  This tea is great for settling my stomach and also pretty invigorating.  

Choice Organic Decaf Mango Ceylon- This is the only true tea that I drink (from the camellia sinensis plant).  I love the fruity, but not acidic, flavor of this black tea.  I just steep it a couple of minutes and it's perfect.  Right now I have a batch of kombucha brewing that is based on this tea- Yum!  

What are your favorite teas?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Okra and Jackfruit Curry

I believe I've make it pretty darn clear how much I love Everest  in St. Paul for their amazing Nepalese/Tibetan food, especially the okra and the jackfruit dishes.  And since my trip to Dragon Star resulted in a can of jackfruit and some gorgeous okra, it decided to try my hand at combining my two favorite restaurant dishes into one, at home.  

If you haven't used jackfruit before, don't be scared.  It's a fruit, but lends itself very well to savory dishes because of its meaty texture.  And the flavor is pretty much nonexistent.  Be sure you pick up the variety canned in brine, though, not heavy syrup.  That would not be good.  

Now jackfruit has these little bean/seed things inside of it and those are perfectly fine to eat.  But they kind of creep me out, so I remove them.  They look like what I imagine ovaries look like.  Do you agree?

Now for the okra- I think the best way to convert okra haters to okra lovers is through lots and lots of oil.  This recipe doesn't call for deep-frying, but it does use more oil than I usually would both to get a semi-crispy texture in the okra and to carry the flavor from all the spices.  

This all comes together with tons of spices and some home canned tomatoes.  It was really easy and by the time the basmati rice was done cooking, so were the veggies.  

Don't... don't you want this?

Jackfruit and Okra Curry 
I served this up with a cumin papadum and some mango pickle.  Fantastic!

2-3 Tbsp. canola oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 lb. of okra, trimmed and cut into large chunks
1 can jackfruit in brine, drained and cut into chunks
2 tsp. whole coriander, crushed lightly
1 tsp. cumin seed
3/4 tsp. ground fenugreek
3/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/8 tsp. asafoetida
1/2 tsp. amchur
2 cups canned whole tomatoes
Salt to taste
Crushed red chilies to taste
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until oil ripples.  Add the onion and okra.  Stir frequently and cook (watch out for spattering oil!) until onions are translucent and everything is lightly browned.  Add jackfruit and spices and continue to cook until fragrant (don't let those spices burn!).  Add the tomatoes and lower heat to low.  Simmer until the tomatoes have broken down into a sauce-like consistency and okra is tender.  Add salt and chiles to taste.  I think this tastes great with plenty of salt and chilies in it, but it's very flavorful even without.  Serve with rice and garnish with a healthy handful of fresh cilantro.

This is the closest I've ever come to replicated the amazing flavors of Everest.  But their's is still better.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Squash to Drool Over

There's not much better than squash on a winter day.  Here's my favorite way to serve baked or roasted squash.

This is a red kuri squash dotted with Earth Balance (okay, maybe those are hunks rather than "dots") and drizzled with a sweet, thick balsamic vinegar.  Then just add a little salt and pepper for the best squash ever!  I know it sounds a bit simple.  But it's so good that it's worth mentioning.  


The leftover squash (if there is any) works great for making a roasted squash salad or soup.  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Gluten Free Miracle!

I just discovered something that is going to change our lives.  Or, at least our lives as they pertain to pizza.  And that's a pretty significant portion.  

This isn't going to look amazing.  In fact, it looks like a wet sponge.

Let me explain.  Frozen gluten free pizza crusts suck.  Not only are they basically just slightly thick tortillas, they cost like $9 for pure disappointment.  Plus, most of them are all of about 6 inches across.  What, gluten free people don't get to gorge themselves on large pizzas?  Sure, there are some exceptions- I don't want hate comments from anyone for implying that your favorite crust isn't so hot.  But of the ones I've tried (few, since most have eggs), I haven't been impressed.  I mean, this is 2010 and pretty much everyone and their mom wants to eat gluten free.  So what's the hold up on the GF pizza crust technology, folks?!  

I like making and freezing my own GF crusts, but I can only make and freeze 2 at a time since i only have 2 baking sheets to freeze them on.  Then I have to figure out how to seal the frozen crust in an airtight package for the freezer.  I've done foil, plastic wrap, super large baggies, etc.  My sort of oval, sort of square crusts never fit too well.

So this is where I'm coming from.  And now I've found a way to make my own frozen GF crusts at a rate of about 3-4 in 5 minutes.  This is pizza revolution.  

Here's my seriously simple solution to these issues.  After making a double batch of dough (recipe below), I just put the dough in an oiled large baggie and squish it around until it's flat and extends fully to all sides of the bag.  If you've worked with GF dough before, then you know that spreading it can be a nightmare on dough street.  Your hands stay clean with this method!  Then I seal and freeze the bags stacked on a flat surface.  To use the crust, I can peel the baggie back (for reusing the bag again) or just cut it off.*

*I realize that wasting a plastic bag might feel really wrong (It usually does to me).  But I use recycled plastic bags and figure that if I bought a crust it'd be in plastic and a non-recyclable box, too.  So it's still a little better than store-bought.

Crazy Easy GF Pizza Crust
The recipe I use is an adaptation of Mary Frances' recipe on Gluten Free Cooking School.  My adaptations are just because of what ingredients I typically keep on hand rather than anything wrong with her original recipe.  I'll give it to you with my changes because that's how I tested it. I encourage you to make double batches always.

1 Tbsp. instant yeast
1/2 c. brown rice flour
3/4 cup millet flour
1 cup tapioca starch
2 tsp. xanthum gum
1 tsp salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. oregano
1 1/3 c. almond milk (water works in a pinch)
2 tsp. olive oil (Plus 2 Tbsp. for baggie)
2 tsp. cider vinegar

Dough instructions:
Mix together all dry ingredients (everything except milk, olive oil and vinegar) in your mixer with a paddle attachment.  Or use your arm with the whisk attachment.  Mix together the liquids in a big jar and then add the liquids to the dry ingredients.  Mix for about a minute or until everything is evenly distributed and a sticky, soft dough has formed.  

Freezing instructions:
Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil to each large sized baggie.  Squish around until oil coats the inside.  Divide the dough between the bags and pat out until dough fully extends to the edges of the bag and is evenly distributed.  Stack the baggies on a baking sheet and freeze overnight.  Then retrieve your baking sheet and store the dough in your freezer until you decide to have a pizza party.

Cooking instructions:
Preheat oven to 400F.  Cut off the plastic bag and place frozen dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Parbake for 8 minutes before topping and baking another 15 minutes or so (this time is dependent on your toppings).  Then you know what to do.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Most Excellent Adventure Stop #4

Last, but not least, on the ethnic market tour last weekend was Little India in northeast Minneapolis.  I was looking forward to visiting this store more than any of the others because I'm a big fan of Indian cooking, cook Indian food at home at least weekly and had never been to an Indian grocer in the Twin Cities.  Shame on me!

Okay, no more shame.  On to the food!

I was mostly interested in the packaged foods here, but they do have a little produce area and a deli counter will a variety of (presumably non-vegan) sweets.  Honestly, I didn't even really look at those areas.  I really focused on the pickles, spices, snacks and beans.  No surprises there, huh?

Look at all this fantastic stuff!  I got tamarind concentrate, mango pickle, super yummy puffed rice and dried fruit snack, amchur (mango) powder, urad dal (black beans that look like mung beans), chora dal (whitish lentils), three kinds of pappadum (masala, cumin and green chili), Tiger Balm for headaches and candy coated fennel seeds.  I'm super excited to make the pappadum!  And even Mike can enjoy these since they're gluten free.  I'm pretty excited for the kids to try them, too.  I'm pretty sure that they'll be fans.

I seem to remember a tons of recipes in my various Indian cookbooks calling for the amchur powder, so it'll be fun to make the recipes with it and see if they are different from when I made them without it.  I don't know what to expect, but mango powder sounds fantastic!

It was really funny to read the Tiger Balm package today and see that in addition to headaches, this particular variety is supposed to be a remedy for flatulence!  Perfect for those headachey, gassy days!  Ha!

I'll definitely be back to Little India- It's great to know where to find some of the more obscure Indian beans and spices!

And so concludes the grand tour of 4 ethnic markets in the Twin Cities.  It's not so exhausting to read it, but after 6 hours of shopping, we were glad to end it and collapse at home!  Be sure to check out Catherine's views on the markets and all the fabulous goodies she got.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Most Excellent Adventure Stop #3

Holy Land in northeast Minneapolis was the next stop in Catherine's, Sarah's and my tour of ethnic markets in the Twin Cities.  Let me just say that at this point in the tour, I was feeling a bit peckish ravenous.  Good thing Holy Land has a rockin' deli.  I was going to get really crabby until those giant plates of hummus, baba ghannuj and foule medumas (fava beans) were in front of us.  Paired with all the pita bread we could eat, this made a fantastic late lunch/dinner and restored my love of grocery shopping and humankind.

I'd been to Holy Land before, years ago, and remembered that my favorite thing about the store was the olive and pickle counter.  Guess what?  Not much has changed.  Of course that was still my favorite thing!

Just look at all of these olives!  This is Liz heaven right here.  I sampled pretty much everything in the case and somehow settled on three items.  That is restraint, people.  

From the counter I got mixed pickled vegetables (I love a good mixed pickle), pickled turnips and spicy olive salad.  I'm a big fan of the pickled turnips- they're tart and salty, of course, but still fairly turnip-y and slightly alcoholic tasting.  And hot pink from beet juice!  You gotta love that.

Something new in my basket was the lemon pistachios.  Catherine recommended these and WOW!  They are fantastic!  I'm a little scared that there's no ingredient list, but comforted by the fact that they taste simply lemony, salty and pistachio-y.  If you've ever had the flavored pistachios or cashews at Trader Joe's and been disappointed by the quality of the nuts (old, stale oil flavor), try these .  They clearly use freshly roasted pistachios here and sell them quickly enough that they stay very fresh.  

I also scored some organic olive oil for only $7.99 for a quart and a big ol' jar of grape leaves in brine.  I definitely see some dolmas in my future!  I'll be following a new (to me) recipe from an coworker from Iran who brought in his cookbook of classic Persian recipes to share.  Or at least loosely following the recipe... I won't be using the ground beef!

Only one more store left to visit, folks.  Then it's back to cooking as usual.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Most Excellent Adventure Stop #2

Next up on our exploration of Twin Cities ethnic markets?  Dragon Star Oriental Foods in St. Paul!  I'm not a big shopper at Asian grocery stores (again, mostly because I just shop at my co-op), but also because I get pretty snobby about things like MSG, preservatives and having super clear ingredient lists.  And we're keeping the soy to minimum right now.  But I was able to find plenty of impressive foods at Dragon Star.

And it seems like everyone else in St. Paul was there that day!  The store was SUPER packed with shopping families.  I felt a little guilty for slowly ambling down the aisles when people were clearly trying to power shop.  But I can't help going slow when there are so many new and fascinating products!!!  Sorry shoppers!

I was most impressed by their produce department- I've never seen sprouts look so fresh (unless I grew them myself).  And the variety of greens they had was out of this world.  I was really excited to find the most adorable tiny okra pods!  I've been hunting all around to find good quality okra that isn't overgrown and woody.  I found some at the farmer's market over the summer, but I've already eaten a good number of my jars of pickled okra...time for some more!

The happy finds here include: some yummy wheat-tastic udon noodles for me (perfect for a late night spicy soup!), two types of vegan curry paste recommended by Sarah, the freshest mung bean sprouts ever, lovely little okra pods, crazy cheap tapioca starch (great for gluten free baking) and jackfruit canned in brine.

 We couldn't even wait until we got out of the parking lot to break open the red bean mochi!  Yummy...Gooey....Mochi.

I'm most excited to try out that curry paste- I'll let you know how I like it!

Be sure to check out Catherine's experiences at Food Snob.  And look for the next store tomorrow!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Most Excellent Adventure

Today I set out with fellow food snobs Catherine and Sarah to explore some ethnic markets around the Twin Cities.  I'm remarkably un-adventurous for someone who loves grocery shopping.  I pretty much stick to my favorite co-ops, with occasional trips to specialty shops and upscale grocers.  So this trip was all about exploring new markets!  And judging from the haul (this is just Sarah's and my groceries), I think we were successful!

If you think this is a lot, you should know that this is just the top layer.  There are a couple layers of grocery bags here.  And then the whole backseat.

The plan was to visit 5 markets and we successfully visited 4 (Bill's Imported Foods was closed).  First up?  El Burrito Mercado in West St. Paul.

They have f-ing piñatas hanging from the ceiling.  If that isn't enough to win you over, I don't know what is.  This market is organized, clean and had plenty of helpful staff around.  And they have piñatas.  Did I mention that?

I was really excited to pick up tons of corn husks and masa harina to make tamales pretty soon.  Also, they had great deals on bulk dried chiles.  I scored some New Mexican chiles and guajilla chiles.   

Plus, there are these crazy lima bean snacks with chile and limon- Haven't opened them yet, but I'm super excited to try these and then duplicate them at home if possible!  Plus, I got tons of saffron for something like $1.99.  

And then I found the salsa bar.  Seriously, there were about 18 kinds of salsa, pico de gallo, and mole.  Crazy!  I opted for what the staff person said was the most popular- the salsa fresca.  I busted that open in the parking lot before we even left the store.  Super fresh with lots of great chile flavor.  And they make their own chips, so those are really fresh as well.  I didn't get any of their vegetarian (apparently vegan) tamales since I was already buying ingredients to make some, but they had a good sized tray of them for $8.99.  I'll be back to try those and the other salsas!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cranberry Biscuits and Gravy

Biscuits are the ultimate comfort food for me.  I've been craving them ever since my trip to Texas.  That trip stirred up all sorts of memories of late nights at IHOP, eating biscuits and gravy and goofing off with Brandon.  Alas, those biscuits and gravy aren't even close to vegan or up to my super snobby standards.  
Here are the biscuits and gravy I enjoyed tonight.  

I mixed up a batch of the baking powder biscuits from Vegan with a Vengeance as soon as I got home from work.  Then I started browning a half of a sweet onion to flavor some gravy.  There's no real recipe for this gravy- just browned onions, Earth Balance, flour, almond milk and salt and pepper.  Sometimes the simplest gravy is the best.   Who am I kidding...Gravy is just the best.  

 But I wanted to add a little something different to the biscuits and gravy.  After working on Thanksgiving promotions at work, I felt the need to add some cranberries!

I had a nice big bag of Wisconsin cranberries in the fridge, so I added about a cup of them into a little skillet with a few tablespoons of cane sugar and a bit of water.  Then I brought it to a boil very quickly.  As the cranberries heat, they pop.  It's fun!

When the berries are done, they should look like this.  It's basically a thick, tart jam.

I slathered a thick layer of berries between the steaming hot biscuits and then poured the onion gravy over the top.  Holy yum.  IHOP's got nothing like this.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sweet Onion and Pear Salad

I was sitting at work today when I realized it was time for a salad.  I was eating squares of chocolate (free samples from a co-op vendor- They do know the way to our hearts...) and trying to get up the motivation to go to the gym after work.  And I was writing about vegetables.  Luckily I work somewhere that prompts me to eat both chocolate AND vegetables, huh?

Anyways, I was powerpointing some slides about fiber and flavonoids and figured I'm better dose up on the veggies before teaching a class on the subject the next day.  So I picked up some things that sounded good, not really knowing what I'd end up doing with them: arugula, sweet onion and concorde pear.

Here's the resulting salad- Simple, rich flavors and very quick to prepare.

Browned Sweet Onion and Pear Salad
You'll notice that arugula isn't in the title.  That's because I think there's more pear in the salad than anything else!  Also, I didn't take the time to truly caramelize the onions, I just browned them rather quickly.  I actually prefer this flavor to the mellowness of caramelized onions.  You should do what you like, though.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. fig vinegar (or other sweet, thick vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups arugula, washed and dried
1 concorde pear, sliced thinly
1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

In a small skillet, heat oil.  Add onion slices and cook over medium high heat until onions are browned and fragrant.  Allow to cool for a couple of minutes.  Add the fig vinegar to the oil and onions along with a pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper.  Stir to combine (this is your dressing).  Arrange arugula, pears and walnuts in a salad bowl.  Pour the warm onion dressing over the salad and toss to coat the greens and pears evenly.  Serve immediately before the greens can wilt.

Eat and then feel virtuous about getting both fruit and vegetable servings in one salad.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Granola Taste-Off

When Nature's Path sent me a big ol' box of their Kirkland (Costco) line of granola, I knew I had to turn the taste-testing over to my stepsons.  A couple of years ago they decided that they wanted to eat granola every morning for breakfast.  And they've stuck with it, except for the occasional surprise pancakes when the mood strikes me.

I'm pretty stubborn about not buying any granola or cereal, though.  I've seen how quickly teen-aged boys can decimate a box of cereal and I'm terrified of what the future will do to my grocery budget.  Can every kid eat bowl after bowl of cereal for breakfast and snacks?  I myself really don't care for most cereal and find that it never really satisfies me.  So I'm very much in favor of my homemade granola, made with our favorite ingredients for super low prices.

But when Mike saw the big box of granola on the counter and he couldn't eat it (it has wheat), he had to buy some Cascadian Farms granola that was on sale.  He was pretty jealous of the giant, free box of granola.

Here's what the kids had to say about each of the two different granolas, my thoughts on the nutrition and whether they liked it better than the usual homemade granola:

Nature's Path Organic Ancient Grains Granola with Almonds
"Very crunchy.  Tastes like honey.  Really filling.  Looks fluffy.  There's nothing I don't like about it.  I would like this for breakfast every day.  I don't want to mix it with yogurt or fruit, just plain."

Nutrition (in 3/4 cup): 6 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat and 9 grams of sugar.  Pretty darn good!

Verdict: Tastes better than Liz's homemade :(

Cascadian Farms Organic Maple Brown Sugar Granola
"Too crunchy.  Feels really, really dry.  No chunks of nuts.  Tastes a little stale.  Tastes like it has peanut butter in it (that's good). Not too ornate, I like that it's kind of plain."

Nutrition (in 2/3 cup): 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, 4.5 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar.  A bit too sugary, I think.  And lacking in fiber for an oat-based product.  The 2nd, 4th and 6th ingredients are all sugar (sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup).

Verdict: One boy says it's better than mine just because it's something different.  Other boy says mine is better.

Now I have to explain to Mike why all of his granola is gone...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mango Cumin Rice

I'm off my game this week since I was out of town most of the weekend.  No meals planned, no grocery list made.  So far every meal has been an improvisation.  It's kind of refreshing in a way.

Tonight I had the luxury of a full 45 minutes to prepare dinner since the rest of the fam was running an errand.  (Hooray for the person who turned in the rented clarinet that one of my stepsons left on the city bus!). So I opted to not do the "one-pot-dinner" type meals that I usually rely on during the week when we're short on time.

This meal was inspired by the organic dried chili mangoes that I picked up at Willy Street Co-op in Madison last month.  They sounded divine, so I threw them into my basket on an impulse.  Alas, I wasn't that impressed with the flavor.  They tasted basically like regular dried mangoes, but were so sticky that they hurt my teeth.  So they sat unused in our dried fruit bin until tonight.  I figured they could be revived through cooking and that the mild flavor could be a blessing when cooking for the kids.

So here's how I used them.

Mango Cumin Rice

1 1/2 Tbsp. organic canola oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 tsp. whole cumin seed
1 tsp. crushed whole coriander seed
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/3 cup chopped dried mangos
1 1/2 cups white basmati rice
Scant 3 cups water
salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat.  Add onions and stir frequently until onions are translucent and beginning to brown.  Add the cumin, coriander, cardamom and mangoes.  Stir to coat spices with oil.  Then add the rice and stir to coat.  Add a generous pinch of salt and the water.  Stir and cover the pan.  Bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to low.  Simmer for about 12-15 minutes or until rice is tender and all water is absorbed.  Turn off the heat and then let rice rest for about 5 minutes with the lid on the pan.  Just before serving, adjust the salt to taste and sprinkle the pistachios on the rice.

I served this rice with a richly spiced red lentil dal and some sauteed lacinato kale with garlic.  Even Mike, the hater of all things that could be interpreted as as blend of sweet and savory, loved this dish.  According to one kid, "It might look disgusting, but it doesn't taste disgusting."  I think that might be a compliment?