Saturday, April 30, 2011

Recipe: Savory creamed kale

This recipe is super-simple, though it does take about 20 minutes to cook if you use curly kale. I really don't understand the incredibly intense and deliciously satisfying taste of this recipe. It's nearly addictive, and it's not just because of the cream:

You will need:

1 cup homemade veggie broth
2 large heads kale
1 T good butter
3/4 cup whipping cream

What you do:

Trim the kale, chopping the stems into tiny pieces and shredding the largest pieces of leaf
Heat the broth and add the kale, including stems. Cover for 5 minutes or until the kale is beginning to wilt, then leave the cover off the pot and cook on medium until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the butter, stir, and continue cooking until the liquid is gone.
Lower the heat, add the cream, and heat through, just until the cream is about to simmer. Salt to taste.
Serve in bowls.

Recipe: Rhubarb chutney

I wanted something I could do with rhubarb that didn't have bucketloads of sugar, and that didn't end up being a dessert. The resulting experiment gave us something we call chutney. Whatever the proper name, it goes well on goat cheese and crackers, any other cheese (we've tried many) and crackers, with pork, with lamb, and with Indian dishes. (I served it with something I made that was similar to lamb saag.)

You will need:

6 cups of coarsely chopped cleaned trimmed rhubarb
2 onions chopped into about 1/3-inch dice
1/2 cup golden raisins
1-3 cloves finely chopped garlic, depending on how well you like garlic
2 T finely grated ginger
1/3 cup water
2 T sugar, more or less
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T tamari soy sauce
2 T mirin
2 T good butter
1-2 carrots (depending on size) chopped in 1/4-inch dice - optional

What you do:

Saute the onion in the butter until the onion is beginning to become translucent. Add the rhubarb, ginger and garlic and optional carrots and saute for about 2 minutes. Don't let the garlic brown. Add the water, raisins and sugar. Let simmer until the rhubarb softens (but stop before it turns to stringy mush). Let this mixture sit until it is no longer very hot. Taste for sweetness and stir in more sugar if you need it. Stir in the vinegar, tamari, and mirin. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more sugar, vinegar, or tamari. Eat warm or cold; pack leftovers into jars and keep in the fridge. Use lavishly with almost anything savory.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Recipe: Rhubarb cream surprise

Last night, an hour or so after dinner, I wanted a bite of something special. The old gray cells started reviewing what we had in the house. This yummy concoction appeared a few minutes later, and it satisfied every tastebud.

Rhubarb, cooked in enough water to cover it about halfway in a pot (not aluminum!). I added about 2 T sugar at the end of the cooking to about 3 1/2 cups of rhubarb and stirred it in. Stir as little as possible to keep the rhubarb chunky.

10 frozen peach slices. We freeze bucketloads of ripe peaches in season by cutting them in about 12ths and laying them on cook sheets, then freezing them till they're hard and packaging them in Ziplocs.

30 frozen blueberries. We freeze bucketloads of blueberries, too, straight from the box, on a cookie sheet. We also package these in Ziplocs.

Half-and-half cream. We use good jersey cream from Bellingham.


In a small attractive dessert dish (we use our Chinese miso bowls), pour in about 1/3 cup of cream. Then lay 5 peach slices in a layer partly submerged in the cream. Sprinkle the blueberries on top of the peaches. Spoon the hot cooked rhubarb on top of the fruit. Use as much as you'd like and include some 'juice'.

So you have a cold layer and a hot layer. The cream wells up around the rhubarb. Eat by digging straight down through the layers. It should be delightfully hot and cold. By the last spoonful the flavors will have blended delightfully.

You can have seconds if you want - it's that good, and that healthy. Nothing bad in it!

Let me know if you try it. We enjoyed this over the Mariners game - it almost compensated for the loss.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Opinion: Irksome yogurt!

I always check labels! But the other day I grabbed some yogurt and didn't look. I think it's a brand I used to use that met my standards of no thickeners, no sweeteners, just milk. 

I know why this happened. My usual brand, Nancy's, had been on sale for a couple of months, but now it was back to the regular price of $5.29 a half gallon. I had been paying a dollar less. So when I saw something nearby on sale, I grabbed it. It was whole milk plain yogurt, and only $4 for 2 quart tubs. Good price.

I use yogurt in my breakfast smoothie every morning. The first day it seemed a little foamy and pasty. The second too. And I didn't like a certain discomfort in gave me after I drank it. So I checked the label. It had as its second ingredient cornstarch! 

I had succumbed to the temptation to go with price over quality, not intentionally but carelessly. 

And what I got wasn't yogurt. True yogurt doesn't need thickeners, which is what the cornstarch is. As is the tapioca in other brands, or the gelatin. 

If the right bacteria are present for the right amount of time, milk will turn into thick yogurt and no other thickener is needed.

Nicely, bacteria also convert sugar into acid, lactose into lactic acid in the case of yogurt. You can read about it here.

So you have helpful bacteria, the kind that coexist inside of us and help us convert food to nutrients, working to ferment milk and convert its difficult-to-digest sugar lactose into lactic acid, which thickens the milk, separating the liquid part from the protein part, whey and curds, through fermentation. 

The result is more digestible milk with less sugar.

Along comes the food industry. In the name of something I can't imagine, it 'improves' on the process and instead gives us a milk product so inadequately fermented that it has to add cornstarch and then to make up for lost sugars, adds sweeteners.

Most yogurts come with added sweeteners, but the label PLAIN helps us avoid those. Nothing on the label helps us avoid the adulterants. For that we need to turn the tub over and squint at the list of ingredients. If it has more than milk and bacteria in it, it's not yogurt. Or not all yogurt.

I confess to being overly influenced by price, even though I realize that good food always costs more than bad. (Fresh spinach costs far more per pound than cookies, even if it's not organic spinach.) So in this frugal mindset, I resent paying for cornstarch when I think I'm paying for a milk product.

Corn is in everything. The government subsidizes corn and we have a glut of it. Cows eat corn to make milk (though they shouldn't - it makes them sick). But it's cheaper to skip the cow and just add corn to milk products. 

I don't want to pay for yogurt that has been 'extended' by cornstarch. Or thickened by it. I don't like the texture - pasty, foamy - and I don't like the idea of it. 

There are only one or two yogurts out there now that are made from whole milk and yogurt-making bacteria and nothing else. Good luck finding them at an affordable price!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Recipes: Rhubarb dessert creation

I'm gluten-free of necessity, so the usual rhubarb treatments are out. Here's what I came up with for the 2 stalks we just harvested, the first of the season. We're eating it now and it's just GREAT!

2 stalks of rhubarb, trimmed of green parts and chopped into 1-inch chunks
2 T sugar, or more to taste
1 large banana, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Cook the rhubarb in about 1/3 cup of water for about 7-10 minutes or until just barely soft. Stir in the sugar and taste the rhubarb. It should be tart but not too tart. Leave it in the covered pot until it cools.

Stir in the banana and refrigerate until you serve the dessert.

Whip the cream till very stiff, and serve on the rhubarb-banana mix, or stir the cream into the rhubarb mix before serving. Serves 2.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recipe: Miso Soup with Sizzling Rice

Last night I needed something quick and tasty and if possible, never-seen-before on my table (just for fun). I had tofu so miso soup was a natural choice: I always have the basic ingredients in various cupboards, and I try to keep the miso itself in the fridge.

What I didn't have was something new or extra in mind to add to it or go with it. I don't usually put rice in miso soup. It did sound easy, but also a little boring. That's when sizzling rice came to mind.

I've never made sizzling rice but I've enjoyed it in Chinese restaurants. So I looked up a recipe online. And so this meal was born. (I didn't know it yet, but that recipe wasn't a good one - more on that later.)

Here's the recipe. At the end I'll tell you what didn't work, and then what happened and then how to fix it:

1 strip of kombu, rinsed quickly
1/2 cup or so dried shiitake mushrooms. I bought sliced ones, but whole ones will work.
1 quart cold water
3-4 T miso, whichever flavor you favor - for a gluten-free recipe avoid miso with barley
1 pkg soft tofu, rinsed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (more or less)
2T mirin (or to taste)
2T tamari soy sauce - for a gluten-free recipe use wheat-free tamari
3-4 choy sum (small bok choy type plants) or 2 baby bok choy or other green. Spinach would do.
1/2 cup medium grain white rice - I use a brand of CalRose rice, used in sushi. Other kinds might work.

Put the water in a 2-qt pot and add the kombu and mushrooms. Bring it up to a simmer (little bubbles at the edges) but don't let it boil. Take it off the heat and let it sit while you do something else. It can sit till nearly cool, or for hours.

Remove the kombu and put it in the compost bucket
Slice the mushrooms if they aren't already sliced, and put the tough stalks in the compost bucket. Return the sliced mushrooms to the pot.

Turn on the heat. As it starts to get hot, stir in the miso by placing it in a strainer, lowering the strainer into the kombu broth, and stirring the miso around in the strainer. The idea is to get rid of lumps and anything else that stays in the strainer.

Don't let the broth boil.

Add the greens. I prepare the choy sum by cutting off the stems at the base of the leaves (one cut). Then I separate the leaves from each other and rinse them off, then add them to the broth.

Put the tofu in a flat dish and heat in the microwave for about 2 minutes. You don't want it to chill the broth.

Add the hot tofu to the pot, add the mirin and tamari, stir gently, and taste. Adjust the seasoning. Keep the broth hot just below the boiling point.

So far so good. Now to the sizzling rice.

Heat 3/4 cup oil in a wok or frying pan. Toss in a piece of rice and if it sizzles, add all the rest. Stir it around till the rice begins to brown. This takes a good 5 minutes, but watch it closely - burning does not improve it.

Ladle the soup into wide bowls, then add a portion of rice. This recipe will make 2-4 servings.

Now to the difficulty and the solution:

When I did this last night, the rice never did cook enough. And it didn't stick together at all, as it does in restaurants. So after the first serving I took all the rice we had been avoiding in our bowls, heated up the oil again, and added them. While they browned (better than before) they began to stick together. They looked and smelled like sizzling rice! I served them on our second bowls of soup and they were a welcome addition, crispy, tasty, complementary.

So from now on I'm doing it this way:

Before adding the tofu to the broth, measure out the rice and add enough broth to cover. Once the soup is heated, heat up the oil, strain the rice mixture back into the pot, and add the rice to the hot oil. It will splatter a bit. Cook until the rice turns opaque, then brown. Finish the soup as before. Serve a portion with each bowl of soup.

This was absolutely delicious, and surprisingly filling. The choy sum was lovely. The rice floated in crunchy little islands and was a great touch!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The end of March...

Yesterday John planted asparagus and artichokes in the beds he'd prepared. We haven't done artichokes before, but are hopeful. We don't know if we can get them to winter over, but at least their roots will be bigger each year if they do. According to this article we should be sharing one big choke by August!

Then little ones will grow and we'll have a few more to enjoy.

We planted 3 plants. It may not be enough! We've got to wait a good 4 months or more to find out.

The asparagus won't be ready for a couple of years. We have a few plants that are ready to harvest this year, planted in 2007.

Otherwise, it's all preparation for a delicious future.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


We just received our dirt. We've been getting ready, as much as possible, for it to come. First we made garden boxes for it to go into. And then we had to remove the junipers so the truck could get into the yard. (We wanted to get rid of those junipers - more about that in another post.) And we had to take down a part of the fence to give the truck access to the backyard.

That was a lot to do just to get a load of dirt dropped off! But now it's here, all 13 yards of it. It's part-way into the yard, but some of it overlaps the fence line.

Immediately we started shoveling. We started by filling up the garden box that has been waiting for it. Ten wheelbarrow loads later, it was part-full, maybe a third full. This box is 16x4x1 in dimension, or 64 cu ft. That is about 2.3 yards of the 13.

John likes to move it by the wheelbarrow, but I prefer carrying one shovelful at a time the 20 feet uphill from the pile to the box. We tend to count things around here, and I can tell you I did 80 shovelfuls. At first I did 20 and took a break. The third time I did 40 shovelfuls. The wheelbarrow holds 10 shovelfuls.

See, I'm getting more fit already! I like it ever so much better to get my exercise from real work than from a dedicated exercise session: it seems so much more meaningful!

I'd say the box is now 2/3 to 3/4 full. Big improvement from those shovelfuls! I should be able to plant tomorrow!


By the way, this soil is a mixture of composted local heavy-metal-free sludge from a small town nearby, sand, composted chicken manure, and ...  I don't remember the rest. It seems very sandy to me, certainly more than we're used to. We'll see how that is. Even though it has the manure, we may need to add more compost just to boost the organic and water-holding content.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Recipe: Pipian Rojo

This ancient traditional sauce has as many variations as the number of cooks who have made it over the past 8000-10000 years. Here's one to try:

Soak 2 ancho or other dried chilis by covering them with boiling water and letting them sit for 15 minutes.

Put in a blender:
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves
1 cup fresh pumpkin or squash seeds, cleaned of pulp
1 cup veggie or chicken broth
the soaked ancho chilis
1/2 tsp salt
juice of 1-2 limes (depending on size)

Whirl it all up in the blender till a thick uniform paste forms. To use it, add more broth and stew a chicken or game in it until cooked. Serve over rice or with steamed tortillas. Or use it to flavor soups by stirring the paste into the soup broth for flavoring. I haven't tried it with bean soup, but it sounds like a perfect combination.

There are infinite variations, so have fun with it. You can find dried chilies in most groceries.

Pepitas - 2 recipes, several variations

Pepitas are a traditional food that has been eaten for at least the last 10,000 years. You can cook pepitas, which are the healthy seeds of squash and pumpkins, in the oven. But my favorite way uses a cast iron skillet and takes only about 5 minutes.

You can buy pumpkin seeds, which are very similar to squash seeds, in bulk at the store. Or you can wash the pulp from the seeds of a squash you are using in another recipe, dry them thoroughly, and proceed with the recipe.

Quick Pepitas

Start with 2 cups of pepitas (or you can make less but I warn you, these are addictive)
Pour them into a hot cast iron skillet and stir until they start to pop. Pour them out onto a plate, paper plate, or several layers of paper towels. They will be hot! Sprinkle them with salt, let them cool down, and enjoy them as a snack. Or run them through a spice mill as a coating or topping.

Quick Pepitas with Tamari (These are unbelievably tasty and satisfying.)

Start with Quick Pepitas. After they start popping, turn off the heat but leave them in the pan. Immediately add 2-3 tablespoons of tamari soy sauce and toss them around in the pan to coat them all. Before the tamari dries and burns, remove them from the pan onto a plate. Let them cool and serve.

Baked Pepitas

After cleaning the pepitas, toss them with a few tablespoons of olive oil and some salt, and roast them in a single layer on a cookie sheet for about 40 minutes in a 325 degree oven. Don't let them burn! Cool and eat.

Baked Pepitas variations.

Oil but don't salt the pepitas, but otherwise follow the recipe for Baked Pepitas. When the pepitas come out of the oven and are still hot, put them in a heat-safe bowl and sprinkle with ONE of these:

Cinnamon sugar (about 2 parts sugar to one part cinnamon)
Garlic salt
Chili powder, with or without salt. Or chili powder with a bit of sugar. Or chili powder with a bit of sweetened cocoa mix.

Or serve the Baked Pepitas mixed about half-and-half with raisins.

Recipe: Squash Custard and variations

This recipe is super-simple and amazingly healthy and satisfying. And I've included a few tempting variations. And by the way, I've tried them all.

Basic recipe. This recipe makes a lot of custard, because I find it disappears very fast. Good for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

4 cups cooked squash. (Make your own for the tastiest cooked squash. I LOVE buttercup squash for this.)
4 eggs
2 cans coconut cream or coconut milk, not light (You can make your own following this recipe)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar

Stir the sugar into the squash. Beat up the eggs until frothy and stir them into the squash until it is well-blended. Add the coconut milk and blend it in. Butter a baking dish (13x9 will work for this recipe), pour in the custard mix, and bake at 325 for an hour, or until the center is just barely set.

Variations. You can combine any of these for even more variations:

Spicy: Mix 1 T (or more) pumpkin pie spice into the sugar before mixing the sugar with the squash. Or just use cinnamon. Or use cardamom.
Tropical: Stir the liquid in one can of crushed or chunk pineapple into the mix after adding the coconut milk. When blended, stir in the pineapple. This will take a bit longer to bake adequately.
Very Mainstream: Replace the coconut milk with whipping cream. Or whole milk. Or non-fat milk if you must.
Honey: Replace the sugar with honey. Don't replace the sugar with any artificial sweeteners!
Ginger: Chop candied ginger until it is about the size of a kernel of corn. Add up to half a cup before baking.
Chocolate chip: I don't actually like this much. I feel the chocolate is too indelicate for the squash. But I have made it and you might like it: Add 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate bits before baking.
Fake creme brulee: Sprinkle the top lightly with granulated sugar before baking.

Serve any of these with whipped cream or ice cream, warm or cold.