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.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Get Cookin'

Yes, Get Cookin'. This is campaign from the American Diabetes Association. Now I have been saying this for quite some time, but for fun. Now, we have a health reason to do it.

November is American Diabetes Month - a time to come together and raise awareness of this ever-growing epidemic that is facing our nation. And what better time to start thinking about how you can cook healthy and tasty meals, and get moving - to Stop Diabetes®.

Choosing a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do to manage or prevent diabetes. That’s why, all month long, we are asking America to get cooking to Stop Diabetes.
 
For additional help on cooking to Stop Diabetes check out  American Diabetes Association.
 
For my cooking efforts this month, I chose a new cook book - Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day by Leanne Brown.
 
 I chose Spicy Green Beans. The recipe makes two servings, but can be easily doubled.

 Spicy Green Beans

Yields 2 Servings
Ingredients
 
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
½ pound green beans, ends trimmed, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sambal oelek (or 2 teaspoons chili flakes)
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions
1.  Add vegetable oil to a frying pan on medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the green beans. Cover and cook undisturbed for about 1 minute.
 
2.  In a small bowl combine garlic, soy sauce, sambal oelek, ginger, and lemon juice.
 
3.  The beans should have turned bright green. Add about ¼ cup of water to the pan. Cook another 2 minutes, until the water is mostly gone. Pour the sauce into the pan and toss gently to coat. Cook another 2 minutes, until everything is fragrant and most of the liquid is gone. Poke the beans with a fork: if it goes through easily, they are done. They should take about 5 minutes.
 4.      Taste and add more chili sauce or soy sauce if you want the beans hotter or saltier.
 Note: Sambal oelek is an Indonesian flavoring paste made from ground bird chilies, salt, oil and vinegar.
 
 

 

 
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sweet Potatoes - Again

If you are even an occasional reader of this blog, you know I love sweet potatoes. I remember my mother baking them whole and we just ate them that way, no butter. I know it's hard to believe I would pass on butter.

Growing up, my father told stories of George Washington Carver and sweet potatoes. I also worked at Tuskegee University - on - you guessed it, sweet potatoes. So,you know sweet potatoes are near and dear to my heart.

In preparation for the fall brochure for local foods, my students made sweet potato pudding. I really did not think too much about it until - I ate it. It was delicious. So this is the recipe for sweet potato
pudding.


 
 

Sweet Potato Pudding

Serves 8.
 
Ingredients:
 
4 cups of cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup coconut milk
1 Tablespoon lime juice, preferably fresh
Grated zest of one lime
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup raisins
 
Directions:
 
1.  Bake or boil enough sweet potatoes to make 4 cups, mashed.
 
2. Add sugar and eggs to mashed sweet potatoes. Stir until thoroughly combined.
 
3.  Add butter, coconut milk, lime juice, zest, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Stir to combine. Stir in raisins.
 
4. Butter a 9-inch square pan. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for about 50 minutes.