Monday, February 27, 2012

Project: Cupboard

The other day, I opened my cupboard and found half used bags of millet and quinoa; chickpea flour remnants, and leftover pinto beans from chili night.  As you may have gathered from the photo above, there was more confusion over odds and ends like wheat bran and wheat germ.  I realize this conundrum isn't exactly earth shattering, but it was driving me crazy.  Remember this post, when I shared my slight neurosis about eating broken food and longing for organization?  Well, that quirk is all out in the open now.  There's no hiding it anymore.  You have an exclusive behind the scenes look into my new cupboard.  While that announcement may have sounded a lot like a feature on Inside Edition, I'm pretty sure this story isn't quite newsworthy enough, lacking prominence and certainly, significance.  It wouldn't have made the cut.  However, mismatched bags have been whisked away into uniform jars, everyone finding their respective place.  Tucked away like little toy soldiers, beans, grains, and flours stand in a row, waiting to be called into action.  I thought some of you might be interested in having a look.  If you're yawning, I'm not at all insulted and promise to return next time around with a new recipe.  In any case, here's how it went down in case some of you, who may also have compulsive tendencies, (no judgment) decide to jump on the organization bandwagon (no pressure).  

I took everything, and I mean everything, out of the cabinets.  I collected all those half used bags and gave the shelves a good cleaning before heading out to the dollar store.  I found the glass jars guessed it, one dollar.  They can hold sixteen ounces and since many of my goods come in one-pound bags, they worked out perfectly.  Being a tad too eager to get my project under way, I also managed to knock over and break a glass while wiping out the store's jar supply.  I did offer to pay for the glass, but the manager assured me it happens all the time.  She was just happy she said, that it wasn't a jar full of peaches, or worse, vinegar, both of which she now despises after inhaling during the length of her shift.  Understandable.  Although I did feel a pang of sadness, given the fact she may not be enjoying pickles quite like the rest of us.

When I returned home, I divvied up the jars and created three categories.  There was the beans/lentils/grains category, the seeds/nuts category.  And last but not least, the flours/oats category.  The larger jars you see below I received as a Christmas gift.  Those would house the bulkier guys I use more frequently; whole wheat flour, oats, and brown rice.  Goodbye chip clips, rubber bands, and Ziploc bags.  Hello uniformity.  I resisted the urge to buy a label maker for this project alone, although it would have been the proverbial cherry on top.  As I returned each one back to the cabinet, what could only be described as organizational euphoria rushed over me, a feeling matched only by that time I purged the old clothes in my closet.  I could finally see the contents of my cupboard at first glance.  Organization feels so good people.  

And while we're on the subject of stocking a cupboard, you may be wondering what I keep in mine.  Here's a look at what I generally like to keep around.  

Seeds/Nuts: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia or flax seeds, almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, and pine nuts

Beans/Lentils/Grains: garbanzo, black beans, pinto, lima beans, sixteen bean mix, mung beans, cannelloni beans, red lentils, green lentils, black lentils, brown rice, white or basmati rice, black rice, quinoa, farro, millet, bulgur, wheat berries, barley, and amaranth

Flours/Oats: all purpose unbleached flour, whole-wheat flour, rye flour, almond meal, wholemeal flour, chickpea flour, old-fashioned oats, wheat bran, and wheat germ

I also keep a selection of pasta and couscous on hand including semolina, brown rice, and whole wheat varieties.  You'll also find udon and soba noodles tucked in there.

Do you have any organization tips?  What are your pantry staples?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Scrambled Eggs with Dill and Goat Cheese

These are honestly the only scrambled eggs I'll ever need.  On the rare occasion I go out for breakfast, I secretly wish I could order a plate of these.  Instead I order poached eggs or maybe pancakes, shying away from scrambled.  Scrambled eggs can be a gamble at a breakfast joint.  I don't mean to complain, but when I've changed out of my pajamas and trudged out into the cold, I want it to be really great.  It's hard to mess up breakfast.  When it's good, it's great.  When it's bad, it's really bad.  And here's what I know.  I can only get eggs this good at home, tossed in my trusty cast iron pan.  This ensures buttery, moist, and fluffy scrambled eggs each and every time.  Since there's no wait time, we get to enjoy them piping hot just seconds after coming off the pan.  This is the only way to do it friends.  Scrambled eggs can't get much better than this.  We've declared these scrambled eggs our favorite.

Slivers of red onion, tangy goat cheese, and fresh dill sneak into fluffy eggs.  I'm not sure how this idea came to be.  I like to toss herbs into my eggs and threw this together one morning.  I've been making scrambled eggs this way ever since.  There are a few pointers worth mentioning, including getting the best eggs you can find.  I often pick up a dozen fresh eggs at a local farm the day before I plan on making a weekend breakfast.  The same goes for goat cheese.  Seek out good quality.  If you have access to a local or artisan variety, that's a sure bet.  Vermont creamery artisan cheese is one I turn to.  If you start with good ingredients, especially since there are so few here, you'll get a good end result.  And one last pointer; don't overcook your eggs.  You'll want to take them off just a moment or so before you think you should.  They'll work out just fine.  It's a sure bet.

~Scrambled Eggs with Dill and Goat Cheese Recipe~

5 organic eggs
3 tbsp milk or water
4-5 red onion slices from a mandolin
1 tbsp freshly chopped dill
1 tbsp butter
1 oz crumbled goat cheese, plus additional for serving
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk eggs with milk or water in a large bowl.  Add in chopped dill and whisk again.  In a large cast iron pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Once it starts sizzling, add red onion slices.  Cook for less than a minute, just enough to take the raw edge off.  Reduce heat and pour eggs into the pan.  Sprinkle with goat cheese.  Wait a few seconds until they settle and set.  Begin to scrape from the edges, lifting the eggs towards the center and folding.  Cook just until done, even pulling off right before.  They will continue to cook once you take them off the skillet.  Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Top with additional goat cheese if desired.  Serves 2.   

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Garlicky Kale Chips

Apparently kale chips are all the rage.  I finally caught up to speed.  I first encountered kale chips at a restaurant, where if my memory serves me correctly, were scattered around my veggie burger.  While it might be a stretch to call these chips, they do have a chip-esque quality of sorts.  Once I looked beyond their uber green appearance, I was met with a delicate yet crispy, salty bite.  They got to me.  I might even say they became a bit addictive, as much as a green chip can become addictive I suppose.

With a bunch of kale loitering in my crisper drawer, it was high time I made good on my promise to recreate them at home.  I went with a garlic and sea salt combination.  I also added nutritional yeast after pulling them from the oven.  It lends a nutty, cheesy taste that works well with the garlic.  You vegans out there know what I'm talking about.  Turning kale into a snack food seems like a noble thing to do and if it gets you, or I, to eat more greens due to their 'chip' classification, I'll call it a success.  I really enjoyed this first batch.  They're everything you want in a snack when a salty craving hits.  I'll be adding them to my ever-evolving snack arsenal.  My mind is already at work concocting combinations to try next time around.  Lemon or lime juice and cumin could work well.  So might paprika or cayenne pepper, or maybe a sesame seed topping.  Have you made kale chips before?  If so, what flavors do you work into your batches?  If you're brave enough to give these a go, let me know how they turn out for you.

~Garlicky Kale Chips Recipe~
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1 bunch curly kale
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp garlic powder
sea salt, to taste
sprinkle of nutritional yeast 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Wash and dry kale very well.  This will ensure it crisps and doesn't steam in the oven.  Cut the middle stem and tough center.  Tear or cut into large pieces.  Toss with olive oil on a large baking sheet.  Sprinkle with garlic powder and sea salt, tossing once more.  Arrange kale leaves in a single layer.  Bake for about 25 minutes, tossing halfway through.  You want them crispy but be careful not to burn.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with nutritional yeast.  Let cool and serve.  These are best enjoyed right away.  I learned first hand they don't keep well in a plastic bag and will turn soft and wilt.  Serves 2.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blood Orange Spritzer

A few days ago, Donny came down with a bug.  So I did what any caring wife would do.  I opened all the windows, threw the sheets in the wash, and disinfected any and every surface he may have come in contact with over the last forty-eight hours.  And maybe now that I've typed out the preceding order of events, my intentions didn't come across as caring as I hoped.  No, it comes across as a little selfish.  You see, I was crossing my fingers and hoping this bug wouldn't bite me too.  I was simply taking necessary precautions.  You understand.

But there is a more caring aspect to this story.  I let the teapot come to a boil and put a loaf of rye bread in the oven.  I had a hunch this would be the only thing he could hold down.  And while he was stuck on the couch, home from work for the very first time I could ever remember, I headed out on a mission.  I made a pit stop at an orchard near work.  They happen to be open year round, turning out batches of homemade pies and soups in the winter.  I spotted bins of citrus as soon as I walked in, and after closer investigation, found a box of oranges with that distinct dark color on the rind.  Blood oranges.  I was hoping I would find them.  I filled a bag with a dozen or so, because I had a game plan for my sick Valentine.

No ginger ale.  No Gatorade.  I had an elixir in mind that didn't involve high fructose corn syrup or red dye number forty.  No, this drink would be of the natural variety and it would be a stunner.  A glass of freshly squeezed crimson juice topped off with sparkling water.  Who could resist that?  It's reminiscent of Italian soda, minus the sugary syrup.  These oranges were so sweet they didn't need it.  I noshed on a few as I made the spritzer.  They had the familiar taste of citrus notes, but something deeper lingering beyond the surface, raspberries perhaps.  They're delicious; a perfect pick me up for a cold February day.  Being high in both antioxidants and vitamin C, I was hopeful this bloody concoction would get Donny back on his feet.  

Later that day, I poured the blood orange spritzers into wine glasses, an early Valentine's Day gesture.  Sure, it was a few days early, but that didn't matter so much.  The actual date has never been of much significance to me.  It's the smaller moments like these, the little gestures on the most typical of days.  These are what add up to the best love stories.  We toasted.  We drank.  We ate the triangle slices off the rinds.  I felt lucky to be in love. 

Donny's back on his feet and up to his usual antics.  Before sitting down to write this post today, I found a bottle of blood orange olive oil sitting in the kitchen.  I had been lusting over it for quite some time.  It's a small batch oil made with organic Moro blood oranges and California olives.  Now that...that's love.  And while the bug made it's way out, it looks like the blood oranges are here to stay.  And of the two, I'm happy the latter decided to linger.

~Blood Orange Spritzer Recipe~

1 cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice, from 8 oranges
sparkling water
2 orange slices to garnish

Halve blood oranges and squeeze out juice.  A reamer helps with this process if you have one.  It should yield about one cup of juice.  Divide the juice into two wine glasses.  Add some ice and top off with sparkling water.  Garnish each glass with an orange slice.  Serves 2.          

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Smashed Paprika Baby Potatoes

I've been told that as a child I would not eat anything broken.  This included crackers, sandwiches, and the like.  Perhaps this was the first evidence of the perfectionist gene rearing its ugly head, the first-born syndrome on display.  So imagine how cracking and smashing perfectly round potatoes doesn't sit well with me.  They split and fall apart in a chaotic mess, every potato taking a various broken shape of sorts.  Some don't hold together at all, and it irks me.  I like whole food.  I like perfect food.  But the thing is, I love this method for the crusty fried and creamy potato it yields.  And so, against my better judgment, I stand poised with a heavy glass, smashing the potatoes one by one, watching the skin crack.  I try to brush it off.  It's no big deal I say, but the hair on the back of my neck stands up, and I secretly want to scream DO-OVER! and put the pieces back together.  I try to let it go.

The idea for these potatoes came about during a visit to a spice shop of all places; a small shop in Cambridge lined with all things exotic; dried herbs, teas, grains, flours, heirloom beans, and legumes.  It's the kind of place I lose track of time in, inspecting bottles of intriguing spices and imagining earthy floral scents wafting from kitchens tucked in far away corners of the world.  I stocked up on some moth beans, Lebanese couscous, chickpea flour, whole nutmeg, and a beautiful bottle of bright red paprika.  I also have a newfound urge to clean out my pantry, more on that later.  On my way out of the shop, I remembered the bag of tiny colorful potatoes sitting in my passenger seat from the market, which decidedly would collide with the paprika.

The potatoes and paprika flirted together in my cast iron pan the following morning and were served for Sunday brunch with scrambled eggs and toast.  It was a breakfast of champions.  I have a soft spot for baby potatoes, and purple ones at that.  The trick to these potatoes is to boil them first, crack and smash them second, and fry them last.  They crisp up in a bath of steamy hot oil and onions.  The blacked onions are equally as charming as the potatoes.  They're messy and far from perfect, but need no fixing. I've found the same to hold true with most fruits and vegetables these days.  Often the best tasting varieties have a bruise or two, are a bit maimed, or present themselves in odd shapes.  I'm becoming more open to these ugly ducklings and underdogs.  Perfectionism is overrated anyways.  I'm learning to love broken food for both its quirky nature and standout flavor.  It feels good to let go.

~Smashed Paprika Baby Potatoes Recipe~

1 1/2 lb mixed baby potato varieties (I used 12)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 tsp paprika
chopped cilantro for garnishing

Clean and scrub potatoes.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Boil potatoes for 10-15 minutes, until they can easily be pierced with a knife.  The time will vary depending on the size of your potatoes.  You can also do this step ahead of time, storing your cooked potatoes until you are ready to fry them off.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and paprika, cooking for a few minutes to break the onion down.  Once potatoes have finished cooking, drain and set aside.  Let cool until they can be easily handled.  Place on a solid work surface.  Using the bottom of a glass, rolling pin, or masher, push down slightly until the potatoes crack.  Place potatoes into the skillet.  Cook for about 10 minutes on each side, or until brown and crispy.  You'll also want to flip the onions as you flip the potatoes.  Serves 4, as a side.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Banana Almond Butter Smoothie

I polish off a jar of almond butter each week.  One lives in the fridge and a backup emergency jar resides in my cupboard.  I spread it over warm sesame toast in the morning and smear it over crisp red apple wedges in the afternoon.  Although most often, you can find me eating heaping scoops right off a spoon in my pajamas.  It's true.  I'm very glamorous.  There's something about salty nutty butter that has me coming back again and again, spoonful after spoonful.  Another way to enjoy almond butter? Why, in a smoothie of course.

I've shared a few juice recipes, but have yet to share a smoothie recipe.  So for those of you who mentioned you don't have a juicer, this recipe is for you.  It's made right in the blender with only three ingredients, ok four if you count the ice cubes, but I consider those a freebie.  This oh-so-satisfying smoothie is packed with potassium and protein.  I often make it as a mid-morning snack after a workout.  I'd categorize it as a better-for-you version of a childhood milkshake.  A ripe banana lends a sweet flavor without the need for additional sweeteners.  It's super creamy, thick, rich, and frothy.  I top it with chopped almonds for some crunchy texture.  If you find yourself stuck in a breakfast rut, break out your blender and give this a whirl.  And bonus, it's much easier to clean a blender than it is a juicer.  Cheers to that.

~Banana Almond Butter Smoothie Recipe~

1 ripe banana
2 tbsp almond butter
3/4 cup almond milk
3 ice cubes
chopped almonds to garnish

Combine banana, almond butter, almond milk and ice cubes in a blender.  Process until pureed and mixture is smooth.  Pour into a glass.  Makes 1 serving, 12 ounces. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Spinach Pesto Farro

Read the following and allow each word to be swallowed up your senses.  Emerald green spinach pesto blanketing chewy nutty farro morsels.  Sun-dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and wilted sweet onions.  Slivers of shaved salty Pecorino Romano rests on the pile.  Are you with me?  It's a seriously delicious concoction.  I wish I could offer you a bite before we move forward.  My description and photos will have to suffice.  I hope I do it justice.  When I notice dwindling portions from the white bowl in my fridge, I anxiously check the pantry and take stock of my farro supply in preparation for the next batch.  

Farro makes me think of the word pharaoh, which isn't too far off.  Farro is one of our oldest grains, also known as emmer wheat.  Emmer wheat was cultivated in ancient Egypt and used in both bread and beer.  Today, farro is common in Italy and parts of Europe and is enjoying a surge here as well.  If you think it looks suspiciously like health food, you'd be right.  People are discovering it for that very reason.  Farro resembles little kernels that puff as they cook.  I typically reach for semi-pearled farro.  A portion of the bran has been removed and it cuts down on cooking time.  It's incredibly easy to prepare.  It retains a slightly chewy and firm texture after cooking.  With a nutty sweet flavor, it's more distinct I think than some of the other grains I cook with.  If you can't find farro you could substitute wheat berries or barley in its place.

This recipe is a great example of how easily you can swap out pasta for a whole grain.  Having said that, I don't want to mislead you into thinking this is a quick weeknight dinner, because it's not.  There are a few steps involved, but I assure you it's worth the effort, as each component works so well together.  I'll often make this on a Sunday when I have more time and heat it up during the week for lunch.  You could make the pesto ahead of time too.

I take this in a few different directions using seasonal ingredients.  In the spring, I'll add fresh asparagus to the mix with a little goat cheese.  Come summer I'll chop fresh juicy tomatoes in lieu of sun-dried and chiffonade some basil over top.  You could even swap out pine nuts.  Toasted hazelnuts might be nice.  However, I'm partial to the pine nuts, being similar in shape and size to farro.  But feel free to experiment.  It's open for all kinds of interpretation.  I hope I've convinced you to give farro a try.  Just remember to ask for farro (FAHR-oh), not pharaoh, or you might get some confused looks in the grocery store.  I hope you love it as much as I do.

~Spinach Pesto Farro Recipe~

2 cups Italian semi-pearled farro
5 cups water
4 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (1/4 cup reserved)
1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano 
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of sea salt
1 onion, sliced and 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
6-8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped*
shaved Pecorino Romano to garnish

Cook farro:
In a saucepan, combine water and farro and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  The cooking time can vary by brands, some requiring 30 minutes.  Check the instructions on the bag you've purchased.  I tend to taste a few morsels as I move along.  You want it to be 'al dente,' but don't let it go too far.  Also, keep in mind, if you've purchased whole farro, not semi-pearled farro, you should soak the grains overnight.  Your cooking time will take 45 minutes to an hour.

Toast pine nuts and cook onion:
While the farro is cooking, heat a cast iron or skillet pan over medium heat.  Let the pine nuts go for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Keep your eye on them.  Your nose will tell you when they're done.  Reserve half the pine nuts as a topping.  The other 1/4 cup will be used in the pesto.  Wipe out pan and add a teaspoon of olive oil.  Cook sliced onion for a few minutes over medium heat until it wilts down and put it aside.

Make spinach pesto:
In a food processor, combine spinach leaves, garlic, 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, Pecorino Romano, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt.  Pulse for a few seconds.  Scrape down the sides and give it another whirl until combined.  

Pull it all together:
Drain any excess water from the farro.  In a large bowl fold the spinach pesto into the warm farro.  Transfer to a serving platter from here, or simply assemble right in the same bowl.  Top with wilted onion, sun-dried tomatoes, reserved pine nuts, and shavings of Pecorino Romano.  Serves 4.

*A word about the sun-dried tomatoes.  I recently caught on to those packed in small bags for a great bargain.  Simply rehydrate them in a bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes.  Alternatively, you could use sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil.  Just make note of the flavor it will bring to the dish if they are packed with additional herbs or seasoning.