Thursday, May 7, 2015

It's That Time of Year

Rhubarb Time!

 
As you know, I love rhubarb. You get to eat it for dessert and still count it as a vegetable. But please don't tell the food police. Rhubarb desserts are usually a little tart, which means they pair well with ice cream. You knew there was a motive for my love of rhubarb. Rhubarb also pairs will with strawberries. Remember, they are both spring crops. Things that grow together, go together. If you want to test this idea, here is a recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie.

The rhubarb plant is a perennial, meaning it will return next year. It produces large leaves, with long stalks that resemble celery. When preparing rhubarb, discard the leaves and use the stalks. Rhubarb has a strong, tart flavor and is usually consumed, cooked with sugar.

Since I cannot allow you to have a rhubarbless year, this is my first rhubarb recipe for 2015. Yes, there may be more.


Rhubarb Orange Sauce

Makes 2 cups.

Ingredients:

1 cup orange juice
½ cup sugar
3 cups sliced rhubarb

Directions:

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.

2.  Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is falling apart and sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes.

3. Serve sauce with ice cream or yogurt.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Waldorf Salad - Revisited

Waldorf Salad - a mixture of apples, raisins, nuts, and celery held together by a mayonnaise dressing. It's a simple dish, but there is nothing wrong with simplicity. In our overcomplicated lives, simplicity is a good thing.

Food to Live By contains an updated Waldorf  Salad recipe - California Waldorf Salad. This version contains curry and is mixed with greens or spinach. I made a batch and took to my church potluck. I think it passed the test. (There wasn't much left to bring home - and someone took the leftovers.) Now that is a winner in my book.

Here is my version of the dish. I left out the curry, but feel free to add it to yours (2 teaspoons).

California Waldorf Salad

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
2 Tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 bag (5 ounces) baby spinach or mixed greens, rinsed and dried
1 apple, unpeeled and cut into cubes
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup dried fruit, such as raisins, cranberries or tart cherries
1 cup seedless grapes, cut in half
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted


Directions:

1. In a small bowl combine yogurt, mayonnaise, lime zest, juice and honey. Stir to combine. Set aside.

2. Wash spinach and place in a large bowl. Top spinach with apples, celery, dried fruit, grapes and nuts. Add enough dressing to coat. Toss and serve.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Not Your Mother's Spice Rack

One of my colleagues told me her father stated that good food did not need spices. Interesting.

My grandmother, on the other hand, told me that poor food would kill me. In other words, spice it up. Now mind you, grandma did not have a lot of spices, salt, pepper, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and a few others.

Fast forward and I have a cabinet full of spices. I took grandma's advice to heart. While I will always use cinnamon, I also have coriander, cumin, Aleppo pepper, black peppercorns, chipotle pepper, and the list continues. I like to experiment with spices and other food cultures.


And this is only part of the collection!
 
It seems that more Americans are joining me in my quest for a wider variety of spices. We don't want just more spices, we also want more spice blends. Standing along side the standard Italian and poultry seasonings are ras el hanout, a spice used North African cooking, especially Morroco, harissa another North African spice, Indian inspired curry powder, and za'tar from the middle east. Needless to say, the list continues. Americans are on a spice roll. And I say we are the better for it. It is always wonderful to experience the food of another culture.

For this post, I am going with ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice mixture. You can purchase ras el hanout or make your own. Ras el hanout loosely translates to "head of the shop" and refers to the best spices the shop has to offer. Each shop has its own blend, but typically contain cardamom, clove, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, mace, nutmeg, peppercorns, and turmeric.

Ras el hanout is flavorful, but not hot. Since it is a spice blend, it can be used in marinades, as a rub, stews and braises. Check out The Kitchn for ways to use ras el hanout and other spice blends.


Ras el Hanout

Makes about 2 tablespoons.
 
Ingredients:

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
 
Directions:

Whisk together in a small bowl until well combined. Mixture can be stored in a jar at room temperature for several weeks.
 
I have used this mixture on chicken and fish.  Both are equally good.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Brussels sprouts...Little Cabbages

Little cabbages - that's what I used to call Brussels sprouts. To my child's eyes that is what they looked like. To my adult eyes, that is still what they look like.  Brussels sprouts and cabbages are different plants, but part of the same family. Guess I wasn't too far off.

Until recently, Brussels sprouts were not readily seen. Maybe only grandma was eating them. Lately, they are everywhere. The internet has tons of recipes for Brussels sprouts. You would think we discovered Brussels sprouts.

Brussels sprouts are believed to have been cultivated in Italy during Roman times.  Brussels sprouts that we are familiar with were first cultivated in Belgium as early as 1587 and were introduced in the US in the 1800s. Okay, so we didn't discover Brussels sprouts, but we can still enjoy them.

I like Brussels sprouts. (If you like them, it's okay. You can admit it.) My love of Brussels sprouts has me looking for new recipes. For this posting, I found recipe on the California Almond Board and changed it to make it more Midwestern. Below is my version. But please feel free to try the recipe as the almond board intended it. My goal is that everyone eats good food. Use a recipe as a starting point. Changing it to fit your taste is perfectly fine.
 
Brussels sprouts Salad

Serves 8.
 
Ingredients:
12 ounces Brussels sprouts
½ cup slivered almonds
1 large firm pear
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
½ cup seedless red grapes, halved
cup dried cranberries

Dressing:
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1½ Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Directions:

1. Wash Brussels sprouts. Remove damaged outer leaves. Slice Brussels sprouts very thinly. Set aside.

2. Toast almonds in a 300°F oven for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside.

3. Wash and chop the pear. In a large bowl, combine pear, onion, and grapes. Set aside.

4. In a large saucepan, bring about 4 cups of water to a boil. Add ½ teaspoon salt. Add Brussels sprouts and cook for about 2 minutes. Add cranberries during the last 30 seconds. Drain. Add cold water to cool. Drain thoroughly. Add to pear mixture along with the almonds.

5. In a separate bowl, combine dressing ingredients. Pour over Brussels sprouts. Stir to combine.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Parsnips and Carrots

In addition to blogging, I also develop local food brochures for Nebraska Extension. I aim for recipes that are quick, easy, and inexpensive. See, I do not believe eating healthy has to be complicated or expensive. There is nothing wrong with simplicity.

I recently posted the Winter 2015 Local Foods Brochure. Yes, you can eat locally in Nebraska in the winter. Our fore parents did it. That was all they knew. Eating locally is a great way to get variety in your diet.

My most recent brochure contains recipes using rutabaga (or turnip), potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and broccoli.

One of my colleagues suggested I blog about my carrot and parsnip recipe. I thought, why not. It fits with my overall goal of the blog - helping you get dinner on the table. 

Parsnips and Carrots with Orange Butter

Serves 2.

Ingredients:

½ pound parsnips
½ pound carrots
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
cup fresh orange juice, about 1 orange
1 Tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Wash and peel parsnips and carrots. Cut in half lengthwise, and cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick pieces. Set aside.

2.  In a skillet, combine the water, parsnips, carrots, and salt. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove lid and cook until the vegetables are tender and the liquid evaporates.

3. Add orange juice and butter, stirring until the butter has melted and the sauce thickens and coats the vegetables.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Cabbage...Says It All

In the olden days, one ate cabbage, turnips, and sweet potatoes in the fall and winter. You had no choice. You ate it or you went hungry.

Well, children nowadays have everything. They get peaches, lettuce, watermelon and everything else all year long. Don't get me wrong; I am all for progress. But does there come a time when progress is no longer progress? I say let's eat a few root vegetables and cool season crops this winter. They are usually inexpensive, low in calories, a good source of fiber, vitamins A, C and folate. They are just plain good for you, so eat up.

To help your winter vegetables go down a little easier, I am offering up a recipe for creamed cabbage. I told one of my colleagues that the only way my mother prepared cabbage was with pork fat. Her response was, "Well, I'd add some of that too". I left it out, but feel free to add bacon if you like.

Creamed Cabbage

Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients:

1 medium green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tablespoon grated ginger, heaping
2 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.  In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until it melts and starts to bubble. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Stir in ginger and cook for another minute.

2. Add cabbage and stir to coat cabbage with butter. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 to 20 minutes, until cabbage has softened and slightly browned.

3. Reduce heat and stir in cream. Scrape up any browned bits from bottom of the pan. Cover an cook on low for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid, taste for salt and pepper. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and cabbage is coated with cream.


Monday, January 12, 2015

A New Year, A New Start

I've been writing about starting to cook for quite some time. So far, I'm just short of preaching. I don't mean to nag. But I believe there is value in preparing one's food at home. Food is communal. We create memories in the kitchen. A lot of our lives revolve around the kitchen. 

For me cooking is creating. I like knowing that I can make something. And I do enjoy it when people like something I cook. I cook for my enjoyment and for the enjoyment of those I feed. All my dishes are not masterpieces or works of art. Sometimes I just need to get dinner on the table. So I have a few things like eggs and pasta that I frequently fall back on.

Convenience ingredients are great for getting meals on the table. Try rotisserie chicken, bagged salads, frozen vegetables (without sauce), canned beans, fresh pasta, and pre-made pizza dough.

If you need a scientific reason to cook, here's one. According to a paper published in Public Health Nutrition, adults who cooked dinner 0 - 1 times per week consumed 2300 calories on an average day. Those cooking 6 - 7 times per week consumed 2163 calories on an average day. While that is only 136 calories, multiply 136 calories by 365 days. Get the picture?

Here is my recipe to help you get started. It is a Stromboli.   A Stromboli is an Italian-American sandwich of pizza dough wrapped various fillings. I chose spinach, onions, ham and cheese. 

Spinach and Ham Stromboli

Serves 4.


Ingredients:

½ medium onion, chopped
Olive or vegetable oil
4 ounces deli ham
1 package (16 ounce) frozen chopped spinach
6 ounces grated cheese, about 1½ cups
1 container (13.8 ounce) refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough
Pizza sauce

Directions:

1.  Heat about one tablespoon of oil in a medium skillet. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
2.  Remove onion and set aside. Add ham to skillet. Cook until ham has dried out and begins to brown. Remove from skillet and set aside.
3. Add another tablespoon of oil to skillet. When oil is hot, add spinach. Cook until spinach until most of the water has evaporated. Set aside.
4.  Coat a work surface lightly with flour. Unroll dough onto floured surface.  Roll dough into a rectangle, about 11 X 14-inches.
5. Brush dough with oil. Top with cheese to within one inch of the edge.  Add onions, ham and spinach.
6. Roll dough up jellyroll fashion. Place bottom of dough on cookie sheet. Brush top of dough with oil. Bake at 400°F until crust browns, about 20 to 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Slice into 1-inch slices. Serve with pizza sauce.

Note: Onions, ham, and spinach can be cooked in advance (one to two days) and refrigerated until ready to use.