Friday, June 27, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Elixir of the South

Vegetarian Times has this terrific recipe for a Jamaican-style iced tea. They gave it the unfortunate name "Sorrel Drink", which is a little too close to "Squirrel Drink" for my liking and dammit, it's my blog.

Since I was feeling a little snacky when I made this I cut added half an orange (and, of course, ate the other half). The citrus worked really well with the spices. While I love how incredibly civilized it is to offer simple syrup with iced tea, I just don't get that fancy without company in the house. I added an extra cup of water and about 1/4 cup sugar to the tea.

5 Red Zinger tea bags (I used ceylon/mango instead)
1 4-inch cinnamon stick
10 whole cloves
1/4 tsp crushed allspice
2 3-inch pieces fresh ginger

Bring all ingredients and 4 cups water to a boil in saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes. Cool, strain, and chill.

Not known to induce munchies.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vegetarian Times Recipe Fantastic With Chicken! Likely Good on Pork, Salmon

This month's Vegetarian Times magazine has about a dozen recipes that I've flagged to try.

Honest, I bought firm tofu for this one, but drained tofu can't withstand long-term marinating and with our crazy schedules and the risk of not cooking it when expected, chicken was a safer bet. When life and dinner are a little more predictable I will absolutely give this a try on the ol' bean curd.

While I'm at it, I'd like to try this out on pork and salmon as well. The chicken was really good. I sauteed some yellow squash and carrots with a little coriander, salt, and fresh black pepper as a side dish. Corn on the cob would also be really good and easy. Most importantly, I made most of the week's dinners on Sunday - so I can attest to the keepability of the sauce.

1 cup fresh orange juice - I actually did juice 3 oranges, but bottled OJ with no added sugar would work just as well
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 TBSP rice vinegar or cider vinegar
2 tsp minced seeded chipotle chile in adobo sauce* and **, plus
2 tsp adobo sauce
2 14-oz. packages extra-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
1 TBSP vegetable oil

1. Whisk together orange juice, maple syrup, vinegar, chipotle chile, adobo sauce, and salt in small bowl. Cover, and chill.

2. [TOFU PREP ONLY - if using something else, skip to #3] Cut each piece of tofu crosswise into 8 slices, each about 1/2-inch thick. Place tofu in large shallow glass dish. Press with paper towels to drain.

3. Add 1/2 cup orange juice mixture and oil to [tofu, chicken, fish, pork] and turn to coat. Cover, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours, turning from time to time. I use a Ziploc bag for marinating - easy cleanup, no spills.

Reserve remaining orange juice mixture covered, in refrigerator.

4. Preheat broiler. Line large baking sheet with foil, and coat with cooking spray. Place [whatever] on prepared baking sheet. [Note: I just cooked the chicken in a skillet since I already had two dishes in the oven]

Combine marinade and reserved orange juice mixture in small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cook over medium heat 12 - 15 minutes, or until syrupy. Keep warm.

5. Broil tofu 6 - 8 minutes per side, or until golden, basting occasionally with orange juice mixture. Adjust cooking time according to your entree.

*Chipotle chiles last FOREVER in the refrigerator. Just pop the leftovers into Tupperware and it'll be fine. The adobo sauce is a robust, smoky addition to burgers, salmon, enchiladas and tacos, and anything done on the grill - and a little goes a long way. It also mixes up well with butter for corn on the cob.

** To get the flavor of the chiles without the heat scrape out the seeds and throw them away. Dice the remaining pepper and add to your recipe.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Martha, Martha, Martha!

I don't hate Martha Stewart. I think it's silly to McGyver a centerpiece out of a pile of drycleaning hangers, blue glitter and five pinecones, but it's a pretty harmless (if silly) way for folks to pass the time if they choose. Why people let this woman intimidate them into trying to grow their own organic wheat and find a mill to grind it is beyond me. Besides, Cooks Illustrated has her beat for OCD tendencies.

This is actually one of those Sensitive Topics that I can't discuss with my mother, whose head spins around whenever The Martha's name is mentioned. Look Mom, one of your grandkids is doing something cute in the dining room! Nothing to see here, and the cookies I've sent have all been Martha-free. We're good, right?

I do happen to like a lot of her recipes. This is a wonderful summer drink from the Everyday Food division of the MS Empire - I use frozen grapefruit juice, a culinary decision based (as usual) on cost. I imagine vodka would mix in well for an adult bevvie, but I've always enjoyed it as written. That and I just can't drink when it's hot out - I want water, lemonade, or this.

1 piece fresh ginger root, 3 inches long (peeled and thinly sliced) - jarred ginger doesn't cut it; spring literally 30 cents for the real thing
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
4 cups fresh ruby-red grapefruit juice (or frozen/bottled, for those of us impervious to Martha Shame)
1 can (12 oz.) club soda

In a small saucepan, combine ginger, sugar, honey and ¼ cup water. Heat over medium, stirring until sugar dissolves, 2 minutes

Place grapefruit juice in a pitcher. Strain ginger syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into grapefruit juice. To serve, pour juice mixture over ice, and top off with a splash of club soda.

Monday, June 16, 2008

O, Really?

I checked back in with Oprah on her famous-in-the-foodie-world foray into veganism [See last month's post "O, Please"]. Her personal chef is unavailable this week so she's had to wing it. Kathy Freston, who I'm guessing is her nutritionist, chimed in with this:

"When you enjoy bread, try and make it an occasional treat. If you can, make it as unprocessed as possible. Whole grains with few added ingredients are best, of course. The more you eat varied and colorful vegetables and plant based protein, the less you will crave bread. You will be getting so much fiber and vitamins and nutrition that your cravings will permanently reset."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but every single civilization in the history of this big blue marble has found a way to make bread. Two kinds if they were feeling fancy and not under attack by warring tribes. Demonize Frankenfoods and high-fructose corn syrup and pesticides, but hands off the bread.

Signing off from my second home, Panera,

P.S. And the more I think about it, the more I take issue with the idea that my cravings "will permanently reset" as a result of fiber and vitamins. If that were true, wouldn't taking vitamins make all of us turn our noses up at potato chips and brownies? And yet, the Best Product Of The Nineties is Viactiv, the chewy chocolate calcium supplement. They're not hurting for business. Neither is Frito-Lay OR GNC. Sorry, O and O's dietician, the logic just ain't there.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Food Porn

At the afore-mentioned barbecue contest a friend of a friend told us about the farmer's market at St. Phillip's. We hung on every word, listening to her talk about the beautiful, tender lettuces and the frothy fronds of fennel and the round, firm... you get the idea.

So how could I not go? I checked it out this morning (Saturdays only, 8:30 - 11) and it was just incredible. Veggies right off the farm, homemade breads, treats from a bakery on Sweet Auburn, fresh herbs, local honey, gorgeous bouquets... you name it. FABULOUS. And if I'm lucky some of the fresh oregano I bought will root and - dare I dream? - it won't die when planted in actual earth, even if Sweetie does describe my gardening as "She's a human Agent Orange. Never seen anything like it."

Since the zucchini was fresh off the farm, and I have a leisurely Saturday to put some time into dinner, I'm pulling out this fabulous Cooking Light recipe for Eight-Ball Zucchini Parmesan. It works perfectly well with regular zucchini (says she, who had never seen a 8-ball zucchini before buying one this morning).

We'll serve this with some heirloom tomatoes from the farmers' market on the side. It doesn't call for oregano and I have no idea why; it's wonderful in the dish, especially fresh*. Some of the fresh oregano will be used later in the week for the Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin... stay tuned.

Eight-Ball Zucchini Parmesan

1 (1-ounce) slice French bread, torn into small pieces (or, for those of us riff-raffy enough to possess boxed breadcrumbs, use those)
6 eight-ball zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup packed spinach leaves
8 basil leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, peeled and quartered (about 5 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup chopped plum tomato
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Flat-leaf parsley sprigs (optional)
[Note: I also brown some Italian chicken sausage and include it in the mix to up the protein]

Preheat oven to 350°.
Place bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1 cup. Set aside.

Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise; scoop out pulp, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell. Set pulp aside. Steam zucchini shells, covered, 6 minutes or until tender. Drain, cut sides down, on several layers of heavy-duty paper towels.

Place zucchini pulp in food processor; process until finely chopped. Spoon into a bowl. Place spinach, basil, garlic, and onion in food processor; process until finely chopped.

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add spinach mixture; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini pulp, tomato, and salt; cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in breadcrumbs.

Fill each zucchini half with about 2 1/2 tablespoons zucchini mixture. Sprinkle evenly with cheese. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until cheese melts. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

6 servings (serving size: 2 zucchini halves)

Nutritional Information
CALORIES 67(30% from fat); FAT 2.2g (sat 0.9g,mono 0.9g,poly 0.3g); IRON 0.8mg; CHOLESTEROL 3mg; CALCIUM 87mg; CARBOHYDRATE 9g; SODIUM 316mg; PROTEIN 4g; FIBER 2g

*You get the most punch from fresh herbs by adding them at the end of the cooking time. I minced the oregano and sprinkled it on top of the cheese, about 10 minutes before it was done.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

These Loaves & Fishes Need A Little Something...

For years a hardy band of us have brought dinner to the Synagogue-run homeless shelter during Passover. Now that our church has efficient-ized that program, the group's considerable talents have been applied to another shelter, this time for homeless families.

Should you find yourself with a need to feed 30 people this recipe, quadrupled, will do the trick. As a single-family dish it goes very well with real ham, the ham-flavored turkey that's so good, or fried chicken.

SCALLOPED CORN, single-family size
Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook

1/2 cup chopped red or green sweet pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1/3 cup shredded carrot
f1/4 cup water
1 14 3/4 or 16-ounce can cream-style corn
1 8 3/4-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
1 cup milk
1 cup coarsely crushed saltine crackers (about 20 crackers)
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 slightly beaten eggs
1/4 cup shredded cheddar

1. Grease a 2-quart square baking dish - set aside. In a small saucepan combine sweet pepper, onion, carrot, and water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 5 - 7 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Drain well, pressing out excess liquid.

[Note: That's really the long way 'round.... put the vegetables in a microwave-safe bowl with 1 or 2 TBSP water, cover with plastic and poke a few venting holes. Steam for 2 1/2 or 3 minutes. Drain through the venting holes. Done.]

2. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, stir together the cream-style corn, whole kernel corn, milk, crushed crackers, the 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, and eggs. Stir in the cooked vegetables. Transfer mixture to the prepared baking dish.

3. Bake, uncovered, in a 325-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or till center is set. Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.

If you quadruple the recipe, you'll need to add an extra cup - for a total of 5 cups - of crushed crackers. As a single-family serving the proportions work fine with the recipe as written, but once the quantities are increased it gets too liquid without the extra crackers. We usually cook the quadruple size in large disposable foil pans; you'll either need 2 pans per casserole (to support the weight) or to put the pans on cookie sheets.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This Just In....

Tomatoes are out (due to salmonella, which always sounds like Sal Morello, with whom I went to school from third grade until graduation). Green onions, after a brief association with e.coli, are back in.

High-fructose corn syrup is out.

Locally-sourced foods are in. So is exploring other cultures' foods, so get that garden ready for lemongrass, galangal, and keffir lime!

Genetically modified foods are suspect, but hybrid foods (pluot, anyone?) are not.

"Foods your great-grandmother made" are in, but so are steak tartare turned into a wafer and chickpeas turned into little pyramids with a mousse center.

Low-carb is way out, vegetarian is in. PB&J on white bread is out as a kids' meal but in for grown-ups as a kitschy retro treat (probably about $9 at Agnes & Muriel's).

Folks, I can't keep up. This business of food trends requires more energy than I'm willing to expend on something that doesn't improve mileage or wag its tail. Years ago, when grapes were being touted for their terrific stores of resveratrol (an anti-oxidant; that's a good thing) and simultaneously reviled because of the poor treatment of the Chilean grape farm workers, I gave up. My efforts to save the world are completely unaffected by grapes and I'm not going to pretend otherwise.

Barbecue is in. So are barbecue contests, and I had the good fortune to go to one earlier this week and support a friend who entered some amazing jerk chicken. I do hope the so-called "White Barbecue" in the Alabamistan* style was disqualified. My sweetie talks about how runners have a real sense of community, and it was great to see the same thing happening at the contest, paricularly since they all had access to sharp knives and open flame. And alcohol, too - someone had the incredible idea to include a wine tasting at said event.

Me: What have we here?
Wine table attendant: This is a red Zinfandel.

Uncomfortable silence

Me: It's a sad, sad day when you have to say that Zinfandel is red. Will Bad Eighties never die?
Wine table attendant: We had a group cry about that earlier.

I hope they had a nice Barbera for consolation.

*I have nothing against Alabama; I just have a lot of West Virginia and New Jersey jokes that need to be repurposed for Georgia living.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Meatloaf Lady - And A Salad

There have been studies on muscle memory - how about food memory?

My family is grappling with Alzheimer's issues, and I made a trip up to Virginia this weekend. My loved one recognizes me as a safe person who cares about him but, frankly, has no idea how he might have made my acquaintance.

Until I mentioned meatloaf. On my previous trips I've always made a few and tucked them away in the freezer to be used as Gift Food is used - when you're too busy to cook or when you really need to know that someone loves you enough to spend ten minutes making sure you eat properly. He has just always had a thing for my meatloaf.

So when I mentioned it his face lit up - that's who she is! She's The Meatloaf Lady! I'm honored that it made an impression, and that there's something he remembers positively about me when so very much of his memory is inaccessible to him. It was also a good reminder that I don't want my dinner memories 50 years from now to be triggered by the smell of Smartfood popcorn while I'm doing 65 down the highway.

While I was in Virginia I stopped by my old college hangout and ordered my favorite salad. Talk about food triggering a memory! It turns out that salad is really good when you're not sleep deprived and/or hung over. Once back in Atlanta I made my own version and it made me so happy that I immediately put together another to bring to work for lunch.

And as for the rest of the trip... know how you can tell a wedding has a lot of AA members? They run out of WATER at the bar.

Stephanie's "Feel Smug About Eating Healthfully" Salad

Grilled Chicken (I used some Trader Joe's Mojito Simmer Sauce) OR Grilled Steak (I made some for Sweetie, using a little Caribbean jerk seasoning)
Cubed canteloupe
Sliced strawberries (they didn't seem to go with beef, so I left them off the salad w/steak. That sounds reasonable and not at all like I was keeping all the strawberries for myself, doesn't it?)
Crumbled feta

The original had cubes of Jack and Cheddar cheeses, but I'm hoping I saved a few calories by using less feta than I would cubed cheese. The restaurant served a raspberry vinaigrette with it that I didn't much care for. Your choice of dressing is going to depend largely on how you season the chicken or steak.

Oh, and I suppose it's appropriate to include the meatloaf how-to's... I've actually never eaten this myself, but when my friends started having babies I learned to make it as a good post-hospital dinner. It's entirely possible my friends BS'ed me when they said they liked it, but there's a sweet senior citizen about 8 hours away who couldn't be lying on this one.

Ground meat - 2 parts beef, one part pork
Breadcrumbs (unseasoned)
1 8-oz. can of tomato sauce
Shredded carrot
Shredded zucchini
Worcestershire sauce
Oregano, thyme, onion powder or granulated onion, and black pepper
A few dashes of Frank's Red Hot sauce
1 egg

Combine all with your hands. Shape into a loaf and put into loaf pan. Brush a mixture of ketchup and barbecue sauce on the top. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour.