Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Grown Up Tastes

I still remember the first time I ever saw a fresh date. It looked like a bug and, while sweet, was gooey and sticky (something I did not at all care for as a child) and had an extremely unpleasant texture and aftertaste that made me avoid them like the plague through the rest of my childhood. Just the thought of them was enough to make me shudder.

Later, when I was an adult, my sister made a chocolate pie that had a date mix in it. That tasted pretty good, and I decided maybe dates weren't all bad. I still avoided them in any other format, but at least there was something that had dates that I not only could eat, but actually enjoyed.

And then whoever made the date filling mix took it off the market and that was the end of that. While no longer grossed out at the thought of a date, I never actively pursued one.

But something has happened to my tastebuds over time. Tonight I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work. I mainly needed some apples, but ended up throwing baby eggplants, tomatoes and onions into my cart with some vague idea of cooking up something sauce-y for couscous or pasta later in the week.

I don't know why my eye was caught by the container of fresh figs, or what prompted me to throw it into my basket, but there it was, and now here it is. I popped open the box when I got home and took one out. It was exactly the same as I remembered that first disgusting date I ate when I was little.

Except that this time they are delicious. No unpleasant texture. No unpleasant aftertaste. Just sweet sticky goodness to eat slowly and to savor.

And now I'm wondering what other childhood dislikes I should maybe think about revisiting.

Monday, October 30, 2006

More Fun with Cacao Nibs

So I had this sweet potato hanging around the kitchen and it kept lingering in the back of my mind that I needed to do something with it. And then today I noticed that it had sprouted and I could either go whole hog, stick toothpicks in it and immerse it in a glass of water for one of those useless sweet potato plants, or I could suck it up and go ahead and cook the thing.

So I washed it, poked it a couple of times with a fork, stuck it in a plastic bag, and threw it in the microwave for 6 minutes, then let it steam in the bag for another 5 minutes. Then I peeled it, threw it into a bowl with some salt and the juice of an orange, and mashed the sucker up.

While the potato was cooking, I toasted about a teaspoon of cacao nibs in the skillet. After they cooled, I mashed them in the mortar and pestle Yam left with me. After grating some fresh nutmeg on top of the potatoes, I sprinkled the ground nibs on top.

It was really good. After they're toasted, cacao nibs have the texture and consistency of roasted coffee beans, but the flavor is definitely chocolate. But the mind can play funny tricks, and because it looks like ground coffee, and has that roasted smell, it seems like there's just a hint of coffee in the flavor.

It takes ordinary mashed sweet potatoes and pretties them up quite nicely.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Masala Dal

Remember my trek with Jessica down to Devon Street to find Amchoor for Barbara's Spice is Right event at Tigers & Strawberries? Remember how I bought two 4-pound bags each of red and yellow lentils? Remember how I wondered what the hell I was thinking?

My friend Bob came through for me and graciously accepted half of each of them. In return, I promised to send him some recipes, which I have not yet done. Sorry, Bob! I'll get them to you soon. In the meantime, here's a great recipe for the yellow lentils.

While I have several recipes for the red lentils and I absolutely love them, I was at a little bit of a loss as to what to do with the yellow lentils. In all honesty, I wasn't absolutely sure they weren't just yellow split peas. They're bigger and rounder than most of the other varieties of lentils I've been using, so I wasn't sure how those recipes would translate. I decided to look around for recipes that actually called for yellow lentils.

And found a few at my new favorite recipe site fooddownunder.com. In addition, they had an information page link, so I found out that most yellow lentils that are exported have a wax coating to help preserve them, so I knew to soak them in hot water for half an hour before using them, and to rinse off the soak water. I had recently read that you should use the soak water when cooking beans because a lot of the nutrients leach out in the soaking process, so if I hadn't read about the wax I probably would have used the soaking water.

So what to do with my yellow lentils? I found a yellow lentil soup recipe that sounds heavenly, with coconut and lime juice, served with a cilantro chutney that I will definitely have to make soon. But that was a little more ambitious than I was feeling, so I opted for Masala Dal, or Spicy Yellow Lentils. Thanks to all of my experimenting with spices and Indian recipes, I had pretty much everything I needed on hand, including my own toasted and blended garam masala. Everything tastes so much better with home-toasted home-ground spices.

While the lentils were soaking in hot water, I prepped the other ingredients. After the lentils had soaked, I drained and rinsed them, put them into a 3-quart saucepan, brought them to a boil, then simmered them until tender, about half an hour. I waited until the lentils were tender before I started the next part of the process, but that turned out not to be necessary. You can definitely start cooking everything else at the same time the lentils are cooking.

After heating my 10" skillet, I added 2 tablespoons of oil and let that get really hot. Then I added the black mustard seeds, and after they started crackling and popping I added the cumin and asafoetida and just gave it a quick stir or two before adding the onion.
I cooked the onion for about 7 minutes before adding the garlic and ginger. The ginger at the grocery store was withered and soft, so I just used ground ginger instead. After letting that cook for about 3 more minutes, I added the rest of the spices. It looked so pretty I decided to take a picture before adding the tomatoes. You can see how the spices have started to collect on the bottom of the pan. The liquid from the tomatoes will pick up all of that flavor. This hasn't been a good year for tomatoes, and we're pretty much done with the season anyway, so I just used a 14.5-oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice.
Doesn't this look divine? I have to tell you it was smelling pretty divine at the time. I let it cook for a while, but it never really got to the consistency of paste, like the recipe said it should. I didn't worry too much about it, though, because I knew it would taste good and I've long given up the idea of trying to cook any cuisine, but especially Indian cuisine, authentically. I just try to stay as true as I can to the general idea.

This is as close to a paste as I got, then I couldn't wait any more. The lentils were starting to soak up all the water and I was afraid to let them sit any longer, so that was the determining factor for how long I let the paste cook down.
There was just the right blend of paste and lentils. Unlike the red lentils or split peas, these lentils hold their shape. I couldn't wait to serve some up and try it.

The results were spectacular. There are so many flavors going on in this dish that's it's hard to describe. The lentils have a nutty taste that is perfectly complemented by the sweetness of the onions, and all of the spices come together so there's no one overpowering flavor, just multiple layers of flavor that rose and fell in perfect harmony.

I will find and use more recipes using yellow lentils, but I'll be surprised if I find anything better than this one.
Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Spicy Yellow Lentils (Masala Dal)

Some of the masurements were given in millimeters and grams. I converted them as best I could.

1/2 lb. yellow lentils soaked for 30 minutes
3 cups water
4 Tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
Large pinch asaefetida
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp ginger, shredded
1 tsp garlic, shredded
1/4 lb. tomatoes chopped
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
2 Tbsp coriander leaves, chopped

Bring lentils to a boil and simmer until very soft.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they crackle add the cumin and asafoetida. Stir a few times and add the onion. Fry until golden then add the ginger and garlic. Add all the other ingredients and cook until a thick paste is formed.

Pour in the lentils, add salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve very hot. Goes with rice and combines the sweetness of onions with the nuttiness of the lentils

Servings: 4

(Slightly adapted from a recipe on fooddownunder.com)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Rigatoni with Sunchokes, Italian Peppers, and Crosnes

Goodness. A week has gone by and I never showed you what I did with the goodies I got at the Green Market last Saturday. Misreall commented that the crosnes might make a good peppery potato soup, and that did sound good, but I had already cooked them up.

I pretty much put everything into one dish. I roasted and peeled the peppers, then washed, sliced and blanched the sunchokes, and made Rigatoni with Sunchokes, Italian Peppers, and Crosnes.

I decided to use the absorption method for the pasta, which was a little iffy because it was the first time I used the method for an entire package of pasta, rather than just making it a serving at a time. I started out by sauteeing the shallots, adding the crosnes, and then the whole wheat pasta, continuing to cook for about two minutes. The pasta started to sizzle a little, and the smell of toasted wheat wafted up from the skillet. That's one of my favorite parts of cooking pasta this way - that warm toasty smell.

After the two minutes, I added about a cup of hot chicken stock. I covered the skillet, lowered the heat, and let the pasta cook for about ten minutes. I added a little more stock, the sunchokes and the peppers and let it cook for about ten minutes more, until the pasta was done.

And now for the fun part. You might be wondering what those little brown flecks on top of the finished dish are. Well, if you've been following along on my absorption pasta obsession from the beginning, you'll remember that I got the method from Clothilde at Chocolate & Zucchini. In her original recipe, she used toasted cacao nibs. I'd never heard of them before and did a little research. I hadn't seen them in any stores here so I figured I'd have to get them online if I wanted them.

But last Saturday at The Spice House, I saw them sitting in a jar on the shelf with the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. It's one of the impulse items that came home with the oregano that day.

They're a little lighter in the photo. Here, they look like pecan shell pieces. But they taste like pure chocolate. Like cinnamon, there's the slightest hint of sweetness, more by association than by presence. It's ideal for savory applications. It was delicious with the pasta. I will definitely be experimenting with this, and I think I may have found my spice for Danielle's spice event over at Habeas Brulee.

Gosh. I sure hope I write more posts before next week. As for the pasta, it was ok, but I think the absorption method works best with single portions. In order to cook the pasta evenly, it needed more liquid than could be absorbed by the end of the process. I will make this again, but I think I'll make the sauce separately and cook the pasta the traditional way.

Monday, October 23, 2006

To Market, To Market

I was fairly conservative on this Saturday's trip to the Green Market. There really wasn't anything specific I wanted to get, so I just wandered around looking at all of the autumn fare until a few things caught my eye.

There's a fine assortment of onions available now so I grabbed a few different kinds from one stall. As I was getting ready to leave my eye was caught by some baskets of little white root-looking things. The sign said "French Crones."

Never heard of them before. When I asked what they were, the guy at the market told me they were kind of like potatoes and could be eaten raw or sauteed. He offered to let me try one, so I did. It did taste a little like a raw potato, with that starchy crunch, but a much milder flavor. Nothing special, so I thanked him and walked away.

And didn't get more than a few feet when the afterbite hit--just the barest hint of radish. Hmmmm. That was definitely more interesting, and I had no idea whether or not I would ever see them again, so I bought some.

Here they are close up. I had a little trouble finding anything on them, but finally found this article at Mother Earth News. It turns out they're spelled crosnes (pronounced crones), hence the odd name. I had no idea what I was going to do with them, but I knew I had to try them.

And then, as I was almost free of this one area, I saw a tub of Jerusalem artichokes that looked fresh and pretty. While I'm more familiar with those, I've never bought any. The only time I ever had them was at a restaurant years ago, where I ordered them in a pasta dish. What the menu description hadn't made clear was that the pasta was made from the sunchokes, which was a little disappointing because I couldn't really taste anything different about the pasta and the sauce was nothing special, so I was never particularly tempted to try them again.

Until I saw these beauties at the market. So into my bag they went, along with some beautiful sweet Italian peppers I found at another stall.

After the green market I made my way down to The Spice House. Can you believe I ran out of oregano? All of these foreign, exotic spices I've been playing with and I run out of one of my most staple herbs. I had made some salsa, and the little I had left just wasn't cutting it, so I had to go get more.

Ths is the oregano. Isn't it pretty? It's Greek oregano, the kind that claws its way out from between the rocky cliffs and is sweet and pungent and shines in Mediterranean cuisine. Its flavor is not quite as strong as Mexican oregano, which is less sweet and holds up to the stronger spices used in Mexican cooking.

I 'm never sure which kind I should buy, because I cook with both styles and I want to maximize the experience for each. I usually alternate, buying Greek one time and Mexican the next.

But this time I just couldn't decide which one to get. So I got both. And I was surprised at the difference between the two. The Greek oregano is drier and finer; the Mexican has more stems and twigs in it. Both have that same delicious musky scent, but it's sweeter in the Greek, and sharper in the Mexican. I know I'm truly a food geek, but I don't care. I love my two oreganos!

And if those pictures weren't enough to give you an idea of the difference between them, here's a shot of the two together. Can you tell which is which?

And surprise, surprise--oregano isn't all I bought at The Spice House. More on that next time.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

What Can You Do with a Butternut Squash?

So I had this butternut squash I bought last week at the Green Market with no real idea about how I was going to prepare it. I had just made sweet potato-carrot soup so I didn't want to make more soup, and I didn't feel up to making a stew, so I went online to find some inspiration.

I know I've mentioned fooddownunder.com here before. There are some 281,476 recipes on that site from all over the world, and I've found some good ones. There are 288 recipes that use butternut squash. I found this one pretty quickly. The recipe is actually for Butternut Squash and Black Bean Tacos, but I thought it would be interesting enough just to make the butternut squash part of it.

I was a little worried about what it might do to my skillet. After the squash is tossed in a hot skillet with some oil, you add the spices and continue to cook it over high heat for about ten minutes. I was afraid the spices would either burn or stick to the bottom of the skillet, or both. But I kept my eye on it, and although it got a little dicey and the spices were definitely starting to smell roasty toasty and there was a black film starting to form on the bottom of the pan, it made it through the ten minutes.

Here's what the pan looked like when everything was done. The squash was slightly undercooked after the ten minutes, but the pan sizzled a good five minutes more after I turned off the heat, which finished cooking the squash. And after the pan cooled down it was quite easy to clean.

The end result was fantastic. The cinnamon and cumin, toasted just to the point of burning, fused together for a truly unique, smoky flavor that is hard to describe and impossible to resist.

Because of the cumin in this dish, I thought the yogurt and salsa would be a good garnish, but the salsa actually took away from the intense spicy flavor and was unnecessary. The yogurt by itself is all the garnish necessary - it actually helps make a sauce out of the spices.

You have to try this. Go out and find yourself a butternut squash and cook up some roasted toasted goodness. And do yourself another favor. Go get some Vietnamese Cassia cinnamon instead of that stuff they sell in the grocery store. It is the strongest, richest, and sweetest cinnamon around. You can find it at Penzey's or The Spice House.
Butternut Squash Saute

1 small Butternut squash
1 Tsbp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Cut the butternut squash in half crosswise at the narrowest point. Cut each half in half again lengthwise. Peel each section with a vegetable peeler or a flexible sharp knife. Use a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds and strings. Cut into 1/2" dice.

Heat large skillet over high heat. Add olive oil. When it smokes, add squash cubes and toss well. Sprinkle with salt, cinnamon, cumin and pepper. Saute over high heat, tossing frequently, until browned outside and tender but not mushy inside, about 10 minutes.

Taken from a recipe for Black Bean and Butternut Squash Tacos found on fooddownunder.com

Servings: 4

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ten Minute Black Beans (with another half-hour of enhancement)

Today is my sister's birthday. Happy Birthday Anne!

I don't believe I've ever shared my sister's wonderful Ten Minute Black Beans with Tomatoes and Cilantro recipe with you, and today seems like an appropriate time. It's quick, easy, and super delicious. The onions, while cooked, are still crunchy and the flavors all stay distinct, rather than blending together the way they do when you cook something for a longer time. It's excellent with brown rice.

Everyone I have shared this recipe with has loved it and makes it regularly. The only ingredient I don't always have on hand is cilantro, and I often do have that. It's a super handy dish to make when I need something for work lunches and don't have much time. I made these Thursday night when I got home from the knit shop, and even with the prep time it takes less than half an hour to make.

And now for the enhancement . . . I've mentioned that we're all on Weight Watchers at work, right? Generally, it's not changing my eating habits too much, except that I have to be a little more vigilant about how much oil I'm eating, and on the core plan I'm only allowed to have brown rice, whole wheat pasta or potatoes once a day (without having to count them). Well, I've had brown rice with the last couple of dishes I've made and I want to have some whole wheat pasta but I don't want to have to count it, and for that to happen I have to stop making brown rice.

But as good as these beans are, they really need something to go with them, and I was hard-pressed to think what could be better than, or even as good as, brown rice with beans.

And then I remembered polenta. Bingo! Black beans and polenta seem made for each other, and I knew that would work out beautifully. And this morning I made salsa with most of the rest of the serrano peppers Nicole gave me. I wanted to put that on the beans, but it seemed a little redundant, as the beans have pretty much the same ingredients in them as the salsa, so I needed something to keep them separate so the slightly different flavors of each would come through.

And I had just the thing:

Presenting Ten-Minute Black Beans on Polenta with Yogurt and Salsa. Sour cream would work just as well (and probably taste better), but this was mighty tasty and much healthier.

And only added about half an hour more to the process.
Ten Minute Black Beans with Tomatoes and Cilantro

1-1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups cooked black beans, or 2 14.5-oz. cans rinsed and drained
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 14-oz. can diced stewed tomatoes
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in small skillet or saucepan over moderately high heat. Add onions, garlic and pepper and saute, stirring, until onion is almost translucent but still firm, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes more.

Add black beans and salt and stir to combine. Cover and cook until beans are heated through, approximately 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro.

Serve over polenta topped with sour cream or yogurt and salsa.

Adapted from The Brilliant Bean Cookbook, by Sally and Martin Stone (Bantam Books, 1988)

Serves 4.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Swatch and Some Serranos

Isn't that a beautiful swatch? It's a little brighter and redder than in real life, and the grooves between the stitches are much more pronounced in closeup than in real life. What you're looking at is a swatch of Rowan Calmer. I'm excited about it because it's the beginning of a knit-along project I'm doing with Mary and Yam. We have to wait to get started, though, because Yam has to order the yarn and has some projects she needs to get off her needles first, then you'll hear all about it.

On the food front, I'm one lucky knitting teacher. My Wednesday night student brought me a bag full of beautiful home-grown serrano peppers. I see some salsa in my future, but in the meantime I used a couple of them in the Lentil Curry with Potatoes, Carrots, Spinach and Chickpeas I wrote about last February.

I was thinking of writing about it again this weekend for this month's Spice Is Right event, hosted by Danielle of Habeas Brulee while Barbara of Tigers & Strawberries and her family spend time with their new baby. The theme was to write about a spice mixture that was an old family favorite and to make something with it. Since the most exotic spice in our house growing up was cinnamon, I was having trouble thinking of anything.

Until I thought of this recipe when Nicole gave me the serrano peppers, and I remembered the first time I made it. It calls for a number of spices--cumin, paprika, turmeric, ground cardamom and ground coriander. I had a couple of unsuccessful attempts at Indian food under my belt already, so I was apprehensive about how this would turn out.

And it was delicious. The flavors all melded brilliantly, and the way all of the spices combined to make one intense flavor inspired me to keep cooking with more spice combinations, and eventually to toasting and grinding my own mixes.

So it seemed like that would be a good thing to write about. But I ran out of time. I also never got around to writing about my favorite chocolate shop. It's been a busy couple of weeks

But things should settle down soon, and I hope to be posting regularly again.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Surprise ! Chicken Soup

I'm finally getting around to writing about that chicken soup I made the week before last. It's long gone (except for what's in my freezer waiting to go to my friend).

The joy of chicken soup is that you can pretty much put whatever you want into it and it tastes good. There are a couple of things that it must have: onion, carrots, and celery. And then there are the things that are important, although not absolutely necessary: beans, potatoes and barley.

This soup has all those things, and some green beans too. I didn't want to overdo it because sometimes I get carried away and there are too many things going on in the bowl. I used some fresh sage and a little bit of thyme; that with some salt and pepper is pretty much it.

It never looks like much right after it's finished, and it always tastes kind of watery to me. I was a little worried about whether or not I should even save some for my friend. But after the flavors have had a chance to blend and settle overnight, it always tastes delicious.

I don't really have a recipe for chicken soup. It's more of a process.

First, I put the stock in the pot with the longer-cooking vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and onions, bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. I don't want the carrots to get too tender at this point because I want them to hold up during the entire cooking process.

Next I add any other raw vegetables, in this case green beans and celery, and let them simmer for about 10 more minutes, until all of the vegetables are just tender. This is when I put in the barley. Half a cup of barley is more than enough for most soups and stews. Then I lower the heat even more and leave it on a low, slow simmer for around 45 minutes, long enough for the barley to cook.

Last, I add the beans, and anything else that doesn't really need to be cooked, just heated. If I were using frozen corn I would add that now, too. For some reason I decided this soup would be better without corn so I didn't add it. Oh, and I almost forgot--this is when I add the chicken too. It really just needs to be heated through at this point. If you cook it any more it starts to lose its flavor.

And that's it. Simple and delicious.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Whirlwind Trip

I had hoped to write at least one long lovely post from my brother's house in Austin, where I went for a quick visit this weekend. He had a free ticket and kindly offered it to me. I spent a couple of weeks agonizing over whether or not I should use it, what with the new job and all, and then I realized how silly I was being and we booked my flight.

It was a quick trip - I arrived at 5:00 Friday evening and left Sunday at 4:15 in the afternoon. Most of the trip was spent watching my niece and nephew ref soccer games (and I actually got to see my niece play) and visiting with my brother's family and with my sister.

Sunday my sister and I had a little time before she took me to the airport to go shopping. We went to a little food store called Farm to Market on South Congress (or "SoCo" as they call it now.) It was a nice little store, but there was no real indication of what was local and what was not, and I recognized a lot that was not. Still, it was a pretty little store and there were a lot of goodies there.

Saturday night we went for pizza at Salvation Pizza, a new restaurant my brother's neighbors own and run. That's the menu up there, but I don't know if you can read it even if you click to make it bigger. The ingredients are fresh and they use lots of vegetables and little cheese (my kind of pizza), but they have the usual suspects as well. The crust was thin and crispy and I ate way more than I should have. If you're in Austin, you should definitely check it out. They're in an old house near 35th and Guadalupe and it's a nice, relaxing comfortable place.

Then Sunday morning we were out near Pflugerville to watch my niece play soccer. After her game, while she and my nephew were reffing, my brother and sister and I went to a Mexican restaurant called El Rincon out there for breakfast. It was busy, always a good sign, and the decor was nice--bright cheerful colors, with pictures of Frida Kahlo on the walls. We all had the Migas and they were absolutely fabulous. There is nothing in the world like a big old plate of migas. If you haven't had them, you don't know what you're missing.

It wasn't exactly a stellar weekend from a Weight Watcher's perspective, but it wasn't a total wash. I actually managed to lose a teensy weensy little bit of weight. Not that I'm paying all that much attention, mind you.

Next up: I have some chicken soup to show you.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chicken Stock for Cheaters, with a Little Extra

Now that the weather's changing and Fall seems to have arrived for good (although today it's supposed to be in the mid 70s), I've been in the mood for soup. I've made carrot and ginger soup, sweet and sour cabbage soup, and lentil soup. And I've been cooking chicken to make my cheater's chicken stock.

I have a friend who's been under the weather and some of the soups I've been making have been made with her in mind. And since it's soup weather, and I'm trying to come up with some healthy and nutritious (both for her and for me) ideas, this seemed like the perfect weekend to make chicken soup.

I started with the chicken. This is an all natural chicken that came from the butcher at The Big Apple on Clark Street, which is fast becoming the only place I'll buy my meat. It may not be the best in Chicago, but it's definitely the best in my neighborhood. I haven't tried their beef because I don't buy or eat much beef these days, but their pork and lamb have been consistently excellent, as have been the chicken breasts and the capon I previously bought there.

This was not a cheap chicken, but I've never bought a free-range chicken before so I decided to splurge and see if I could tell a difference between it and the regular chicken you get at the grocery store.

And not only could I see the difference right away, but I could feel it as well. You can see in the picture how pink this chicken looks, and how nicely proportioned the meat is to the bone. Now picture a chicken you get in the grocery store. The skin is yellow-white and puffy, and the meat is bulging against the skin. The skin is stronger on this chicken, too. With the last chicken quarters I've bought at the grocery store I've had trouble getting the skin off the end of the drumstick without it tearing first, making it impossible to get the rest off of the chicken. The skin on this bird was firm and tough and I was able to pull it off the way I remember I used to be able to do with any chicken.

I didn't pull off all the skin so there would be a little fat to add flavor, but I took most of it off before putting it into the stockpot.

Since I'm going to making chicken soup with this stock, I did add the aromatics while cooking the chicken. The celery has floated to the top, but there's an onion and some carrots in there too. Added to that are salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Once the chicken was in the stockpot I could see a difference there, too. I don't know if you can tell from the picture how pink the meat is compared to what we're used to seeing these days, but if looks are anything this chicken has already won the comparison contest hands down.

I was going to take a picture of the chicken as it came out of the pot, but I got distracted and forgot. I don't know if it shows in the picture, but it came out just right - tender but firm, and full of flavor. This chicken was worth every penny I spent on it.

The stock had surprisingly little fat in it, considering that I did leave some skin in there. It was easy to skim off.
Next stop: Chicken Soup.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Getting My Street Creds

Emily of Chocolate in Context sent me an email inviting me to participate in the next Food Destinations event: My Favorite Chocolate Shop.

Now I've participated in quite a few blogging events over the past few months, but they're events I stumbled across, or found on Is My Blog Burning. This is the first time that someone has actually contacted me because they wanted me to participate. I'm beginning to feel like a real blogger!

Monday, October 02, 2006

In Which I Finally Meet Quinoa

For years now I've been hearing about this quinoa, an ancient protein-rich seed that is actually related to spinach and swiss chard, rather than being a grain like most people (myself included until I just read about it on the world's healthiest foods website ) think.

One of the things that makes quinoa stand out is that it is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids, which makes it especially good for vegetarians. It is especially high in the amino acid lysine, which is necessary for tissue growth and repair.

Quinoa is one of those things I've always meant to try but never got around to. Something about the description of what it is like held me back - it sounds like one of those things where the texture can make it really really good, or really really bad. But I'm serious about trying to eat healthier foods more of the time, so I picked up a box at the grocery store and decided to give it a try.

I have several recipes that call for quinoa, so I'm not sure why I adapted a Southwestern Lentil and Couscous Salad to quinioa and black beans. If I had known it was a seed and not a grain, I don't think I would have used it in this recipe. The jury is out on this one. I know it's super good for me; I just don't know if I like it or not.

It sure looks pretty, though, doesn't it?
Quinoa and Black Bean Salad

Quinoa, prepared per package directions
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 red bell pepper, diced
3-4 scallions, chopped
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp minced cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients.

Adapted from
Lean Bean Cuisine: Over 100 Tasty Meatless Recipes from around the World, by Jay Solomon (Prima, 1994)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

More Goodies from the Green Market

Most of the summer fare is disappearing from the Green Market, but it is being replaced with all kinds of intriguing squash and root vegetables. This is everything I brought home with me yesterday. That's celery in the upper left corner, followed by two different kinds of sweet potatoes, jalapenos, carrots, green beans, shallots, onions, and red bell peppers.

I learned something new about jalapenos. See the lines on the one on the left? That's supposed to mean it's hotter. I used it in some pinto beans and I've gotta tell you, that's-a-some-a-spicy-a-jalapeno!

Some of this is going into chicken-vegetable-barley soup, of which more later, and the rest will be determined by my time and mood when it comes down to it.

I wasn't prepared for the squash so I didn't buy any of it. But I've never used butternut and there were some gorgeous specimens so I think I'll read up a little, decide what I want to do, and get some next time.

Now I'm off to the knitting shop. I haven't done enough of that lately.
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