my farmer's markets are in full swing, pregnant with produce, and too tempting to not over-buy. this week's market booty forced me to consider a new method of preservation. one that would get me another year out of summer fruits and vegetables. a method i've been shy of my whole professional career. a method used for over 200 years.
today was the day i would get over my diffidence!
i narrowed down exactly what intimidated me about canning. it was the equipment and the sanitation.
i was under the impression that i needed tons of equipment to can or pickle: 'magnetic lid lifter', 'jar lifter', pressure canner, 'canning funnel', 'jar band tool' and the list goes on and on. i guess marketing had done its job, because i thought i needed to invest a large up-front cost.
sorry to disappoint the ball company, but all of these tools are useless! two tools was all it took. i simply used a large soup pot and a pair of tongs, which were things i already owned. *check equipment off the list*
my other hang up on sanitation was loosely associated with everyone telling me how easy it was to slip up and give someone botulism. since civilizations have been preserving food for hundreds of years, i figured there was a perfectly safe way to pull this off.
after five minutes of research in my handy dandy oxford companion to food by alan davidson, i found that the bad-guy enzymes die at 121C(250F). easy! that's just above boiling.
and because i am a first time canner, i chose to work with a bit of 'insurance' by pickling my vegetables. by amping up the acid (botulism hates acidic environments) and implementing the ancient-preserver salt, i'm giving those nasty enzymes the ole 1,2 punch. not to mention that the acetic acid in the vinegar has a disinfectant effect.
it looks like it's a little tougher to mess this up than i thought.
*the line up*
nothing says summer like juicy, fleshy peaches. their warm sugar flavor will be perfect for the cold winter nights that loom in my future. these soft-skinned stone fruits are perfectly ripe right now in western new york. choose peaches that are free of bruises and still slightly firm. their shape will hold better after they gently cook in a simple syrup bath.
the smaller the carrots, the more tender and sweeter they are. the pound boxes of colorful carrots were the perfect size, plus they were nice and firm. tri-colored carrots are very fashionable in this part of the country. some colors like purple are native varieties of countries like turkey and pakastan. other colors have been genetically engineered. there is little to no difference in flavor between the colors, but there is a slight difference in nutrition. carrots are well known for their anti-oxident qualities. orange carrots are high in beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) while purple carrots are high in anthocyanin. the white carrot is void of any pigment, thus no phytochemicals, but they are still great for fiber and vitamin E.
lebanese zucchini are closely related to the north american or italy varieties. they fall into the summer squash category which means they have a tender skin and their peak production is in the summer months. it's very important to use summer squashes shortly after purchase. unlike its winter sisters, they need a little help hanging around longer. lebanese zucchini are dense and relatively seedless, which i think will hold up nicely to the rigors of pickling.
more commonly called a 'wax' bean, these beans were anything but waxy. my yellow beans were tender, not stringy, and had a matte finish. this recipe can easily replace the yellow beans with green ones. just make sure the beans are fresh and crisp.
most recipes i see can call for 'canning salt.' from what i understand, canning salt is just a corse salt with no anti-caking agents in it. anti-caking agents will turn the brine cloudy. i used corse kosher salt, and it worked a treat. the only caution that should be used, is to weigh your salt instead of using a cup measure. why? because not all salts are created equal. some are more dense than others, and some have larger crystals. each salt will occupy a space differently.
and for those of you still living in the 50's without a kitchen scale, i've listed an alternative cup measurement for you. go ahead, but i'm still shaking my head.
*a little canning speak*
exactly what is taking place during the hot water-bath canning process? there are three different things going on:
1. heating the contents to just above boiling, reduces the risk of those nasty enzymes living in our sealed jars.
2. heating the wax seal binds the lid to the mouth of the jar. once the wax sets, no air will be traveling in and out of our jars. this reduces the risk of those enzymes again.
and finally, the really cool science part:
3. we are forcing the air inside the jar to expand and leak out by increasing the temperature. and like indiana jones sliding under a trap door before it closes, the hot and fast air molecules seep out from under the lid before the wax creates a seal. as simple as the ideal gas law, once the temperature drops (after the jar has been left to cool), low pressure is created in the jar. et voila! vacuum sealed. a final blow to those enzymes.
now that we understand what we are attempting to do, let's unravel a bit of jargon in hot water-bath canning. the packing (or filling) of the jar can be done in one of two ways:
raw packing - filling the warm jar with cold produce. this method allows more product to get rammed in before boiling solution is poured over the top.
hot packing - filling the warm jar with cooked produce. this method helps to start the cooking process for tougher vegetables like carrots. and if you are dumping the liquid and produce in at that same time, there will be less of a chance of trapping air bubbles (more on the bubbles later).
now for the official breakdown. keep it hot, and keep it sterile.
- it's important to start by getting your water bath up to temperature first. a large pot of water can take some time to heat. we want to make sure bring the water up to 100C (212F).
- make sure the size of your water bath can hold enough water to cover the submerged jars with at least an inch of water.
- i lined the bottom of my pot with small clean pebbles. this allows the boiling water to move freely and prevents the jars from 'dancing' as they process. there is nothing wrong with them dancing, i just couldn't stand the noise.
- in a separate smaller pot, heat water to a simmer to sterilize the lids and keep the jars warm just before sealing.
- whether the recipe calls for salt or sugar, bring all liquids to a boil and simmer to dissolve those crystals.
- in the case of a raw pack:
- place all cut and cleaned produce, spices, and/or herbs in a warm sterile jar.
- pour in the very hot mixture over the contents.
- in the case of a hot pack:
- add the cut and cleaned produce, spices, and/or herbs to the simmering liquid mixture.
- simmer according to the recipe, and gently pour everything into a warm sterile jar.
- remember to leave the correct amount of space at the top according to the recipe (also called 'headspace'). some mixtures can expand or boil during processing and it will break the seal.
- clear out any trapped air with something non-metallic (like a wooden spoon or rubber spatula), by running it around the inside of the jar. air bubbles could release a nice vacuum seal.
- wipe the rim of the jar clean and dry. any liquid will prevent the wax from making a full seal.
- center a warm lid over the jar and screw on a band 'fingertip tight'. not too tight though, remember we want some air to escape.
- process the jars in a steady boil, covered for the time the recipe calls for.
canned cinnamon peaches
yields 2 qts
- 2 1/2 lb peaches (washed, pitted, and sliced)
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 c sugar
- 24 oz filtered water
- 2 oz orange juice
- raw pack
- process for 20 minutes
- leave 1/2 inch of space from the top
yields 1 qt
- 1 lb carrots (scrubbed, topped, and split)
- 12 fl oz white vinegar (5% acidity)
- 4 fl oz distilled water
- 1 oz kosher salt (about 1/8 c)
- 3 lg cloves garlic (halved)
- 2 shishito peppers (deseeded and julienne)
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 black peppercorns
- 2 cloves
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- hot pack (7 minute blanch or until carrots are tender)
- process 20 minutes
- leave 1/2 inch of space from the top
yields 1 qt
- 1 lb lebanese zucchini (washed, topped and halved)
- 10 fl oz white vinegar (5% acidity)
- 10 fl oz distilled water
- 1 oz kosher salt (about 1/8 c)
- 4 cloves garlic (halved)
1/2 bunch of dill (about 1/4 c)
- raw pack
- process for 10 minutes
- leave 1/2 inch of space from the top
dilly yellow beans
yields 1 qt
- 1 lb white beans (washed and trimmed)
- 14 fl oz white vinegar (5% acidity)
- 4 fl oz distilled water
- 1 oz kosher salt (about 1/4 c)
- 1/8 tsp crushed red peppers
- raw pack
- process for 10 minutes
-leave 1/2 inch of space from the top
after the jar is carefully removed, allow it to cool upright.
as the contents and air inside the jar cool, the tiny vacuum will slowly pull the lid in. if you did it correctly, you will hear a gentle 'pop' once it's cooled.
and trust me, that sound is a mixture of celebration, and relief. that little metal snap is so satisfying. an accomplishment that will last about a year in my basement (make sure to label and date them).
store in a cool dark place with the rings removed.
i was surprised at how easy it ended up being. in fact, once i got the hang of it, i ran out of produce to pickle. i was on such a kick, i'm surprised i didn't try and pickle the refrigerator itself.
the easiest thing to do if the vacuum is never created, is to put the jar back in for processing. it's important to make sure the jars spend a good deal of time in a rolling boil bath.
if this doesn't work, empty the jars, re-boil the solution/product, re-sanitize, and try again. use a new lid this time, because the old one may be faulty.
pay special attention to removing air bubbles, cleaning the rim, leaving enough headspace, and processing for enough time.
if you've tried it all over, and it's still not working, suck it up and pop it in the refrigerator. you still have about two weeks to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
bonne chance, and happy canning!
*plum butter is the mysterious jar of purple, ready for a nice plum soup this winter.
as the phrase goes: when life gives you pineapples, make pineapple-aid.
it's season, and i can't help but to grab a plump pineapple every once and while. their sweet juicy flesh screams summer to me. the aroma and flavor lulls my senses to a tropical island where the warm nights last forever.
my only issue with this beast is the waste involved! the flesh is so thick, the crown is over the top, and the core is stubbornly woody. in the restaurants, it's the type of fabrication job that makes you change the garbage quick.
it didn't take long for me to find a great idea to use the inedible parts. i looked to the experts, and found chicha de piña.
south america has the pineapple on lock, they've been enjoying them way longer than we have. i found so many variations of this drink, some alcoholic, some spiced, some with ground rice. 'chicha de piña' literally means 'pineapple alcohol.' some time in the near future i'll figure out home fermentation, but until then my piña drink will be non-alcoholic.
my experimenting only hits the tip of the possibility iceberg. but with making any recipe, i like to start simple.
*the line up*
this tropical fruit is actually made up of multiple ovaries, giving it the name 'multiple fruit.' one mass made up of a large cluster of flowers just like figs
and mulberries. you can see the flower scars on each fruit, and we call those the 'eyes.'
when choosing a pineapple, it's important to pick a ripe one. unlike bananas or strawberries, pineapples stop ripening once they've been picked. we can check for ripeness by giving a leaf of the crown a tug. if it pulls out with ease, we've got a ripe one. you can also turn the fruit upside down and give it's bum a sniff. if you can smell a sweet pineapple smell, she's ready to go. and when i say she's ready to go, i mean it. pineapples are meant to be eaten within a two day window of purchase.
these are the little seeds of the green cardamom pod. it's best to buy cardamom still in the pod, and crack the pods open every time you need them. why? because like all spices, these very aromatic seeds loose their potency quickly. something to the tune of %40 loss of flavor every year out of the pod. and we won't even talk about how quickly they lose their kick if you're buying it already ground. so don't do it.
in places like ethiopia and india (also where the plant originated) the seeds are added to tea and coffee during production to add a bright floral note. if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me to add to our tea.
-the rinds and core of 1 pineapple
-1/2 tsp whole cardamom seeds
-10c of water
-sweetener to taste (i'll explain this later)
*how do we get into this thing?*
in the 1400's when the europeans were 'discovering' the americas, they fell in love with this fruit. they loved it so much, they brought it back to europe and started cultivating their own in hot houses. in the 1520's, a pineapple was presented to the roman emperor Charles V but he refused it! he couldn't bring himself to touch the pokey scary thing. if he would have just handed it to his culinary team, i'm sure they could have figured it out for him. it's really not that difficult, and the results are so delicious.
with a large sharp chef's knife, slice away the crown and stem ends of the pineapple.
this is the only waste we will have!
give the pineapple a great rinse making sure to rub away any hidden dirt in its tessellated exterior.
stand the fruit upright and start cutting away the peel one strip at a time.
this is a similar technique we used to skin a pumpkin in my squash season!
make sure to skin enough of the peel to take the eyes and seeds with you. although the issue of pineapple seeds is almost obsolete in a lot of commercial fruit, the small round eyes lie a little deep and are unpleasant to eat.
making neat and close cuts takes some practice. if you miss any little guys, just shave away until it's perfect. and remember, there is no guilt because there is no waste.
toss our newly freed rinds into a large sauce pot, and make sure you have a fitted lid to match for later.
give the cutting board a quick rinse.
*i'm cutting my flesh into 'chunks'. i find these easy to eat and store.
slice our newly nude pineapple lengthwise, cutting the woody core directly in half and lay the halves down.
slice each half into quarters making sure to intersect the core each time.
lie each quarter on its side and cut just above the hard core. the core is packed full of nutrients, but it's unfortunately too tough for our bodies to break down.
repeat this step for every quarter and throw the cores into the pot.
add the cardamom seeds and water, and simmer covered for 1 hour. your house will fill with the sweet smell of pineapples! once it's cool enough to handle, strain the tea, et voila! wait, that's it?
as far as the tea goes, yes that is it. unless you care to sweeten the tea further. let's talk.
pineapple is incredibly sweet, something to the tune of 14g of sugar for every cup of flesh. we do lose some sweetness by only using the rinds and cores, but i think the tea is sweet enough. other factors to consider are how much flesh was boiled, and how ripe the pineapple was.
the point is, taste the tea before you start adding sugar. start by adding tablespoons while it's still hot. taste again after it's been dissolved, so on and so forth. this also works for liquid sweeteners like agave or honey. the flavor of this tea is so delicate, it would be a shame to cover it's natural aromas and flavors with sweetener.
as for the rest of the fruit? let's finish it.
lay down the quarters in a line and chop them into chunks about 3/4" thick. my pineapple yielded about 4 cups of flesh.
chunks are perfect to snack on like grapes, add to a stir fry, or make a lovely garnish for your tea.
i froze half of my yield to make pineapple ice cubes for my tea. contrary to popular belief, freezing pineapple doesn't change the texture or flavor.
the other half i covered with water and popped it into the fridge. this will last a couple of days covered.
i tried a few experiments adding my tea to cocktails. my conclusion was that everything over-powered its dainty flavors.
it is just perfect for sipping on its own on these hot days of summer.
not that i'm nostalgic for it, but i remember when there were only two options for gluten free products: glutano and bob's red mill.
walking into the gfree pantry section, i'm overwhelmed (and overjoyed) at the number of new products and brands.
tonight, i'm in a time crunch. i need to make a baked good by the end of the night, and i haven't even made it to the gym.
it's made painfully obvious that i've been out of the pre-made gluten-free products loop for far too long.
so, i held my breath and went with the box that i thought was the cutest. checking the side of the box, i found that the company is located on the east coast.
it satisfied two desires: 1) creative 2) small operation.
so i ran home to the checkout the third desire 3) taste.
after doing some research, i found that cherrybrook kitchen was the brain and palate child of a woman called patsy rosenberg. after she was diagnosed with food allergies, she developed a way to 'have her cake and eat it too.' if you ask me, the best allergen free recipes come from the ones with the restrictions. we just want it more!
i also found out that their gluten free products are tested regularly for gluten particles. so, thank you.
cherrybrook kitchen is distributed all over the states. wny can check them out at wegmans, tops, and the co-op. my friends in colorado can grab them at wild oats or whole foods, and back in indiana kroger and jewel-osco have you covered.
as in all recipes, i read the entire thing before getting started. the illustrations and simple instructions seem easy enough.
as a veteran baker, i had a strong feeling i was going to have some problems incorporating the butter according to the directions. maybe their a little too elementary.
to cut down on butter difficulties, i sliced the butter into smaller pieces. more surface area will help it come to room temperature more quickly and evenly.
i dumped the contents of the box in a large mixing bowl with the water and butter.
i decided to omit the vanilla, mostly because i can't stand the artificial taste of an extract. i don't even keep extracts on hand in my pantry, they are so 1950.
i'm sure if i baked more i would keep a vanilla bean paste on hand... alas. i had a feeling the recipe would taste just fine without it.
with all of the guests added to the party, the butter still looks like a hassle. i chose a large sturdy fork to do the mixing, hoping the tines would tear through the fat. about one minute in, i had to ditch the fork. but my hand worked a treat.
the best part about getting my hands dirty was cleaning them. with my mouth. this recipe uses no eggs! guilt free licking.
*the box also gives suggestions for dairy free butter, which would make them vegan.
*uniform balls will produce uniform size and uniform baking*
i rolled all my dough into one inch balls and popped a dozen of them on an ungreased cookie sheet.
the remaining balls i placed on a plate, and sent them to the freezer. once they were set, i transferred them to a paper-lined freezer box. i labeled and dated so that next time i have guest, i'll be a little more prepared.
one of the hardest things about baking cookies (especially chocolate chip) is the cooking time. cookies can go from chewy, soft treats to rock hard dog treats in five seconds!
the trick is to make sure you pull them right before they're done. you want the tops to be just dried out with no color, and the bottoms to be a light brown. they will slightly cook even after they are removed.
the instructions say to cool for one minute before removing. that's a lie.
give these guys at least ten minutes before attempting to pull them up. and be sure to use a spatula.... or else.
i'd love to tell you how long this morcels last after baking, but i have no idea. they get devoured within six hours every time.
these cookies were delicious. seriously. they weren't too sweet, not too grainy, and as fluffy as freshly stuffed pillows. they even delivered that chewy feeling that is hard to achieve with no gluten. a gluten free product that is so good, it's safer to eat than it tastes.
aside from the tricky incorporation of the butter, the recipe is easy to follow and pretty foolproof.
the best part was that my guests had no idea they were gluten free. they really can be enjoyed by all. that's the point, right?!
i strongly recommend picking these cookies up for your gluten free friends. we will love you. and don't forget to invite me over. check them out atcherrybrookkitchen.com
*this is not endorsed by cherrybrook kitchen. cherrybrook kitchen is not responsible for any of the views expressed in this post. i'm just a big fan!
fibre. it's what moves me.
mayonnaise, not so much.
even as a child, i've never been a fan of mayo. now, as a health conscious adult i know what to do about it. by using the natural sweetness of apples, parsnip, and cabbage with the secret ingredient of mustard, i can still achieve a creamy sweet coleslaw without the mayo. this dish is full of fibre, perfect for the new year diet.
AND i can take advantage of winter produce.
*the line up*
when i showed my eight year old nephew
a beautiful parsnip i had just brought home from the market via skype, he said 'what's wrong with that carrot, boba?'
i had to laugh, even though he's not that far off. think of parsnips as the blonde, slightly more nutritious, cousin of the carrot.
a parsnip is a tuber (root vegetable) with a thin skin and soft white flesh. the core, while very edible, gets woodier as the tuber matures.
cooked, a parsnip takes on the texture of a potato... fluffy and sweet. this is because they have similar starch structures and make a wonderful alternative or addition to a potato mash.
parsnips really shine in the winter. in fact, we are better off waiting to eat them until after the first frost. you see, the frost is necessary for their distinct slightly sweet flavor. the freezing temperatures convert the parsnip's starches into sugar. thank you winter.
also called snow cabbage (very appropriate), napa's name is of japanese origin. and although this asian-native cabbage more closely resembles bok choi than the western hard round balls of green and red cabbage, it keeps the same nutrient values as the western sort. the smooth white ribs called the petiole are crisp and full of water which hold up well to sauté and long fermentation
. the petioles are connected to the napa cabbages' distinct curly leaves. the leaves vary in color from light green/yellow to dark green depending on the type. when buying napa cabbage, make sure he has all of his moisture and that the petioles are firm. additionally check for brown spots and cracks in the leaves, those are pas bon.
apples are low in calories, low in cost, but high in nutrition and deliciousness. it's a shame more apples aren't used in many meals, not just dessert.
this red skin, white flesh variety was discovered in 1811 by john mcintosh, just near here in south dundas, ontario. 'mac' is the daughter of the 'snow apple
,' who immigrated from france.
born and raised in canada, mac found herself traveling all over the united states and gaining celebrity status very quickly.
she is mother to the dessert apple 'cortland
' with her first lover, the ever elusive 'ben davis
.' later, she gave birth to the snack apple 'empire
' in a brief affair with the high profiled 'red delicious
.' and let's not forget the fairy tail marriage with 'golden delicious
', and love child 'spencer
.' she's lead a colorful life.
macs are found on nearly every produce shelf, and especially this time of year. they are harvested from september to february, which makes them perfect in january. cheap too.
her juicy, sweet and firm flesh is full of pectin. pectin is a polysaccharide that slides through the small intestine untouched, making it a dietary fibre. furthermore, pectin is a soluble fibre. it binds to cholesterol and slows the absorption of glucose, which means it reduces the risks of heart disease and diabetes.
red onions are sweeter and more mild than their sister the white onion. and research may even point to them containing more antioxidant activity than the white onion.
onions are divided into two categories, storage (or winter) and spring onions. red onions along with white and yellow are storage onions. when using a storage onion, peel off the the hard dry skin and reserve it for stock. onion skins are stock gold.
1/2 of a napa cabbage (about 5 cups)
1/2 of a red onion + 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 mac apple
2 medium parsnips
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1/8 cup agave
(honey may be substituted, but go a little lighter)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tsp cumin seeds
(if substituting with ground use about a third)
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
(same pre-ground rules apply)
as per usual, start with the part of the recipe that needs the most time. we are going to break the red onion down a bit with the help of salt. this will give us a subtle-onion finished product.
after cutting the onion in half and whacking off the top and bottom, ms. nature reveals to us beautiful crescent-shaped layers.
the trick to perfect slices is the follow the guide she's given us. starting at one end, cut 1/8'' slices from crust to center, making sure to follow the curve. tuck those fingers!
once you've reached about 130°, you'll find you are starting to cut away from the onion. to fix this, flip the onion and start from 0° again. perfect even slices every time.
gently break apart the slices with your fingers and toss them with sprinkled kosher salt. let them hang out in a large bowl while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
now that our knife skills are warmed up, let's do some more fancy work.
*tip* be sure to hold your knife with thumb and first finger on the blade, and three fingers on the handle. the knife's center of gravity is just above the handle, and grasping this part will give you much better leverage and agility.
let's attack the apple.
start by cutting of the very bottom to give yourself a sturdy surface to slice on. standing the apple up, slice 1/4" slabs until you've reached the core. quarter turn the apple and repeat until only a perfect boxed core is left.
line up the slabs and slice 1/4" slices, creating tasty little match sticks.
apples can be cut anytime in advance. simply place them in a cold water bath with a large splash of lemon juice. this will prevent oxidization (gross brown color).
traditionally, green cabbage is used in a coleslaw but i've chosen napa cabbage for this recipe specifically. green cabbage is sharp, thick, and a perfect companion for a mayonnaise based dressing. napa is slightly sweeter, more tender, and better used in a vinaigrette setting.
some grocery stores or markets sell cabbage halves. this was my luck exactly. if you have to buy a whole cabbage, wrap the other half tightly in plastic wrap, store in the fridge, and use in 4 to 5 days. cabbage is great sautéed with eggs, added to soups, and sprinkled in salads.
slice the cabbage up to the core in 1" strips lengthwise.
starting at the tip, cut thin 1/4" slices all the way to the core. tuck those fingers, and instant shredded cabbage.
next in line to join the bowl is the parsnip. parsnips can be fibrous and a huge pain to match stick like the apple. my weapon of choice here is a large grater (a food processor attachment or mandoline will also work).
the trick here is to grate with the grain. pushing the parsnip tip to stem will be just that, pushing. grate from the stem to tip, or you'll be very frustrated.
by now our friend osmosis
has done some work for us. the salt has drawn out the water from inside the onion's cells taking with it plenty of the 'smelly' onion compounds. we are left with a subtle red onion that will quietly help the background flavor of our coleslaw instead of taking center stage, while still adding nice color.
give the onion slices a good squeeze between your fingers to draw off as much moisture as possible before adding it to the mix.
*tip* use the onion liquid to flavor your next food project. store in an air tight container (unless you want your onions to take the fridge over) and use asap. two days or less i'd say.
now that all the ruffage is shredded, macerated, and combined, let's make the vinaigrette.
in a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, agave, mustard, and spices. whisk into a creamy emulsification. the dijon is just enough to give the slaw a great creaminess without tasting like just mustard.
how? think of the mustard as a yente. mustard contains a chemical called mucilage which acts as an emulsifier. an emulsifier is defined as a substance that combines hydrophilic molecules (water) and hydrophobic molecules (oil) successfully. such a molecule marriage is always thick and rich.
whole spices vs ground? unless you run a high volume indian restaurant, there is no need to buy pre-ground spices. once a seed is ground, it looses its potency rapidly. by the time you've made it to the bottom of your supply, the grounds will have nothing to add to your dish. whole spices also stay fresh longer because they have less surface area exposed.
whether it be an electric spice grinder, mill, or mortar and pestle, grinding your own spices takes seconds with the right tool. i used a granite m & p here, but i've had great success with ceramic and marble models as well. i was not impressed with the wooden models i've used.
toss the ruffage with the vinaigrette, and finish with salt and pepper.
this recipe yields about 6 cups of slaw. i served this for a dinner party with bbq tofu, gfree cornbread, and a baked gfree mac and cheese. it was a perfect way to bring summer closer in these cold months.
i stored in an airtight container for 3 days and it was still fresh and delicious.
ah, the new year.
a celebration marking the end of the holidays, and the beginning of a barren winter season.
the start to our personal rebirth, and the end of nature's.
i can't think of any food more appropriate for this celebration than the pomegranate. after all, persephone found it fitting.
not only pomegranates, but figs, and chestnuts are some of winter's best offerings. i've combined them in a simple but elegant amuse bouche for my new year's eve celebration.
an amuse bouche is a single-bite culinary gift the chef gives to her diners before the first course. the idea is to get the palate exited for whats to come, and to also say thank you. moved out of the restaurant and into a dinner party or a family gathering during the holidays; an amuse bouche adds another level of elegance or festivity. it can really make the occasion special, and uses such few ingredients.
this amuse bouche starts with a brown turkey fig half covered in bruléed chevre, topped with warm roasted chestnut and refreshing pomegranate seeds. it's a one bite refreshment that is sweet and nutty, warm and stimulating.
*the line up*
i swooned over these guys in my montreal blog
, so i could not resist the reoccurring fig displays all over the market right now. besides, it's the last chance we have to enjoy the fig's season.
but how am i getting fresh figs in ontario... in december? it's fascinating really.
back in the day (like before 200AD) the only way the ficus produced fig 'fruit' was with help from the fig wasp (blastophaga grossorum).
i say 'fruit' because remember that figs aren't actually fruit, they are false fruits. the flesh is in fact a beautiful sea of flowers. the skin is truly a stem, and is called the 'syconium'.
now, the flowers in the syconium are both male and female, but they cannot pollinate themselves. this is because the female flowers mature long before the male flowers start to pollenate. enter the help of the fig wasp.
these tiny insects crawl into the star shaped opening at the bottom, and work their magic. the female wasps (ideally) get covered in pollen from one syconium and rub it all over the female flowers inside the next. this is called caprification.
somewhere around 200AD, the romans stumbled upon a new variety during cultivation that didn't need caprification. enter the common fig. the flavor, shape, and size of the fig changed, but it freed the fig from its wasp friend and allowed figs to be grown outside of the delicate wasp's climate and geographic range. like in north america.
the figs decorating the markets right now are brown turkey figs. these small firm figs have their second crop around mid-december, and in perfect time for the holidays.
songs and tummies sing the praises of these soft and creamy nuts during the holiday season. chestnuts have a couple unique traits that set them apart from their sister nuts.
for starters, they have a high vitamin c content. eating only about 10 roasted nuts will give you 35% of your DV.
they are also queens of starch. their starch content is so high, they roast up like a fluffy potato and work creamy wonders for purees and soups.
not to mention they make the whole house smell wonderful while they're roasting!
as a girl, i would love getting a giant red pomegranate, sitting in front of the television, and delicately picking out each seed from the web of membranes. i loved pomegranate season, and it always seemed too short.
the plump seed casings (called arils) explode a sweet juice, and popping a bunch in your mouth at once is almost like bubble wrap. what child wouldn't love this fruit?
the thick skin of the pomegranate protects the little arils not only in nature, but in your fridge too. they have a longer-than-most-fruit shelf life and can last for over a month in the fridge. choose pomegranates that are heavy for their size, uniform in color, and free from any big cracks or bruises. and most importantly, don't be intimidated by them. removing the seeds is a lot easier than you think, more on this later.
chèvre (french for goat) is the generic term for any cheese made from goat's milk. goat cheeses tend to be tangier and more complex in flavor than cow cheese. goat's cheese also has a slightly lower lactose content, making it easier to digest for a lot of people.
depending on your personal tastes, you can opt for a stronger 'cheese' flavor, or pull back the potency and choose a mild buttery flavor. the fig in this dish does well with either.
after tasting a few in the cheese shop, i settled on a stronger soft chèvre from quebec. the farm-like taste will pair perfectly with the sweetness surrounding it.
a little math is required to yield this recipe.
take the number of amuse bouches you need
ex. 12 guests
divide this amount by two to get the number of figs to buy
ex. 6 figs
divide the total amount by 4 for the number of chestnuts
ex. 3 chestnuts
multiply the total amount by a quarter for the oz of goat cheese
ex. 3 oz goat cheese
one pomegranate will be plenty for almost any amount
2 Tbsp of sugar for the brulée
in other words, each amuse bouche contains:
1/2 a fig
1/4 of a chestnut
1/4 oz of goat cheese
start with the longest preparation first, roasting chestnuts.
preheat the oven to 425F/ 220C.
in order to release the pressure from the evaporating water during the cooking process, we need to pierce the hard skins before popping them in the oven. if we don't, the oven will turn into an exploding chestnut war zone.
with a sharp paring knife, slice an 'x' into the top of the nut. this not only releases steam, but gives us easy flaps for peeling once it's out of the oven. there is a thin gap between the skin and the meat, and this can help you feel how thin the skin is. don't cut too deep, opening up the meat too will over cook and brown the tasty tender flesh.
place the nuts 'x' side up on a baking sheet, and roast for about 18 min.
the chestnuts are done when they've opened up like little flowers, exposing a golden flesh.
poke them with a tooth pick to see if they're tender all the way through. OR if you have asbestos fingers like me, give it a squeeze to check for softness. a little browning on the flesh is okay, but watch closely and don't let them burn.
once they are cool enough to handle, gently peel off the skin. et voila.
slice each chestnut into quarters lengthways.
while the oven is preheating, and chestnuts roasting, let's get the pomegranate deseeded.
start by cutting the pomegranate in half like a grapefruit.
now, hold one half over a large bowl, fruit down, with fingers spread.
with a large spoon, start thumping away at the tough skin.
the arils will start falling away from the membrane and into the bowl.
c'est tout. easy. about 2 minutes of thumping on each half will safely drop all of the seeds, all intact.
leftover seeds can be easily frozen by laying on a sheet tray and freezing before transferring them to a freezer bag. they can also be crushed and strained to have fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, delicious for holiday champange cocktails.
time to brulée! after i bought my blow torch, i ran around the kitchen trying to find ANYTHING i could brulée. fruit, custards, potato dishes... nothing was safe. if i could imagine a sweet crunchy caramel topping in the dish, i did it.
goat's cheese works perfectly here because it doesnt' melt as quickly as soft cow's cheeses, achieving a beautiful brulée with minimal preparation (and minimal mess).
brulée means 'to burn' in french, but what it is actually doing is caramelizing sugar. more specifically, the high heat causes chemical reations that give the sugar a new flavor (caramel) and breaks down sucrose (disaccharides) into glucose and fructose (monosaccharides).
caramelization happens at 350F/ 160C. and because an open flame is very hot, and the sugar is very thin, this will happen very quickly.
start by cutting the goat cheese log into flat rounds about 1cm thick and place on a glass or ceramic surface. i've found that these types of surfaces are easier to clean up afterwards.
evenly sprinkle a thin layer of table sugar on the rounds. too little will leave a less than desirable meek crust, but too much will burn before all of the sugar melts.
turn the torch on and blast away! keep the flame moving in gentle circles for even caramelization. it's easier to cook the sugar slowly, so control how hot it gets by pulling the flame further away.
you will notice the sugar first turns to a clear liquid. starting in small beads at first, and eventually merging into a large pool. after the all sugar goes completely liquid, it will start turning a golden brown and gently bubble.
the golden brown caramel will harden once it's cooled.
if you don't have a torch, get one! but in the meantime, you can use the broiler of your oven. just keep a very very close eye on the buggers. it really only takes seconds to go from beautiful brown to burnt smelly black.
last but not least, after rinsing and drying the figs, remove the very tip and stem with a sharp pairing knife. cut each fig in half lengthwise to expose a beautiful warm heart, ready for stacking.
carefully slide the bruléed chèvre onto the fig half with a thin spatula.
gently lay a quarter chestnut piece across half, and as many pomegranate seeds as will fit on the other. feel free to decorate the plate with fallen seeds as well. they are a great festive touch.
start the food flowing, continue the holiday celebration, and give thanks to the clean fresh new year with some favorite winter treats.
you can carve
them and you can chuck
them. but during the fall harvest season, let's not forget that you can eat them too.
pumpkins. and i'm not talking about the kind that come in a can.
i'm talking about the kind that grow from vines with giant yellow flowers and large lobed leaves. they are one of nature's sexy ovaries; harnessing sweetness, nutrition, and excitement every autumn.
let's check this beauty out from head to toe. starting at the top, we have the stem. think of the stem as the umbilical cord. it is the remnants of what once connected her to the vine, her life-line.
a pumpkin is ready to pick once the stem has turned slightly brown and brittle. be careful to not pull a pumpkin by the stem after it has been picked; because just like humans, the umbilical cord will fall off.
her plump body is made up of three parts: the skin, the flesh, and the guts.
since pumpkin is a winter squash (just like acorn and butternut squash), her skin is very thick and tough. summer squash (like zucchini and yellow squash) has tender skin that is easier on the palate and tummy. the skin of a pumpkin is perfectly edible, but not very pleasant. common varieties of pumpkin tote bright orange skin, but not all pumpkins look orange. skins can range from white to yellow, and burnt orange to a deep crimson.
directly under the skin is the flesh, or the meat. in carving pumpkins, it's what gives the jack o'lantern its structure. in cooking, it's what gives us the lovely puree for all of our recipes. depending on the type of pumpkin, the flesh can be slightly fibrous and bland or smooth and sweet. more on the meat soon.
finally the guts. miss pumpkin has a complex belly of seeds and fibrous strands. the strands are edible, but much like the skins they aren't very enjoyable. the seeds and their hulls are edible, and very tasty might i add. more on the seeds soon too.
finally, at the very bottom we find her blossom end. this structure is a reminder of the elegant yellow flower
that was responsible for giving her life. pumpkin vines produce both male and female flowers, but only the female flowers can pollenate and produce fruit. the male flowers are great for picking and eating. the females taste great too, but please don't pick those... we want the fruit.
since pumpkins have been around for over 5,000 years (at least), there are many different sizes and varieties that have been grown for different purposes. 'jack o'lanterns' are a variety grown for their sturdy walls and large bellies, perfect for carving. 'kakai' are a variety whose seeds are hull-less, perfect for oils and effortless seeds. 'musque de provence' are small guys with a deep red skin and a fine grain flesh, perfect for pies.
for this recipe, i am going to be focusing on the pie pumpkin. pie pumpkins are any variety whose flesh is sweet and less fibrous, giving it a silky fine grain texture. they also hold the perfect percentage of water content, making a pumpkin puree that is not too runny or too stiff.
starting with a rinsed and dried pie pumpkin, chop off the stem and the blossom button to create two flat surfaces. this will help the pumpkin stay put so you can safely chop and peel it with a sharp chef's knife. why peel with a knife instead of a vegetable peeler? check out those beautiful beads of liquid seeping from the flesh. that liquid is actually one of the pumpkin's defenses. since these guys grow on the ground, it's very easy for their flesh to get damaged. they secrete a starchy sap that fills the wound and hardens to protect the flesh. think of it like a human scab!
the evidence lies in the little scars often on the skin of any winter squash. you can also check out the state of your hand after handling a naked one. once the sap dries, it creates a hard brown film. it almost looks like the skin on your hand has died!
a knife will cut down on how much contact you have with the sap. not that it's dangerous, just a pain to clean. for the sap that does get your hands and cutting board... soap, water, and time will wash away the strong starch substance.
whack the pumpkin in half to expose those guts. as i mentioned earlier, pumpkins are ovaries. and because they are produced from a single ovary, they are in fact berries!
with a sturdy spoon, scoop out the fibrous strands and seeds. it's just like hollowing out a jack o'lantern. reserve the guts for later. we can clean and roast those seeds. they are so tasty, and super easy. recipe to follow.
now stand each half upright. with your large sharp knife, follow the curve of the pumpkin removing strips of skin with as little meat attached as possible. this could take a couple of practice shaves, but as long as you've got a good hold of your knife you'll have the control.
be sure to hold your knife with thumb and first finger on the blade, and three fingers on the handle. the knife's center of gravity is just above the handle, and grasping this part will give you much better leverage and agility.
cut each half into four or five sections, and each section into four or five parts. the most important part of this step is keeping the pieces relatively the same size. uniform pieces will have similar cooking times.
it's time for our perfect chunks of pumpkin meat to steam. i used a steam basket. i find them the easiest to use and adapt to the size of food i need to steam. they are inexpensive (about $8-$12) and clean and store easily.
whichever method you use, steaming pumpkin is the most efficient way to hold in all of those nutrients. in a serving size of pumpkin puree (about 1/2 cup) we find 7% of our daily potassium intake, 11% of our vitamin C, and 50% of our vitamin A.
at a closer look, we see that pumpkins tote three big carotenoids: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lutein. these are the nutrients directly responsible for pumpkin's orange color.
to give us a hint on what these orange colored nutrients do, let's look to the color wheel. since blue is directly across from orange, these colors are complimentary and neutralize when combined. since color is light, and the function of our eyes is to process light, it makes sense that orange nutrients protect our eyes from blue light (UV). this is a huge defense in eye disease like cataracts. lutein is found in high concentrations in our retina and needs to be replenished throughout our lives.
alpha and beta-carotene are also provitamin A, meaning they are converted in our livers to retinol (vitamin A). just like retinol they are fat soluble, so these nutrients need a small fat partner to become bioavailable in the body. we will have no problem with this once our pumpkin puree gets turned into muffins!
we are done steaming when the pieces are very tender. sticking them with a fork should give you no resistance.
after the pieces have cooled enough to handle, give them a whirl in the food processor (a hand blender would also work here). blend until you're left with silky pumpkin puree, and don't forget to scrape down the sides occasionally to get rid of straggler chunks.
if you're not using the puree right away (in the next 2 - 4 days), store it. after the puree is completely cooled, carefully transfer it to a freezer bag. seal the bag, squishing as much air as possible out. frozen puree can last up to a year in your freezer which means healthy pure pumpkin flavor all year round. don't forget to label and date it.
a serving size of pumpkin puree (about 1/2 cup) is only 13 calories and .07g of fat. it also holds 3.5g of dietary fiber. your heart will thank you for adding this health conscious fruit into your diet. aside from the obvious desserts, you can use your creamy textured puree to cut the fat and maintain a delicate richness. add puree to your oatmeal in the morning instead of butter, or cut back on the milk and cheese in a homemade macaroni and cheese. be daring and invent a cocktail with a tablespoon of puree this holiday season. and because pumpkins are high in vitamin A and zinc, combine with raw honey for a repairing face mask (my personal favorite). during the fall, pumpkins are too cheap, too readily available and too easy to store, that there is no reason to not stock up.
*pumpkin seeds* (as promised)
whether you are making pumpkin puree or carving a jack o'lantern, don't throw away the pumpkin guts! there are hundreds of seeds swimming in the sea of fibrous strands. pumpkin seeds are packed with minerals. in just one ounce of seeds (50 to 60 seeds) we find 19% of our daily recommended zinc and magnesium, and 10% of our copper. the same small portion of pumpkin seeds gives us 5.2g of protein. that's 10% of our daily need, and only 2.1g less than the same amount of beef. that's incredible.
1 to 1.5 cups of pumpkin seeds (depending on the pumpkin's size)
1 to 1/5 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
preheat the oven to 350F
dump the pumpkin guts into a colander, and start rinsing under running water. don't be afraid to get your hands in there and move them around. the fibrous strands will soon separate from the seeds, and you'll be able to extract them.
transfer the clean seeds to a large towel to dry them off as much as possible.
in a large bowl, combine the seeds, oil, and spices. toss to coat.
spread the seeds out on a baking sheet, making sure they have enough room to not touch in a single layer. pop them in the oven.
after about 15 min (or until the seeds start to turn golden), give the seeds a stir with a flat spatula. they are nowcooked and ready for cooling and eating.
pumpkin seeds start to go stale after about two weeks, and will last longer in an cool, air-tight environment. play around with the spices in this recipe. savory goes well on salads or garnish for a squash soup. sweet with sugar and cinnamon go well on top of ice cream or a garnish for pumpkin pie.
they are tasty enough to stand alone, and i enjoy them simply by the handful. however you eat them, get them in you. they are good for you.
i am a porridge eater. i realize that my love of porridge isn't too often shared with my peers, but i love to eat large bowls of warm sticky goop that i can squish between my tongue and the roof of my mouth.
porridge is such a versatile meal, it can be served morning, noon or night. its easy cooking method leaves your mind and palate the time and energy to paint any flavor desired on its wide-open canvas. any combination of sweets (or savory if you're like me) will shine in a dish like porridge.
turning the amaranth seed into my porridge staple was one of the best decisions i could have made to update and sustain my obsession. the texture alone of these little guys is so much fun. it's like filling my mouth with tiny bubbles.
often called an 'ancient grain,' many civilizations in south and central america employed amaranth as their staple crop. the most well known were the aztecs.
to put some time scale on amaranth's heyday, we're talking about consumption as a major crop from around 4000 BC to about the 15th century.
after falling away from wide spread cultivation, it bobbed and weaved throughout time and space. evidence shows sprinklings of amaranth seeds in 16th century germany, 18th century india, and 19th century china, but nothing as large scale as rice or wheat.
between its recent resurgence in the 1960's, and hyped as a super food even more recently, amaranth has been pushed into fad status in the western health world. this has consequently made it more available, and consequently has made my gluten free tiny tank very happy. amaranth will probably never replace corn or soy production, but it is definitely growing expontentially in knowledge and availability.
so what is amaranth exactly? 'ancient grain' is a misleading title since amaranth isn't in fact a grain, but a seed. technically a grain only comes from a grass, while amaranth comes from herb plants called amaranthus.
a grass is distinguished as a tall plant with multiple sets of two leaves. the leaves have two parts: the sheath which wraps around the stem at their base, and blades which are long and narrow. further, the veins of the blades run parallel and not branched like most other plants.
there are no other plants like these.
all grains (or cereals) are seeds of grasses, and this includes: wheat, rice, barley, corn, oats, millet, sorghum, and rye to name a few.
amaranth (as well as quinoa and buckwheat) acts so uncannily like a grass grain, it's often called a 'pseudograin' or 'pseudocereal'.
why so similar?
1) the anatomy of amaranth resembles a wheat grain closely, consisting of the bran, the germ (26%) and the endosperm (74%).
2) amaranth also cooks up just like a grain. its endosperm grinds to a delicate flour which is great for baking, and the whole seed can be boiled just like rice.
but amaranth has so much more to offer than most grains! these seeds are huge-ups on protein. amaranth scores higher than most beans on digestible protein (that's how much your body is actually able to use) at 90% digestibility. and it also has a higher PDCAAS score
than wheat at .64.
as a vegetarian, i am very conscious of 'complete proteins.'
quite simply, a complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids that our bodies do not produce on their own. amino acids are the building blocks to our body's growth and repair, so they are important. amaranth contains sufficient levels of all essential amino acids except leucine. but, this is no problem with a balanced diet, because most all other grains are very high in leucine (especially corn).
since we are on the topic of nutrition, amaranth is packing some serious heat. just a half cup (cooked) holds about 15g of protein, 64g of carbohydrates, 10g of dietary fiber, and about 365 calories. this easily gives me the energy i need for a long cycle or workout. let's add that amaranth is very high in lysine, magnesium, manganese, and iron..... oh my!
amaranth vs short grain brown rice
amaranth seeds are small. there are about 1,000 of them in one gram. in fact, they are so tiny, that more than 100,000 seeds can be harvested from bush that typically only grows to about two feet tall.
we have talked about amaranth's history, classification, anatomy, and nutritional value, now let's talk about its starch baby.
typically starch is found in grains, beans, seeds and root vegetables. starch is a carbohydrate (the stuff that gives you energy) that is composed of two starch types: amylose and amylopectin. depending on the source, starch is usually about a three-fourths amylopectin and one-fourth amylose.
under a microscope, amylopectin's structure is so much larger and more vulnerable than amylose. this means that it is easily attacked and digested by the enzymes in our lower intestines.
amylopectin is also water soluble unlike amylose. its solubility is responsible for the texture of creamy mashed potatoes and risotto.
so how does amaranth measure up? it is almost 95% amylopectin, 5% amylose. that is higher amylopectin than most risotto rices.
we can use this fact to our culinary advantage by manipulating the soluble amylopectin while cooking. more on this very soon, but its unique composition will give us that comforting goopy goopness of porridge that i love.
1/2 c. amaranth
1 1/2 c. liquid
combine amaranth seeds with half the liquid in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.
reduce to a gentle simmer and cover.
over the next 20 minutes or so, slowly add the remaining liquid (kept hot) and keep a good stir going to tease out the starch.
as the amaranth heats up the amylopectin is slowly released, and because it's water soluble, it will gobble up that liquid.
the porridge is done when all the liquid is absorbed and the seeds are as soft as you would like them. they will be swimming in their creamy starch bath, waiting for your mouth.
let us not forget where the word porridge comes from. morphing in pronunciation, porridge comes from 'pottage' which is the anglo-saxon version of the french word 'potage' or 'one pot.'
many europeans around the 13th century were using any available starches (legumes, grains and vegetables) in one pot meals, executed with the rudimentary cooking method of boiling. simple.
so get creative! saute garlic and sundried tomatoes before adding the amaranth and liquid. add grated carrot, spinach or dried fruits while boiling. throw in oats, rice, or polenta for texture and flavor. stir in fresh fruit or spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, or cayenne at the end. switch up the liquid as well. use stock, juice, gf beer, coconut milk, or just plain old water. finish with milk and butter, or chopped fresh herbs and lemon juice. paint away.
the possibilities are endless, so try it out. and enjoy this modern porridge.
all moong dal start their journey to my mouth as a mung bean, small oval beans with either a green or red skin. the beans i picked up at my local indian food store were harvested, washed, then soaked in oil to loosen the green husk. underneath lies a silky smooth delicate yellow flesh that i love to eat.
the ever versatile mung bean has had a long history with granolas, hippies, and the health conscious in the west. the bean is well known for it's jam packed nutrition density. containing omega 3, 6, fibre, protein, folate, and vitamin K, it's low in fat and calories.
but the west is just scratching the surface... they've had a longer love affair in the stomaches of the east.
mung beans are native to india and pakistan, and have planted themselves securely into surrounding countries, branching out, all the way to becoming a staple in chinese cuisine. they've even found their way into chinese medicine as a cooling food that can help with detoxification and inflammation.
as well as using the whole bean, mung are sprouted and added to tons of dishes for a crisp crunch. those are the long thick clear sprouts we find in our spring rolls, pho, and pad thai. also tapping into the amazing starch content, mung beans are processed to make foods like cellophane noodles and jellies. why on earth do we need gelatin?
*the line up*
turmeric. this plant root is boiled, then dried to about 10% moisture, and ground. turmeric is found in many indian recipes, in fact curry powder is about half turmeric. don't over do it though, because too much will make your dish taste slightly bitter.
turmeric has a distinct golden color that dies foods easily (and your fingers!). it is antibacterial and anthelmintic (meaning expels pests from the body).
store in air tight container away from the sunlight. only buy enough turmeric to last you about six months, because it looses its potency somewhere around that amount of time.
these little red guys contain a chemical called
capsaicin. it's what gives them their 'heat' as well as healing capabilities. in high dosages, capsaicin is helpful with arthritis and lowering cholesterol. applied topically, it helps with minor pains and aches; and eaten, it can help with a stuffy nose, reduction of free radicals from fat, and oxidization.
taste a bite of your dried chilis before you cook with them to test their heat. if they aren't very hot bump up the number for your recipe, they're good for you.
a standard in indian cuisine, the plants origins can actually be traced back to the country itself. cumin has a warm smokey flavor and lovely balance. these seeds stimulate digestion, and help in breaking down beans. that's convenient. whole seed can be kept around for about six months before it starts to loose its potency.
1 part moong dal
4 parts H2O
(i used a mug holding about a cup)
1 tsp tumeric
1 Tbsp. salt
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 sm. onion
2 tsp cumin
2 sm chilis
after sorting through the moong dal (just like lentils), rinse well. so well that the water runs almost clear. expect a ton of bubbles, but don't worry! it's a normal property of mung beans. drop them in a large pot, and drown them with water. more bubbles will surface, and the water may cloud up again. if you think that's a cool feature of starch, wait and see what happens as the get hotter...
turn the flame to medium-high. as the bath heats up, the dal gently break down and continue to release more starch and protiens. a thick fluffy 'foam' will start to emerge and delicately float on top. (i was so impressed with this stuff, i was sad to see it go) skim off the foam-like structure with a spoon, and wave good-bye.
tickle with turmeric, sprinkle with salt, and put a lid on it. let those newly naked beans simmer. peak in on the little guys every few minutes and give them a quick stir, paying special attention to the bottom of the pan. this mixture will progress slowly over about 40 min on low heat.
as the dal soaks up more water and releases its starches, the mixture transforms. imagine boiling something that has the consistency of jell-o. it's a gelatinous mass of seething beans trapped under a soft skin. very 'man who fell to earth.'
the mixture will pull together, and resemble a porridge, the closer it is to being done. it's key to not cook the dal too much. some texture is quite lovely and breaks up monotony. if a chunkier dal is what you're after, slightly reduce the amount of water and cooking time.
small dice a small onion. the more consistent the size and shape of the pieces will give even browning.
heat a saute pan, and add the onion pieces to the hot olive oil. after a couple of stirs or flips (enough to coat the onion) add the cumin and dried chillies.
sauté at medium heat until onions are soft and the color is a dark carmel. (remember, saute means 'to jump or change,' so keep 'um movin.) it takes a while to add color, but burning can sneak up towards the end as sugars get excited. so keep watch the darker it gets.
combine part I and part II.
this recipe yields enough for two. i highly recommend making a bunch and keeping some on hand in your freezer. it is so cheap and easy, and it can be stored in the freezer for at least 3 months and refrigerator life is about two weeks. but trust me, it won't last that long. it's perfect to add to any curry dishes, on top of home fries, or on top of gluten free toast for breakfast. this recipe is not over powering and is a nice compliment.
tonight for dinner, i ate it with brown rice (cooked with a cinnamon stick) and jamie oliver's vegetable jalfrezi
. moong dal is officially a new staple in my tiny tank.
wandering the aisles of the LCBO, i found myself searching for something other than red wine.
and then i saw, sitting quitely under a large label reading 'greece,' were strange small bottles of what looked like liquid uranium. but before i could say anything, i was welcomely contradicted and promised delightful flavors of pine trees married with a dry white wine.
i was interested.
and i was sold when i saw the price tag, a half litre of this greek wine was only $5CAD. translated, that about the size of a wine bottle for $7USD. it was well worth the risk in my mind, so i carried out two bottles for dinner.
originally retsina was spiced, or made to contain dried fruits to alter the taste. the resin taste was only a consequence of sealing the oak barrels used for wine storage with pine resin.
after the glass bottle was invented though, pine resin was (and is currently) added to the wine during the first fermentation to give it it's strong pine needle kick.
retsina typically uses one or more of these three white grape variatials:
- savatiano is a low-acid grape produced in the attica
region. pronounced sah-vah-tya-NO
- assyrtiko is a white grape known to have characteristics of red wines because of how heavy and full bodied it is. assyrtiko pronounced as-SEER-ti-ko is grown mostly on the island santorini
- rhoditis pronounced row-DEE-tis, this red grape is mostly produced in the north of the peloponnese region
. served white, it has a light and dry profile.
where to buy.
i found my retsina from the LCBO, but i also shopped around in the states. chicagoans can find retsina at any binny's and buffalonians can find it at premier liquor.
any large, well stocked liquor store should carry retsina.
i highly recommend serving retsina slightly cooler than room temperature. ! not too cold though ! because anything below about 7C (that's about 45F) will mute all of the wonderful grape qualities and leave you with a resinous mess.
also, the straighter the sides of your wine glass the better. retsina loves to breathe and would not object to being in a tumbler or rocks glass.
as far as food pairing goes, stick with bold greek flavors to start: tomatoes, oregano, a strong feta, or olives for example. because it's on the dry side, it also pairs well with fried foods.
i recommend sipping on retsina while eating, and preferably in the sunshine. it is delightfully refreshing and unique.
it's that time of year again. the weather is getting so cold, and my body wants to eat warm comforting foods. and lots of them. i've been craving calories.
coincidentally... the traditional american holiday recipes serve up the same calorie laden food i'm craving. and what goes better on top of EVERYTHING right now than gravy?
*the line up*
the beautiful aromat and antioxidant vegetable: the onion.
an onion is a basic aromat that will deliver a lovely complexity to the foods flavor quickly and discretely. cooking the onion calms those stingy flavors and vapors that make you cry while cutting it. by cutting the onion, you're destroying the cell walls, releasing its contents. After a couple of chemical reactions, the enzymes released reach your eyes. once there, the gas mixes with the water in your eyes to form sulfuric acid. i like to feel that little sting. it lets me know that the onion is fresh and ready to aid.
onions are also full of the flavonoid quercetin. this flavonol holds antioxidant and anti-inflammetory properties that help protect against free radicals and defends vitamin E.
another time saving tool is the bouillon cube. i am one to make my own vegetable stock, but when i have none on hand, these are a perfect substitute. i used Harvest Sun low sodium vegetable bouillon cubes
and followed the liquid ratio on the box: 1 cube to 2c H20. if you have the time i highly recommend Heidi's bouillon recipe
on 101cookbooks. her bouillon would be 2tsp mixture to 2c H20.
whichever type of bouillon you choose, look for ones that don't have a lot of scary additives and fresh enough to be soft. i found that sauteing is more efficient with soft bouillon.
canned lentils. i am someone that would normally cook my lentils from dry. although this only takes about 30min, that time may be needed to refill the wine glasses. in fact, canned lentils do better with shorter cook times. overcooking will make them mushy and undesirable. make sure to rinse and drain these guys well.
vegan cuisine's best friend: nutritional yeast. the flavor can be described as nutty or cheesy and goes well on most of everything. some brands fortify the flakes (or sometimes granules) with b-12, but nutritional yeast contains b-complex vitamins naturally. in this day and age you can find nutritional yeast in most health food stores and markets. if you can't find it in the food isles, try the supplement area.
our gluten free friendly gravy thickener: cornstarch. to put it very simply, cornstarch is made by fermenting the kernels for 30 - 45hrs. once kernels have doubled in size and taken on about 30% more moisture, they are cleaned and milled into the germ and endosperm. after the endosperm is milled, a washing process is used to remove the starch from the fibers. the starch is collected and excess water removed using a centrifuge. finally the starch is dried in large hoppers to a moisture content of about 13%.
1 ¾ c hot water
¼ c cold water
2Tbsp corn starch
½ sm onion about ¼ c
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 14oz can lentils
1 scant Tbsp dried basil
3Tbsp nutritional yeast
salt and pepper to taste
roughly chop half an onion. i like to keep the pieces about the same size as the lentils.
on medium, heat 1Tbsp of oil. any kind will be fine in this recipe, i used canola. add chopped onions to hot oil and let them go for about 5min. let them get a little brown and soft, but mind your stir. you don't have to cook them through at this stage, they have a few more steps to go.
keeping your stir on, add the bouillon, dried basil, and a bit of salt. once you can smell the seasonings, you're ready for the lentils.
add the drained and rinsed lentils to the flavor packed mixture and give it a quick stir. feel free to stir before or after adding the hot water.
let the gravy base simmer for 15min, give the lentils time party with the spices. check on them and give them a stir a couple of times. keep it covered to not lose any liquid and keep the simmer very low.
i find it easier to taste for salt and pepper before putting the starch in. it lets me focus on the flavor before i'm focusing on the thickening. it also cuts down on the amount of stirring that needs to be done after the gravy cooked. i'll explain more on that in a minute.
while the pot is simmering away, make a slurry. a slurry is a solution of cold liquid and raw starch. this slurry is essential to a smooth gravy because raw starch will clump if added directly hot liquid. cold liquid helps all of the starch to absorb the liquid evenly and slowly... real smooth. if you drop raw starch into the fast paced and rough waters of hot liquid, the first strands of starch touched by the liquid will instantly swell and absorb the liquid so quickly, they seal around pockets of raw starch that didn't even have a chance.
the standard ratio of liquid to starch for cornstarch is 1Tbsp to 2 cups liquid. i've reserved 1/4 c. of water to make the slurry and it should be the consistency of soy milk once all of the cornstarch is absorbed.
pour the slurry into the simmering pot of lentil goodness, and let the beautiful science of starch start to work for you. keep stirring and at about 95C (203F) the starch has unwound itself and started attaching to the hydrogen molecules of H2O. this new network of bonds is now more viscous (thick). think of it as the new starch bonds restricting the flow of the water by tying everything up.
this happens quickly and is visually expressed by the gravy changing from opaque to transparent. a light simmer for about one minute after the gravy is clear will insure that the starch is cooked. keep stirring. tasting it is also a great way to tell as well. if you can't taste the starch, it's cooked.
we've been stirring this whole time, let's talk about it.
*a little note on stirring*
you should be stirring with something like a wooden spoon, not with something like a whisk. and you should be using nice, even and slow strokes.
it's important to keep the gravy moving to make sure it's cooking evenly. but starch is a little sensitive to aggression, and will break if stirred too much or too quickly. literally, the bonds that we so delicately formed during absorbtion and heating will snap if agitated too much. the bonds will burst, releasing the liquid, and increase the flow making the gravy runny.
no one wants that! so as i mentioned earlier that you don't want to stir too much after the starch has been cooked either. once the starch is cooked, shut it off and leave it alone. give it a minute for the new networks to settle.
remember that gravies thickened with starch get slightly thicker as they cool, so eat this gravy asap. this recipe yields about 3 cups, and is so basic it will go great on everything.
since thanksgiving, i've had it on mashed potatoes for dinner, on gf toast for breakfast, and as a base to shepherds pie filling. it takes very little time, and lets me have my gravy and eat it too during the holidays.
if you need to reheat the leftovers, do it gently. a double boiler is best or very very low heat, and don't stir it too much!