The centrality of salad. May 14, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: breakfast salad, good salad, making salad, salad, salads, the importance of salad
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Silence Dogood here. Being on the road this past weekend reminded me of exactly how important salads are to my overall well-being. For some, a salad might be consigned to the category of pointless “rabbit food.” But for me, they’re the staff of life. Even as a vegetarian, I’m happy to eat in a steak house if I can have a crunchy salad and a baked potato. Yum!
This road trip, our friend Ben and I had excellent food: an Indian feast at my brother’s house and wonderful Asian (Thai, Japanese, and Chinese) for supper on Mother’s Day. But something was missing, and that something, I realized, was salad. No big bowl of fresh, raw, crispy-crunchy lettuce, veggies, and toppings. By the time we got home, I was feeling seriously deprived.
So yesterday’s lunch was one of my typical “Silence’s Kitchen Sink” salads: A base of Romaine, arugula, watercress and kale, with yellow cherry tomatoes, chopped scallions (green onions) and red bell pepper, sliced cukes and radishes, green and black olives, pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) for crunch (I also often use walnuts), organic celery (make sure it and the bell pepper are organic, otherwise they’re very heavily sprayed), diced avocado, sliced hard-boiled eggs, broccoli florets, sprouts, and, of course, cheese (feta, blue or gorgonzola, and extra-sharp white Cheddar are favorites).
OFB is not a fan, but on my own salad I often add pickled beets (yum) and horseradish (for extra bite). I’ll also add fresh herbs if I have them on hand, then top the whole thing off with extra-virgin olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, fresh-cracked pepper, and salt (we like RealSalt, sea salt, or Himalayan pink salt). If we really want to splurge, we’ll splash on Chef Tim’s delicious balsamic vinaigrette, locally available at farmers’ markets here but available everywhere online at http://www.cheftim.com.
A favorite variation is the sweet-and-savory salad, with Boston or butter lettuce, diced apples (such as Braeburn and/or Granny Smith), diced sweet onion (such as Vidalia, WallaWalla or Candy), dried cranberries (craisins) and diced dried apricots or mandarin oranges or grapefruit sections, diced avocado, and sliced almonds, topped with shredded Swiss cheese and fresh mint leaves and dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and a citrus-infused balsamic vinegar. I know about the huge fad for “green juices” for breakfast, but I can’t face them. As far as I’m concerned, this salad, topped with an herbed yogurt “Green Goddess”-style dressing, would make a great breakfast, without having to confront a glass of green slime.
I have yet to try to recreate the sumptuous wedge salad available at the Texas Steakhouse chain (not to be confused with the Texas Roadhouse chain), a huge wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with blue cheese, onion and diced tomato. (Mind you, it’s also typically topped with crumbled bacon, but of course I make them leave that off.) It is SO good, but it seems so decadent that I save that for road trips.
Anyway, I had salad for lunch yesterday—you can see why it could easily make a meal—and we had side salads with supper. I had salad for lunch today, and we’ll have salad as a first course again tonight. Whew! I’m finally starting to feel normal again. For me, most comfort foods are hot: pasta, potatoes, pizza, grits, sweet potato fries, corn on the cob, warm Brie and a crusty baguette to dip into it or hot dinner rolls and butter or corn cakes. But salad is the great exception: It’s comfort and comforting, all by itself.
‘Til next time,
A new twist on Cinco de Mayo. May 6, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: blog humor, Cinco de Mayo, Cinco de Mayo recipes, great easy guacamole, great easy nachos
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Silence Dogood here. I’ve written many posts about wonderful recipes for refried beans, guacamole, margaritas, and the like for Cinco de Mayo in the past; search Cinco de Mayo or refried beans, margaritas, burritos, salsa, fiesta, guacamole, palomas, etc., in our search bar at upper right to find a wealth of options. Yum!!! I’ll share a couple of quick, luscious options in a minute.
But for now, I’d like to talk about my latest Cinco de Mayo escapade. Our local library has an area outside the actual library where you can drop off books and pick up books for free. I wanted to drop off a book, and persuaded our friend Ben to let me run into the library yesterday while we were doing our usual weekend errands. Unfortunately, I saw that someone had dropped off their entire Spanish-language library, from Gulliver’s Travels and Ivanhoe to War and Peace to The Iliad to Love in the Time of Cholera. Let’s not even try to picture OFB’s horrified expression when I staggered back to our car with a dozen Spanish-language classics.
“Uh, Silence, what are you doing with all those books? What are they?!” a horrifed Ben asked.
“They’re classics in Spanish, Ben! Even The Iliad!” I replied with some false bravado, given that our books already overflowed from our wall-to-wall bookcases.
“Silence, can you even read Spanish?”
Well, no. I’d been making good practice with the Pimsleur Spanish CDs, until I got derailed by Pimsleur’s Japanese series. I’d studied French, Italian, even a little Latin, Spanish’s sister Romance languages. But, ahem, no, I couldn’t really read Spanish. I’d been hoping that having read these books in English might help me advance in Spanish, especially when I take up the Pimsleur Spanish language CDs again.
Can’t hurt, might help, right? Er, assuming OFB doesn’t consign this latest giant book pile to the burn pile.
Meanwhile, let’s get back to two simple and scrumptious treats for Cinco de Mayo: nachos and guacamole.
The best nachos I know how to make are also the simplest ever. Layer some Tostitos round tortilla chips in a 9-by-6 ovenproof pan. Spoon over lots of shredded white Cheddar, diced scallions (green onions, including the white part), and sliced jalapeno to taste. Repeat. Heat in the oven at 250 degrees F. until the cheese is thoroughly melted. Top with fresh cilantro and sour cream, if desired, before serving. Enjoy.
As for guacamole, here’s everything I’ve learned about making fast, fresh, amazing guac that can take on the best any restaurant has to offer. Best of all, it’s super-quick and easy! Get two ripe Hass avocados, a container of fresh hot salsa, half a sweet onion, a bunch of cilantro, a tomato, scallions, and some Key lemon juice, Key lime juice, or fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice.
Put half the container of fresh salsa in a bowl. Mince the sweet onion and add it. Chop the cilantro and add it. Chop the scallions and add them. Dice the tomato and add it. Add lots of lemon or lime juice. Mix all well, and add a spalsh of hot sauce (we like Tabasco’s Chipotle Hot Sauce for this) and a dash of salt (we like Trocomare or RealSalt). Stir all well.
Then take two avocados, split them in half lengthwise, and pop out the seeds. Next, cut each avocado half in half, so you have four sections. Now, using nothing more complicated than your fingers, peel off the avocado peel and add it to your compost bucket. Chop the flesh into coarse dice, then mash it with a potato masher until half is mashed and half is still chunky.
Add the avocado to the other ingredients and stir well to mix. It’s essential to make sure the avocado is coated with lemon or lime juice so it won’t brown, so mix well. Now you’re ready to break out the chips and enjoy Cinco de Mayo anytime! Spanish translations of classic works optional.
‘Til next time,
A sip of vinegar. April 23, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: balsamic vinegar, Bragg apple cider vinegar, drinking vinegar, garlic vinegar, vinegar
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love vinegar in its myriad varieties. Our favorite salad dressing is simply 18-year aged balsamic vinegar and Hojiblanca extra-virgin olive oil, with a good sprinkling of RealSalt and fresh-cracked pepper. It’s the perfect way to bring out the varied flavors of the ingredients in the salad itself.
And I love a splash of vinegar (again, preferably balsamic) on cooked greens like spinach, kale and collards. (For pure decadence, saute the greens in olive oil with minced garlic, and then finish with a splash of balsamic. Mmmmm!)
I’ll admit, I’m sort of an olive-oil-and-vinegar junkie. For a splurge, I’ll pair up lavender-infused balsamic vinegar or juniper-berry-infused balsamic or grapefruit-infused white balsamic or a rich, aged sherry vinegar with an infused extra-virgin olive oil like blood orange, Meyer lemon, or rosemary. When heat-loving friends come for supper, their salads may be dressed with chipotle-infused olive oil and Key lime balsamic vinegar. There are so many options available now, the possible combinations are mind-boggling. And, for good or ill, there’s a Seasons oil and vinegar store in nearby Bethlehem, PA that carries an awesome selection.
Which brings me to the point of this post, which isn’t about using vinegar but drinking it. Drinking vinegar may strike the uninitiated as akin to gargling with carbolic acid. But think about it: Wine is essentially grape vinegar, just not quite fermented to its final form. As hard cider will inevitably become apple cider vinegar if you allow it to continue fermenting.
Even so, I would never have encountered vinegar as a beverage were it not for the tastings offered at Seasons and other oil-and-vinegar emporiums and at our beloved annual local Bowers (PA) Chile Pepper Food Festival. The shops and the festival provide tiny paper cups so you can sample their wares before you commit to buying them. This has saved me from many a misfortune on the olive oil side, as I prefer a deep, rich oil like Hojiblanca to a light, grassy one. But oh, my, the vinegars! Yum. I’ll be happy to take most of them straight up.
Mind you, I’m not talking about gulping down a wineglass full of vinegar here. A shotglass would be plenty. But I’d be happy to sip a shotglass of Seasons’ 18-year balsamic vinegar or Rolling Hills Farm’s garlic vinegar any day. I encountered Rolling Hills’ garlic vinegar at the Bowers Chile Pepper Festival last year. They were offering samples in little plastic cups and inviting passersby to sample them. For some reason, they weren’t getting too many takers. Drink garlic vinegar?!
But the Rolling Hills folks knew the health benefits of garlic and apple cider vinegar, and they knew how to make the vinegar mellow and sweet, even though they infuse a whole pound of organic, homegrown garlic into every gallon of vinegar. I was game. I drank my little cup. I was hooked!
Unfortunately, OFB and I were a bit cash-strapped by the time we reached the Rolling Hills booth. We were already kicking ourselves for buying just one bottle of our beloved Chef Tim’s balsamic vinaigrette (“Shake! Shake! Shake! Don’t refrigerate!”) and here we were confronting this luscious garlic vinegar with barely enough change rattling in our pockets to buy one bottle. Aaarrgghhh!!!
After we devoured Chef Tim’s vinaigrette on our salads, I broke open the Rolling Hills garlic vinegar and started dressing our salads with it and my favorite Hojiblanca olive oil. OFB and I loved our salads, but the bottle was empty all too soon. Since Seasons was relatively near us, I next began dressing our salads with the yummy blend of Hojiblanca olive oil and 18-year-old balsamic vinaigrette.
We love this combo, but the memory of the garlic vinegar still haunted me. I finally went online to try to track it down, even though of course I’d long since recycled the bottle and forgotten the name. Fortunately, Googling “garlic vinegar” immediately brought up the website of local producers Rolling Hills Farm in nearby Bangor, PA. I bought six bottles on the spot (and you can, too: http://www.rollinghillsgarlicvinegar.com).
Amazingly, two days after placing my order, the mailman delivered the box of garlic vinegar, each bottle tenderly nestled in a bed of hay. Whoa! Vinegar and free mulch in the same box! How nice to see bottles carefully packed with no irritating, polluting plastic seals. And yes, I do plan to drink a shot a day now that my stash has arrived. Not to mention adding it to my salads. (They have lots of other suggested uses on the bottle.)
You can choose between Rolling Hills garlic vinegar with honey or brown sugar. And let me just say again that, despite that pound of garlic cloves per gallon, you don’t either taste or smell like garlic (a la garlic bread or garlic knots) after drinking, er, eating this rich, mellow vinegar.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the pioneers of vinegar-drinking, the Braggs. They’ve been touting their apple cider vinegar as a cure-all for decades, and recommending it as a beverage. Now they’ve gone a step further, bottling cider vinegar beverages. I just bought a bottle of their ginger-spice vinegar drink and am looking forward to trying it. Bragg products are available at all heath-food stores, so you have only to stroll in to choose your favorite flavor.
Ready to give it a try? Here’s what Rolling Hills has to say about the health benefits of their garlic vinegar: “Antiseptic. Kills bacteria and fungi. May help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, may help prevent heart disease or stroke, and may lower the risk of certain cancers. Helps the body absorb minerals from food. Helps fight osteoporosis, diabetes and heart disease.” That’s all well and good. But the main thing is, it’s so delicious! Try it, you’ll like it.
And if you love vinegar, let me know how you use (or drink) it!
‘Til next time,
Forget potato chips. April 13, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: dehydrated okra, dehydrated veggie chips, dehydrated veggies, healthy chips, replace potato chips
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Silence Dogood here. Unless your head is stuffed so far down a potato-chip bag that you can’t see past them, you’ve probably noticed the proliferation of other “chips,” aka dehydrated veggies, available to folks who want something salty, crunchy, but not as guilt-inducing as those kettle-cooked, thin-sliced, deep-fried potatoes.
Go to any health-food store, bulk-food store, farmers’ market, or health-food aisle in a conventional grocery, and you’re likely to find them: bags of sliced, dehydrated beet, carrot, sweet potato, purple potato, and other “chips.” More imaginative mixes include dried green beans and/or peas. You’d think they’d include dehydrated onion rings and some sea salt, pepper and herbs or spices for flavor, but I guess that’s not in keeping with the continuing desire to make sure “health food” is flavorless so people don’t mistake it for that chemical-laden trash in the snack aisle.
Fortunately, it’s easy enough to pour your bag of dehydrated veggies in a bowl and mix in salt, pepper, and whatever herbs or spices you favor (we like a mix of oregano, thyme, rosemary and basil or a spice mix like curry, garam masala, five-spice mix or ras al-hanout), then rebag the finished mix. You could certainly add any dry spice/herb mix that’s sold as a rub or marinade, any hot pepper mix, or any powdered mix for salad dressing if you’d prefer.
And dehydrated onion dice are available, sparing you the horrors of onion or garlic “salt.” Or you could simply add a bag of onion toppings, available in the produce section of every market. Yummy and crunchy!
Here at Hawk’s Haven, admittedly, the only time I succumb to the lure of these veggies is when our friend Ben and I are about to embark on a road trip. Road food is a sacred ritual with us, enhancing the pleasure of our travels. I’ll get string cheese (OFB is partial to the jalapeno variety), a veggie tray with ready-to-dip carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and cherry tomatoes, a vat of hummus for dipping, bags of pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) and roasted cashews, or maybe pistachios, dried fruit, sliced apples, sliced Cheddar and Triscuits, and yes, a bag of dehydrated veggies. Obviously, we pull out all the stops when we hit the road. It’s vacation time, after all, time for indulgence!
But when we’re not on the road, I try to keep the pepitas and nuts on hand, plus fresh veggies and hummus, plus Triscuits and cheese (an OFB favorite). But dehydrated veggies? That seems like an unnecessary indulgence.
Well, most of the time. But just this past Wednesday, a friend and I ended up at a huge produce market in Amish country that catered to the Amish and Mennonite community in scenic Lancaster County, PA. I had never been to the Shady Maple market before, and didn’t even realize that there was a market, only the famous restaurant that’s been featured in so many Amish romance novels.
“You’ll want to look at the huge bulk-food section!” my friend said, and of course she was right. Clutching my bag of yellow tomatoes to my chest (in case anyone was planning to tackle me and take them), I staggered—I mean, raced—to the enormous area devoted to bulk foods. To my horror, most of the bulk-food section was devoted to candy, candy-making supplies, cookies, and the like. But there were also lots of dehydrated veggies. And that’s where I found it: Okra.
Few people hate anything the way most people hate okra. (We reserve this feeling of loathing for liver, sauerkraut, and rutabagas.) But coming from the South, OFB and I love okra. We especially love fried okra, as long as it’s not mass-produced in little, dried-out, flavorless slices. We understand why “foreigners” would loathe the slime factor that’s synonymous with okra, but well-prepared okta is never slimy, just delicious.
Why Pennsylvania Mennonites would want to buy dehydrated okra as a snack I couldn’t imagine, but from the quantity on display, it was no fluke. And not wanting to pass up what might well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I seized a container, much to the horror of my friend. And I refrained from opening it until I got home, when I added just a little salt (we like RealSalt) and stirred it up.
Then OFB and I and our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, tried it out. OFB was quite dubious, and who could blame him: dehydrated okra?!! But it was yummy. Light and crispy, with that wonderful okra flavor and not even the faintest hint of slime, nor the calorie- and health hit of fried okra. Yum!!!
Sadly, this market is hours from us, so it’s unlikely that we’ll find ourselves there stocking up on dehydrated okra anytime soon. But it certainly was a delightful surprise! And meanwhile, if you haven’t tried dehydrated veggies as an alternative to potato chips, or have tried them and found that the flavor was lacking, buy a bag, sample some, and add whatever herbs or spices suit your fancy. I promise, they’ll be delicious then!
‘Til next time,
Peeling avocados, making guacamole. April 9, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: avocados, easy guacamole, guacamole, homemade guacamole, peeling avocados
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Silence Dogood here. Not being a fan of slimy textures, I have to confess that I’ve never tried to peel an avocado before. But here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I are trying to add avocados’ good fats and other healthy benefits to our diets, so I’ve been adding guacamole to our burritos, and even using it as a dip for chips if it looks chunky and good.
Which is to say that a lot of guac looks and tastes like green slime. But occasionally, you stumble on a guac that has great texture, great color, and great flavor. Our favorite, from the local restaurant Fiesta Ole, is made fresh with diced tomatoes and onion, as well as several other ingredients, added in. It’s so delicious we’re tempted to just make a meal of it with chips.
But we can’t always be running off to a restaurant for our Mexican fix, so I was determined to try to recreate that gorgeous guacamole at home. Right now, I’m thinking of slicing/mashing Haas (now more commonly known as Hass) avocados with lemon or lime juice and mixing in diced paste tomatoes, diced sweet onion, minced green onion, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, and minced jalapeno. What do you think?
However, the first challenge is peeling the avocado. I saw a program back in November that demonstrated cutting an avocado by slicing it in two around the seed, twisting the halves, and popping them apart, then extracting the seed and removing the flesh with a tablespoon. This seemed like a good approach to me until I recently read that most of the nutrients in avocados lie in the dark green layer just under the skin.
The authors of this article suggested halving and twisting the avocado just as in the demonstration and popping out the seed. But then they said to quarter the halves, and then peel the skin off from the top of each quarter by hand, like a banana. This leaves the dark green layer and all its nutrients intact.
So I plan to try this banana-peeling technique, though admittedly, I’m concerned about bruising the notoriously easily discolored avocado flesh by holding on to the quarter while attempting to peel it. It’s difficult enough to keep the avocados in guacamole from discoloring—turning a most unappetizing brown—under any circumstances, and especially when a recipe calls for refrigerating the finished guac for an hour before serving so the flavors can blend. (Thus the lime or lemon juice.) In this case, I think Fiesta Ole’s tableside preparation and immediate serving of the finished guac makes sense.
But there’s something else that makes sense to me: Buying those containers of fresh hot salsa at the grocery and mixing them into the avocado and lime or lemon juice. The fresh hot salsa already has diced onion, tomato and jalapeno. You can add some chopped cilantro or not as you choose. But with or without cilantro, you have super-fast guacamole that packs a flavor punch.
I have three Haas/Hass avocadoes to work with, so I plan to experiment with both the from-scratch and from-fresh-salsa methods and see whether they’re both good or whether there’s a clear winner. In any case, OFB and I will be adding guacamole to our healthy snacking routine.
‘Til next time,
Spring: radishes and scallions. April 7, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: fresh spring fare, radish recipes, radishes, seasonal fare, seasonal recipes, spring crops, spring fare
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Silence Dogood here. It’s spring, and for me and our friend Ben, spring means garden-fresh radishes and scallions (green onions)! Here at Hawk’s Haven, we love radishes, and we like ‘em hot—when we bite into a radish, we want it to bite back. We also want our radishes to be crisp and crunchy, not rubbery or woody, and nothing is crisper than a freshly pulled radish.
We not only love eating radishes, we love growing them, too. They’re about the easiest crop there is, after onion sets. (See our earlier post, “In praise of onion sets,” for more about them.) Toss the seed on your garden bed, water it in, watch for weeds, and wait for radishes. End of story! Well, maybe not quite the end: You need to thin the radish seedlings when they come up so the ones you leave in the ground have enough room to make nice, fat radishes. But when you pull up the extra seedlings, you can put them (washed, please) in a salad, leaves and all, for a nice, spicy treat.
Radishes are easy to grow, and they mature quickly (some in as little as 20-30 days from sowing). Whether you plant a classic round red radish like ‘Early Scarlet Globe’, a red-and-white bicolor like ‘Sparkler’ or ‘French Breakfast’, a mix of white, pink, rose, and purple like ‘Easter Egg’, or even a yellow radish like ‘Helios’ (or all of the above!), you’ll get an abundant, foolproof crop.
One of our favorite ways to eat radishes, after the French fashion, is sliced on buttered rounds of crusty baguette with a little salt. (Admittedly, unlike the French, we prefer these as appetizers rather than for breakfast. And, while we love ‘French Breakfast Radishes’ on our baguette slices, any radishes are good.) Our friend Ben and I also love to eat radishes in their simplest form, whole, also salted, and of course we love them sliced in salads.
But you don’t have to just eat radishes whole or sliced. You can also use them to make a luscious dip or spread, a great way to put a bumper crop to good use. We were introduced to this recipe by the farmers at our local CSA, Quiet Creek Farm. Thank you, John and Aimee!
Spring Radish Spread
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill (leaves, not seeds)
1-2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, drained (optional)
1 cup finely chopped or grated radishes
salt to taste
Mix all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours. Serve with crackers, on crusty bread (baguettes, rye, sourdough), with tortilla chips, and/or with veggies like carrot sticks or chips, broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes, or even freshly sliced cukes for dipping. Makes about 2 cups.
Yummy as this dip is, it only scratches the surface of radish possibilities. (We’re not even going to talk about daikon radishes, with their infinite uses; maybe next post.) If you matchstick radishes, you can add them to coleslaw for delicious bite, or to an omelette, or use them in a topping for a barbecue or roast beef sandwich, or a textural addition to hot sauce for seafood, or to kick up fried rice or stir-fry or sushi. And there are endless other options.
For those who seek to reduce calories, radishes are a pretty much no-calorie but satisfying option. And, as Saturday’s Wall Street Journal reminded me, there are many, many ways to use radishes to satisfy your cravings, whatever they are. Radish-related recipes in that issue ranged from Radish and Fennel salad through Pea, Radish and Ricotta Bruschetta to Roasted Spring Radishes and Potatoes with Radish Puree and Daikon Radish Cake. They all looked yummy (though I’d have served the radish and fennel slald over greens). See for yourself at http://www.wsj.com.
Ah, radishes. Coupled with spring’s other delights, scallions, asparagus, emerging greens, what a delight! Let’s celebrate the season.
‘Til next time,
Cold weather, hot lunch. March 21, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: hot easy lunch, hot lunch, lunch
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Silence Dogood here. It’s still in the 30s here, and is, according to the weather forecasters, going to remain in the 30s into mid-April. I don’t know about you, but I really hate the cold. I hate sitting in my 55-degree house (and mind you, paying almost $800 a month for fuel oil to keep the house at 55 degrees). I hate the icy-cold water when I turn on a tap. I hate having to go outside. I’d give anything to be warm.
This goes for food as well. I don’t eat breakfast, so by lunchtime I’m starving, but even then, I can’t eat more than a few mouthfuls. But I want them to be hot and succulent, to make every forkful count. What to do?
I’ve found that the best solution is leftovers. If you’re a soup-lover, that would be the easy answer, but I’m not. However, a little reheated pasta (mac’n'cheese, lasagna, spaghetti, or the like) or refried beans, or curry and rice, or some fried rice or a reconstructed falafel sandwich would be warm and comforting. Making sure you make plenty of whatever you favor for supper, so you have leftovers to heat up for lunch, is an excellent idea to carry you through the cold days. What are your favorites?
‘Til next time,
The Lotus Eaters. March 11, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: lotus root, lotus seeds, stir-fries, stir-fry recipes
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Silence Dogood here. This is humiliating, but I can’t remember who wrote The Lotus Eaters, and never read the novel so I don’t even know the plot. But I had my first experience of lotus-eating at an authentic Szechuan restaurant called The Golden Wok in State College, PA (home of Penn State) a few weeks ago, and it was love at first bite. (How did I know that the restaurant was authentic? The vast number of dishes featuring brains, intestines, feet, and other offal proudly offered on the menu.)
Once back home in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, I was on a mission from God to find lotus root and learn how to prepare and add it to my stir-fries. And finally, I succeeded, finding fresh lotus root (which is apparently actually lotus stem) in an oriental market in scenic Bethlehem, PA.
Then there was just the question of how to prepare it. I turned to my good friend Google for advice. There were a number of suggestions, but the one that made the most sense to me if planning to use it in stir-fry was to peel it and blanch it in water with rice vinegar to prevent discoloration and keep those beautiful, pure white slices white. Everyone praised their crunchy yet creamy contribution to stir-fries and other dishes, but it’s their beauty that really makes them stand out.
I’d also read that lotus seeds (which require considerable preparation) are extremely healthful, so I’d picked up a packet of dried lotus seeds while I was at the market. I’m looking forward to trying them too!
To make my stir-fry, I first blanched broccoli florets in boiling water, then, once they’d turned bright green, removed them with a slotted spoon to a plate. Next, I blanched asparagus spears after cutting them in section, then removed them to the plate. Then I peeled and sliced the lotus root and dropped the beautiful, filigreed white slices into the boiling water, adding a generous splash of rice vinegar. I let them cook for a few minutes, then removed them with the slotted spoon and added them to the broccoli on the plate.
Now it was time for the stir-fry. Taking my stainless-steel wok, I put some canola oil in the bottom and, when the oil had heated up, added diced sweet onion. When the onion had clarified, I added sliced shiitake mushrooms. Then, once the mushrooms had cooked down, I added some chili oil and roasted sesame oil, followed by finely sliced fresh lemongrass and minced fresh ginger.
Now that my base was prepared, it was time to get serious. I added the broccoli and lotus root back to the mix, followed by diced smoked tofu, diced red bell pepper, halved sugar snap peas (with the ends removed), chopped haricots verts (baby French green beans), and a bunch of minced garlic chives. After a couple of minutes, I added splashes of sake, mirin, and shoyu (fresh soy sauce), topped the stir-fry with seaweed gomasio (a mixture of sea salt, powdered seaweed, and roasted sesame seeds), gave a final stir, and turned off the heat.
Finally, I spooned the stir-fry over brown basmati rice and sprinkled some pepitas (raosted pumpkinseeds) on each serving for crunch. Hooray! The stir-fry was delicious, the vegetables cooked exactly as much as (and no more than) they should be, the combination of textures and flavors very enjoyable. Yum!
And what about the lotus root? Well, I certainly wouldn’t describe it as white (perhaps the shoyu had something to do with that), but yes indeed, it was perfectly creamy and crunchy, just the way I’d enjoyed it in the vegetable hot pot. Mission accomplished!
‘Til next time,
What do vegetarians eat, anyway? February 27, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: international vegetarian food, vegan food, vegetarian food
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Silence Dogood here. I’ll bet a lot of people whose meals revolve around meat (whether it’s charbroiled steak, rotisserie chicken, pepperoni pizza, a gyro or Philly cheesesteak, burger or hotdogs, spaghetti and meatballs, salmon or sashimi) have asked themselves this question at least once.
Maybe they picture an underfed twentysomething perched over a dinner salad with tuna. (Oh, wait: Tuna isn’t vegetarian.) Or a hippie-era, Birkenstock-clad idealist eating gorp, granola, and other leaden, tasteless, gluey, brown “health” food. (Hey, those whole-wheat sourdough pancakes are good for you!) Eeewww!!!
Folks, I swear, it ain’t necessarily so. I’m a vegetarian, but my beloved partner, our friend Ben, is an omnivore. For him to give up meat when he eats at home with me, the food has to be colorful, flavorful, with great texture and aroma and plenty of contrast in the dishes: in other words, good. I refuse to eat colorless, lumpy, leaden brown food in the name of vegetarianism either. So what do we eat around here?
The answer is simple if you love rich, decadent, satisfying food as we do, and that answer isn’t a cheese hoagie from Subway or a baked potato and salad from Wendy’s. Instead, I draw from the world’s cuisines to make delicious, fabulous meals, using the best and freshest ingredients I can find and making sure I balance “diva” ingredients with hearty, satisfying “supporting stars” so the food is filling as well as flavorful. Let’s look at some examples:
Lycopene, found in tomatoes and in greater quantities in tomato products like tomato sauce and tomato paste, has been shown to be a superhero in the war on disease. I make a thick, rich tomato sauce packed with crushed tomatoes and tomato paste but also bringing the cancer-fighting team of garlic and onion, and plenty of them, to lycopene’s aid. Because I want a thick, rich sauce, I add green bell pepper, tons of mushrooms (with their great healing properties), sauteed eggplant, and diced zucchini to the mix along with tons of herbs, extra-virgin olive oil, hot sauce, and red wine. By cooking it over low heat for hours, my sauce becomes rich and chunky, with great body and flavor. Nobody’s going to take a bite and say, “Eeeewww, is that zucchini in there?!”
But the real beauty of this rich, chunky sauce is its versatility. You could serve it on spaghetti one day, fold it into a lasagna the next, and use it as the tomato sauce on a pizza the third day, adding incredible richness and body. No complaints about leftovers here!
On other days, I might make chili, refried beans, or bean burritos with all the toppings: fresh-made guacamole, red and green salsa and pico de gallo, shredded cheese, sour cream, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sliced green onions (scallions), sliced black olives, sliced jalapenos. I’d add hot taco shells or tortilla chips if I wasn’t making burritos, so everyone could make or dip their own, and provide a pitcher of margaritas, palomas or sangria.
Then again, I could make roasted veggies: slices of sweet potato and quarters of new potatoes or whole fingerling potatoes; mushrooms; quartered sweet onions (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla) or whole cippolini onions; thick asparagus sections or artichoke hearts or green beans or cauliflower florets or Japanese eggplant slices. Roasting brings out the marvelous, caramelized flavor of veggies (and fruits, for that matter); all you need is to drizzle them with premium olive oil like Hojiblanca, sprinkle on some Mediterranean herbs like oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme, add a generous sprinkling of sea salt, Trocamare or RealSalt and fresh-cracked black pepper, and let the heat work its magic. I like to serve roasted veggies over rice and accompany them with a super tossed salad to balance the richness.
Indian food is yet another way to add variety and incomparable flavor to a meal. I love to make dal, a thick, porridgy mixture of lentils, chillies, tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and spices that is just perfect served with basmati rice, palaak paneer (a spinach and Indian cheese dish), raita (a yogurt-based condiment that cools the palate), and various chutneys and sauces. If I’m making food for a special occasion, I’ll add a curry, or at least curried carrots, some garlic naan (Indian flatbread, think super-great pita), and some appetizers like pakoras and samosas.
This really just scratches the surface. Stir-fries, Thai curries, and yummy special-occasion takeout (veggie tempura rolls and ma po tofu, anyone?) are always out there. There’s so much more to explore and enjoy.
‘Til next time,
Cleaning up coleslaw. February 20, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: coleslaw, coleslaw variations, healthy coleslaw recipes, healthy slaw recipes, making coleslaw healthy, slaw
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love coleslaw. And it should be one of the healthiest foods you can eat. The problem is, it’s usually served in a creamy, sugary dressing that counteracts any health benefits and packs in the calories as well. Sure, it tastes great. But couldn’t slaw still taste great minus the creamy dressing?
I was determined to find ways to make a great-tasting slaw without the typical dressing and boost the nutritional value while I was at it. I knew it was possible! Slaw just needed the Silence treatment.
Here’s what I did. First, I replaced the usual green cabbage-carrot-red cabbage mix with broccoli slaw, which combines shredded broccoli stems with shredded carrots and red cabbage. The usual slaw mix is plenty healthy, but broccoli slaw (readily available packaged in the produce section) kicks the nutritional value up a notch by adding broccoli’s potent anticarcinogenic value.
Next, I mixed in plenty of minced red (Spanish) onion and chopped scallions (green onions), since members of the onion family are famous for fighting inflammation, which is now thought to be the root cause of diseases as disparate as heart disease and cancer. They also give coleslaw a flavor kick!
I added plenty of fresh-ground black pepper (also anticarcinogenic) and some RealSalt (unadulterated and mineral-rich). And I added crumbled gorgonzola cheese for a flavor and protein kick. (This is optional, if you want vegan coleslaw; otherwise, you could use crumbled feta or blue cheese instead of the gorgonzola, if you prefer them.)
Then I added extra-virgin olive oil and tossed everything well to combine flavors and coat the slaw with oil. Oil helps the body digest and utilize the nutrients in raw greens and veggies, and olive oil is heart-healthy. After chilling the slaw for a couple of hours to let the flavors blend, I topped it with mineral-rich pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) before serving for a delicious crunch.
Yum! My coleslaw was a success. But that’s just the beginning of the ways you can add healthy oomph to your coleslaw. Here are other suggestions:
* Use your coleslaw as a salad topper. It’s delicious over mixed greens and enables you to put a salad together in seconds: the packaged salad mix of your choice topped with a scoop of slaw. (I like to add balsamic vinegar and olive oil to the greens before topping it with the slaw, to make sure the greens are dressed, but this is optional.)
* Add diced red, yellow, orange, and/or green bell peppers to the slaw. Vitamin C and gorgeous color and flavor!
* Add healing spices like cumin seeds, black mustardseeds, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, and/or ground turneric to your slaw. (Turmeric will turn it yellow to orange, so be forewarned, but it has fantastic anti-inflammatory properties.)
* Crank up the healing heat with minced jalapeno or serrano peppers or Szechuan peppers, cayenne, or a splash of the hot sauce of your choice. This will spice up your coleslaw and give it a hint of Korean kimchee, the super-health food made from fermented cabbage.
* Add additional healing veggies like matchstick radishes, tiny blanched broccoli or broccoflower florets, sugar snap peas, and mung bean sprouts. Diced fennel bulbs also taste great in slaw. So does celery and, surprisingly, cucumber, all with proven health benefits.
* Mix in minced cilantro, parsley, dill, or fennel tops just before serving (and before topping with the pepitas). You’ll add a whole layer of flavor on top of whatever you’ve already put in, as well as lots of vitamins, making your slaw even more complex and delicious.
* Add fruit, like diced apple or pear, mandarin oranges, golden raisins, dried cranberries (“craisins”), or even diced pineapple to the slaw before serving.
That’s what I’ve thought of so far. How do you make your slaw healthy?
—’Til next time,