Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Breakfast Hash

Noooo, silly goosies...not THAT kind of hash!!! The food kind (and no, not the food kind that comes from that kind of hash butter, either).

The kind of hash you used to (and probably still) get at Greasy Spoons but all dolled up and spiffified into healthy eats. Almost the same thing as a Breakfast Scramble, I delineate the two as follows: Scrambles always have eggs (or tofu if you don't eat them). I may or may not include eggs in a hash, but always include a sort of starch (regular or sweet potato) or grain. They are, in fact, great for using up those small bits of leftover grains or taters.

Rice and quinoa are both good. I'm sure barley, rye, millet or any of the other wonderful grasses of the earth would work really well, too. But barley and rye affect me the same way wheat does and while millet is OK, it does not give me orgasms. The grain that does is Steel Cut Oats. I cook them on the "al dente" chewy side so they fluff instead of goo. Plus, we know me and chewy. Vital stuff.

This morning's version:

Sautee leeks, kale, garlic, mushrooms in olive oil. I steamed them a bit so they wouldn't stick.
Add the precooked oats (if cooking fresh, I usually make a fair amount so they are handydandy for other meals) and stir until all combined.
Turn off stove. Add tamari/soy sauce, lots of fresh dill and cilantro. Add sprouts (my mix was home sprouted garbanzos, azukis, black beans, lentils). Mix up so all is coated and hashy.
Put in bowl. Add avocado slices, chilies, and chunked almonds.

Although I didn't have an egg this morning, I often do an over-medium egg and lay it on top so that the gooey goodness of the yolk flows over the hash.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What's Fer Dinner, Honey? Burritos!!!

I live in a household with two different eating patterns. One is mine, the flavor of which is slowly developing on this blog. The other is my Man. I'll call him "D" on here. He's a meat and potatoes guy. A before-his-heart-attack-last-year-no-vegetable-eating-guy.

Since that ever so fun episode, things with him are changing. It's been a fun challenge to get him to shift his diet in a way that supports better heart health. I've been easing him gently. Even though I have always been snarky and a brat to him about his eating patterns,* I have great compassion for him because he has to change the way he loves and is accustomed to eating. As I've said to him: I'd be really attituded if all of a sudden someone told me the only thing I could eat was cow meat.

Even though his eating habits have drastically changed, we still eat separate meals. Well...we often eat at the same time, but what we eat is very different.

For instance, last night, I had Salmon, Herbed Roasted Sweet Potatoes and a my favorite salad of mint and other goodies which I'll share soon.

He had burritos.

He luuuurrrrvvvves burritos. I love how easy and quick they are.

You'll need:

Protein- I always use chicken for him, although beef or turkey would be fine, too. If I was using tofu I would get the ultraultraextra firm sort (as I hate the squishy stuff)
Refried beans (this could be enough of the protein for most people. But not him)
Tortillas- as he's a Big Boy I get the gungahumungous ones.
Cheddar Cheese
Tomato sauce
Spices- Chili powder, powdered cumin, onion and garlic granules, orgegano

Sautee chicken/meat/protein. When done, slice, dice and shred with knife and fork. Return to pan. Add tomato sauce and spices...lots...plus a can of water. Let this all simmer until the sauce is thick
Heat beans. Shread lettuce, cheese. Slice tomatoes in smallish cubes.
Heat tortilla until soft (this is important so it doesn't tear when folded)
Put a layer of protein on the right side of center, leaving about 2/3 of the tortilla empty to the left of it and about a quarter to third empty at the bottom (damn I wish I had a camera).
Top with beans, then cheese, then lettuce, then tomato. Watch that it doesn't get too very much stuff as it will be a bitch to roll.
When the perfect amount is on there, roll the bottom up and hold it there. Then take the edge of the wrap and roll the stuff toward the other side of the empty tortilla. I usually put the burrito face down so it doesn't unroll and flop all over the place.

I don't usually eat burritos because of the wheat in the tortilla. Trader Joe's has a wonderful rice flour tortilla. But/and...it doesn't soften up too much and stiff burritos just don't make it. Plus I kinda got used to eating just the guts, sans tortilla a bowl. I didn't eat them last night as I had had a veggie bowl earlier that day for breakfast so was in the mood for the salmon that had to be eaten before it went bad.

But if I had been inclined to eat Mexican last night, I would have made rice in the same way I did the protein...in other words, cook it then add tomato and the spices. Instead of the alium granules, I would have used fresh onion and garlic (he likes the flavor of them but hates the texture). I would have then heated up some black beans. I would have made a salsa fresca (which is so easy to make, cheap and way better than store bought...will share that soon, too) with tons of fresh cilantro. Heap in some avocado and voila.

The good news about this dinner is that it's fast. If I had eaten, the rice would take some time, but often I have it in the fridge to use as needed. The other takes about a half hour to do everything if you slice and dice while the chicken is cooking, beans warming. If I had company and was serving more courses, I would probably add a jicama salad with lime, red onion, cabbage, cilantro and cayenne.

*As any self respecting food snob would.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Presto-Changeo Tabouli

Not your typical Middle Eastern variety, nope.

First off, Tabouli (or tabouleh) is traditionally made with couscous which is wheat. As I don't do wheat very often, I had to find a replacement. To my mind the perfect one is quinoa.

I'd like to sing the praises of quinoa and why I think it makes a superior Tabouli even if you eat tons of wheat and your body likes it.

First off is that the little grains are so cute. Check out their little tails. The grains kinda look like really interesting looking spermies (the kids love it when I say that stuff).

I cook my grains (rice, steel cut oats, quinoa) a bit on the chewy side. I add less water than the usual recipe calls for, adding more at the end if it looks too dry (it's all about balance). When cooked like this, Quinoa Tabouli is crunchy and crisp (=good), not mushy and soggy (= BAD).

But the quinoa virtues don't stop there. It has tons of nutrients and one of the highest protein contents of all the grains.

In this post, I talked about how using different herbs and spices can make a generic dish a different cuisine, depending on what was used.

For the Basic Tabouli Recipe, the springboard, the backbone, I make the quinoa. When the tails appear and the grain is chewy but done, I then remove from heat, putting it into a bowl and add olive oil, minced parsley and salt. Could it be any easier?

Now, depending on which cuisine I have a hankering for, I'll add different things.

Middle Eastern Tabouli- the traditional recipe calls for lemon juice, spring onions, tomatoes, salt and pepper added to the base dish. Don't by shy with any of those. I also add Greek olives, garbanzo beans, lots of feta, shrimp, thinly sliced, raw fennel, mint and shrimp. Sometimes I mix in some toasted almonds or pine nuts as I'm a nut freak. (What's life without crunch?) This dish is Totally Addicting, on the top list of requested summer dishes in my household.

Mexican Tabouli- add lemon and lime juice, red onions, lots of cilantro, tomatoes, peppers (green and/or red), strained whole black beans, cukes and/or celery, jicama, hot chilies, salt and black pepper. Avocado on each serving (but don't put it in the salad itself as if any is left over, the avocado won't keep.) I usually add shrimp or a white fish for protein.

Italian Tabouli- lemon, tomatoes, red onions, mozerella in small chunks (the stuff that comes in water not the stuff wrapped in plastic), basil, walnuts and/or pine nuts, shrimp, fennel.

Asian Tabouli- lime, ginger, shallots, spring onions, pea pods, sprouts, cilantro, toasted almonds (peanuts would be more authentic, but I don't usually have them around and I like almonds), hot peppers, sesame seeds, sliced and seared ahi layed over the top.

I always make Tabouli the meal, mixing it with lettuce (the kind usually depends on the dish, but a good romaine and mixed greens is always safe). I don't add any other dressings, except perhaps a tad bit more olive oil if needed to bring it all together. Anything else would detract from the dish.

So, yeah...Tabouli is really versatile. It's cheap and even cheaper if you leave out the feesh. It's quick and easy to make...neither stage takes much time or effort at all and there aren't any tricks or esoteric cooking skills required. It's great for summer. I make up a big batch then add the different things for variety on different nights . I have yet to get tired of it. It's a meal in itself, needing nothing more than a glass of wine to make life good.

Quinoa picture is from here. There is also a really nice writeup on the grain worth reading.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Transformative Magic Of Herbs And Spices

There are times I amaze myself (in both positive and eye rolling ways..not sure which one this story is :) )


So a few years back I has this, to me, culinary epiphany.

I was thinking about different types of cuisines. I was thinking about the ingredients, when it hit me: The key to a dish being Thai or Mexican or Italian or whatever was in part from the ingredients but primarily from the combination of herbs and spices.

Light bulbs turned into lightening bolts. I felt absolutely brilliant.

...then realized that probably everyone on the planet had figured that one out and I was just slow on the uptake.

Brilliant/slow? Brilliant/slow?

Whatever...I'm going with the former.

So, yeah...

Want a Mexican dish? Put in chili powder, cilantro (in it's leafy form) and it's seed/spice cumin, onions, tomatoes, salt, lemon, chilies, parsley and oregano. Onions, tomatoes, avocados, mangos, green and red peppers. If I want a more South American influence, I'll add garlic and cinnamon in addition to the above.

Asian Fushiony Thai? Ginger, garlic, cilantro, pepper paste, basil, lime leaves (I hear they are illegal here, but I can still get them so maybe you can, too), mint. Lime, green onions, shallot, papaya, mango.

Basil,bay, oregano, marjoram, garlic. Tomato, onion, green pepper, fish sauce, tamari.

Indian? Cumin, turmeric, mustard seed, tamarind, coriander, amchoor, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, asafoetida, garam masala, kalanji, saffron, fennel, mint, hot peppers. Sometimes garlic, onion, lemon, lime.

Tarragon, chervil, chives, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Mediterraneanish? Oregano, olive oil, onion, garlic, parsley, feta, olives

I know there are other herbs and spices that each cuisine uses, but I have these in my kitchen. There are foods that are better pairings for the different kinds of cuisines, but I'm not going to go into that today. Suffice it to say that I have made many basics then, changed them into a completely other dish, simply by playing with the spices and adding things to go along.

Wonder what I'm talking about? Check out the mutable magic of Tabouli....
(recipe(s) soon)

Herb Garden from here
Spices from here

Monday, March 2, 2009

Eating In The Wine Country

I ate most of my meals out last week.

The adventures started on Tuesday at the restaurant at L'Auberge du Soleil in the Napa Valley. I wish I had a camera to take proper pictures of the view and the food. But it is what it is :)

I am blessed to have a companion from my Courtesaning days who still takes me to marvelous meals. These meals are sweet interludes for me. We have great conversation, great food and completely adore doing it together because we are perfect partners in foodie crime.

We had eaten breakfast there before on one of our Napa jaunts, but this was my first luncheon experience there. Oh, Yum.

I love almost all vegetables, hate only a few. One of the few are Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes. They aren't really artichokes, they are the roots of a type of sunflower. They are roots that taste vile to me. About a year ago, I noticed some at our Farmer's Market and forgot how much I hated them (as it had been about ten years since I'd had one). Mistake. Ba-luck.

Then a short while after that, this same foodie friend took me to The French Laundry. One of the courses was a Sunchoke soup.

As we were at TFL (for heaven's sake) I HAD to at least try it. First bite...do-able. Second bite with a sip of the wine pairing...oh My GOD!! A food epiphany of the highest order. A new relationship with Sunchokes.

So when I saw the same sort of offering at lunch, I decided to see if the magic could return.

This restaurant offers double mini first courses that are paired both with each other and a glass of wine. I got

Sunchoke Soup with Crispy Fried Oyster and
Maine Rock Crab, Shallots and Bearnaise Glacage
Paired with an amazing Chardonnay

Yes, the magic returned. The soup was creamy with just a hint of the cursed sunchoke flavor...just enough to turn it's vile ickiness into "differently interesting." The wine made it whampowdelicious. The crab concoction was kinda like a mini pot pie thing...warm, with a light crusty thing on top. Scarf city...politely, of course.

For the second course we both had a difficult time deciding on the Grouper or the Ahi. So we did the smart thing and ordered, then shared, both. Good thinking on our parts.

Grouper came prepared with Chorizo (I was sausagely adventureous that day and ate to my heart's content), Escarole and Pimenton Nage. I sure wondered what that last thing was when I read it in the menu. It was the sauce, made from peppers, frothed and with all sorts of subtle, yummy flavorings. Great feesh course.

But we both thought the star of the meal was the Seared Ahi. It was on a serving of spinach, tapenade sprinkled throughout. But this was the cool part: on the side was an egg, perfectly soft boiled (yolk still perfectly gooey, no snot in the white). After that they put panko crust on it and flash fried it. Then they took a tiny piece of crustini and cut a hole in the center to hold the egg up, adding a sort of meshed potato chip triangle inserted in the egg for pretties. You break the egg so the yolk gooies go all over the dish. A. Ma. Zing. It sounded really unusual, so we had to try it and the combination was sublime. Highly recommended.

I didn't choose so well for my dessert. It was rice pudding with a sorbet, and some sort of squishy thing, paired with a Muscat. The quality was excellent, but what was I thinking? I'm not much of a sorbet person. My companion's chose really well, though...sauteed bananas on top of some sort of pecan tart thingie, with chocolate and an espresso froth. I was totally jealous and a bit frustrated as the way they described it, it certainly didn't sound like what it was. I am a pecan pieaholic and if I'd known I would have been in dessert heaven, too.

But, in the end..no worries...cuz while making plans for this adventure, I made him promise to take me to Bouchon Bakery before we left.

Oh boy.

Let us all bow our heads in thanks that Bouchon has Almond Croissants again. Yes, they are Sacred.

I discovered Bouchon on a trip we made to Napa years ago. Since then I have made the two and a half hour drive there simply for the pastries. I cannot find as good of ones in Los Angeles or San Francisco. I doubt they exist. Even in France.

So it was with a light heart that I took a detour on my way to a birthday celebration lunch in the Bay Area last summer to treat my birthday self to some Almond Croissants.

I left with a heavy heart as they had discontinued Almond Croissants in favor of Raspberry Almond Croissants.

Now...it's not that they were bad. Not possible. But they weren't Almond Croissants, you see. I mean...you get that, don't you? I was devastated. I was told that I could order them on my next trip and the chef would happily accomodate me.

I spaced doing so this trip, but it didn't matter. It appears I was not the only person who wanted them back. Power To The People!!!

So, a few minutes after entering my favorite bakery in the world, I had tasty treats for me and my eldest daughter all safe and happy in their little brown and green box. And this time I didn't eat all of them on the way home. Cost benefit ratio is totally on the side of full-on bloat with these. Thank goddess I don't live near enough to go more than three times a year.

It had been raining for a week and was scheduled to rain again Wednesday. But that Tuesday, the sun was shining, the world was green and lovely. A truly beautiful, peace-filled, happy day. I am Blessed.