Friday, October 31, 2014

Bleeding Barley

OK, it's Halloween, so gross is rather in style. :-) This recipe isn't as disgusting as the title would indicate. The "blood" comes from beets, which are scary for lots of folks. I love beets - they are little sweet like carrots but more earthy. Some would argue that's a nice way of saying they taste like dirt. Try them like this before you dismiss them.

The best way to cook them is either roasted or in the microwave. Boiling them is an option too, but I like the microwave better. You don't need to peel them before cooking them. The peel is easier to remove after they are cooked. I suggest you use latex gloves when peeling and cutting up beets. They will turn your hands bright pink to blood red. Which would be fitting on Halloween, now that I think of it.

Not a true risotto - that's made with short-grain rice - barley risotto has a similar creamy texture and cooked in the same way. It's less expensive; pearl barley is inexpensive while arborio rice can be pricey. The stirring releases the starch, which is what gives risotto its creamy texture, not cream or butter. Though many recipes say you need to stir constantly, that's not really necessary. Stirring every few minutes is sufficient. Yes, it takes some work but not too much.

Bleeding Barley
(serves 4 as a light entree, 6 as a side dish)

3 medium beets, about 12 oz.
6-7 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 Tablespoons butter
¼ cup minced onion (or 1 Tablespoon dried minced onion)
2 cups pearl barley
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
cheese (optional)

Trim the off the leaves and cut the stem within 1" of the beets. Trim off the hairy tip of the root. Wash well. Using a large kitchen fork, poke each beet a few times. Rub them with oil. Place in a microwaveable dish with a couple of tablespoons of water and cover. Microwave on high 10 minutes. Give the a poke with a paring knife to see if they are tender. When they are cooked, the knife will go in easily. If not fully cooked, move them around in the dish, recover, and cook for another few minutes. Uncover and let cool for 5 minutes. Peel them with a paring knife and dice. Set aside.

Bring the stock to a simmer and keep it there. Heat the butter in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and stir. Cook until softened, 2 minutes. Add the barley, and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add 1 cup of stock, and stir frequently until all the stock is absorbed. Maintain a simmer - reduce to medium-low if the stock sizzles when you add it. When the previous addition of stock is absorbed, add another cup of stock and continue stirring and cooking until the barley is tender, about 30-40 minutes. You need to try it to see if it's done at 30 minutes. It should be slightly chewy but not hard in the center. If it's not done, add more stock and keep going.

Add diced beets, last tablespoon of butter and black pepper, and mix to melt butter and incorporate the beets. The risotto will turn a lovely shade of pink. Taste for salt. If your stock is salted, you may not need any more. To serve, grate or crumble on cheese, if using. Creamy goat cheese is the traditional complement to beets, but you can use Parmesan, blue cheese, or an aged sheep cheese like Manchego instead.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dan-Dan Noodles

Another recipe from my class this week, a vegetarian version of a popular street food in China. There is quite a bit of interpretation in this recipe. I'm not sure what makes it Dan-Dan noodles besides spicy (as it came out of Sichuan cuisine) and noodles. I'm even willing to drop the spicy if it gets you to try it out.

You can use fresh noodles, even Italian pasta such as fettucini or linguine. Or you can use dried Chinese egg noodles. If you are very ambitious, you can make you own egg pasta. Takes a bit of time and elbow grease rolling it out. Lots of fun and the resulting pasta has a very satisfying bite. I understand if you want this to be fast and easy, though.

Many of the recipes use stir fried ground pork. This is vegetarian, and I substituted tofu for the pork. The tofu, which is pretty bland stuff on its own, absorbs the sauce nicely, as do the noodles. My students, some who said they didn't care for tofu, declared it quite tasty.

Dan-Dan Noodles
(serves 4)

3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 scallion, minced
1 teaspoon chile oil (optional or use more if you like hot)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

14-16 oz. soft tofu, cut into small cubes
½ pound fresh egg noodles or 6 oz. dried noodles
2 Tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts

In a large bowl, combine the sauce ingredients. Add the cubed tofu and gently toss so the tofu doesn't break apart.

Cook the noodles in a large pot of water until just tender. Drain and put in the bowl with the sauce. Toss to cover the noodles in the sauce. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts. When serving, use a spoon to make sure you get the tofu along with the noodles.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cabbage Dumplings

Class this week! My students requested dumplings and noodles. We're making our own noodles - pasta is easy and fun - and adding some Asian sauces. We are not making our own dumpling wrappers however. Thank goodness for decent wonton wrappers in most every well-stocked supermarket! This is a vegetarian dumpling, stuffed with cabbage and shiitakes. It's served with a simple hot-sour-spicy dipping sauce.

Using a cole slaw mix makes this a bit quicker. It's a lot cheaper to chop your own cabbage but we're trading money for time in this recipe. There are often large pieces of cabbage or carrot in the cole slaw mix. Quickly chop the cole slaw to cut down any chunks. This makes it easier to put in the wrappers later.

Leftover filling makes a good Asian "frittata." I'll be posting that super-simple recipe later this week.

Cabbage Dumplings with Hot and Sour Dipping Sauce
(makes a bunch, about 30)

14 oz. bag cole slaw mix, chopped into small bits
6 fresh shiitakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, minced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 ½ Tablespoons soy sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

1 package (around 1 pound) round wonton wrappers
non-stick cooking spray

Hot and Sour Dipping Sauce
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
3 Tablespoons cider or rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
chile oil, Siracha sauce, or chile garlic paste (optional)

Remove the stems from the shiitakes (stems are too tough to eat but you can add them to soup for flavoring). Chop caps into small bits. Mix with the cole slaw.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the oil. Add the garlic and scallions. Stir fry for 20 seconds. Add the cole slaw mix. Stir fry until the cabbage is no longer crunchy, stirring so that it doesn't burn. It's OK to get a little char; this brings out the sweetness in the cabbage but you don't want to incinerate it. Add the soy sauce, salt, and pepper. Stir until the soy has been absorbed by the cabbage. Remove from the heat and add the sesame oil. Stir then let it cool for 10 minutes in the fridge.

To wrap dumplings, place 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of the wrapper. Carefully pick up the wrapper in your hand and hold in your palm. Using 1 finger on your other hand, smear a little bit of water along the edge of half of the wrapper. Press the edges together to seal. If you want to impress your friends, learn how to pleat the edge but that's just showing off. :-) Fill and seal all the dumplings.

Put an inch of water in a pot that fits the steamer and bring to a boil. Spray the steamer with cooking spray and place the dumplings in the steamer in a single layer and not touching (or they will stick together). Place in the pot over boiling water. Cover and steam for 8 minutes. Serve with dipping sauce.

To make the dipping sauce: combine soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and chile oil in a small bowl and mix to dissolve the sugar. The soy and the vinegar are the base. If you like it really sour, leave out the sugar. If you like it spicy, add the chile oil/sauce.

Dumplings can be made ahead then frozen. If frozen, cook for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Corn Chowder

As an Ambassador for Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, I get challenges each month. One was to cook the Food Revolution recipe for corn chowder and the other was to use leftovers. I had frozen corn, leftover bacon, leftover stock, and leftover cream. Sounds like the start of corn chowder to me. This recipe ended up being a combination of two of his recipes: the Food Revolution one and one he posted as his Recipe of the Day. It's not very thick because there is only a small bit of cream. Feel free to use any type of cream you have in your fridge, even the half&half you usually put in your coffee.

Corn Chowder
(serves 6-8)

1 large stalk celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 slices thick bacon, chopped
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
8 cups chicken or turkey stock
3 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 medium boiling potatoes, cut into ½" dice
½ to 1 teaspoon black pepper, depending on your taste
½ cup cream (half & half, light, or heavy)
4 Tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish

Heat the oil and bacon in a soup pot. Once the bacon fat starts to melt, add the celery and onion. Cook slowly so the onions don't brown until the vegetables are soft, 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the corn, potatoes, black pepper, and salt*.  When the soup returns to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add the cream and cook for 5 more minutes until hot. Check for seasonings. Garnish with parsley before serving.

*The amount of salt will depend on what kind of stock you use. My stock was unsalted and I needed a little bit more than 1 teaspoon. If your stock is salted, don't add any at this point and taste at the end to add more if you need it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Savory Apples: a Fish and Apple Curry

I love Autumn and I love apples in Autumn. I grew up in New York State, a state with a lot of apple orchards - it's number #2 for apple-growing states (Washington is far and away the leader). Where I grew up, ancient orchards are interspersed with many a subdivision and the smell of ripe apples is everywhere. We would head to the local orchard for freshly pressed cider which was another treat of Fall.

After reading this article in The Atlantic, I started to wonder if my love affair with apples was shared widely. If you spent your life eating Red Delicious apples, probably not. I have shared your disillusionment with the apple - so many awful apples in box lunches, convenience stores, cafeterias. Please seek out some better apple varieties; I posted a list of common apple varieties and their seasons which can help you out. It's not complete. Apple breeders keep coming up with new varieties - thank goodness - because it would be a sad world with just the lame Red Delicious.

Most of us eat our apples in desserts. Here, it provides sweetness and texture to a fish curry. A tip when using curry powder: some of the spices in there have a bitter and raw undertone. To tone this down, it's important to cook the curry in fat for a minute.

Fish and Apple Curry
(serves 6)

2 Tablespoon oil or butter or a combination
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
¼ cup raisins
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 Tablespoons chutney
salt and pepper
2 medium apples
2 zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 ½ pounds mild whitefish such as Pacific cod or catfish, cut into bite-sized pieces

Heat up the oil and/or butter in a dutch oven over medium-low heat. Cook the onions and garlic for 10 minutes until the onions are soft and turning golden. While the onions are cooking, peel, core, and dice the apples. Add the curry powder and cook for a minute. Add the raisins, crushed tomatoes, chutney, ½ teaspoon salt, and apples. Cook for 20 minutes on medium-low (to keep the tomatoes from scorching to the pan). Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper to season. Add the zucchini and fish. Cook for about 10 minutes until the zucchini is tender and the fish is cooked. Check for salt and pepper before serving.

This gets even better if you refrigerate it and reheat it. The sweetness of the apples mellows the curry making it even more delicious.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Turkish (or maybe Greek?) Stuffed Peppers

Turkish cooks are experts at stuffing all sorts of vegetables. This recipe is a mash-up of a classic Turkish vegetable stuffing and some Greek flavors. It's not so crazy; they are neighbors.

The filling itself is easy. Stuffing peppers isn't that hard either. But, it all takes a while, particularly the cooking of the peppers. You need to braise them a long time until they are tender. The great thing is they reheat well so you can make a panful and have a quick meal by throwing a pepper in the microwave.

The filling contains short-grain rice (such as sushi rice) which is stickier. It holds together as a stuffing better than long-grain rice.

Stuffed Peppers
(serves 6)

6 large bell peppers, whatever color you like
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons raisins or dried currants, soaked for 5 minutes in hot water
1 10-12 oz. package frozen chopped spinach
1 ¼ cups short grain rice
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
juice of 1 lemon
stock or water

Cut off the top of the peppers as high as you can to leave a large cavity. Remove the core and seeds. If the peppers won't stand up straight, you can take a very thin slice off the bottom to make them flat. Then they won't tip over in the pan. Set aside the peppers.

Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large covered skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes until onions are soft but do not brown them. Drain the raisins. Add raisins and spinach and raise the heat to medium. Cook until spinach has thawed. Add the rice, ¾ teaspoon salt, pepper, and 1 ½ cups of water or stock. Stir to mix, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Mix in herbs and cheese. Taste the filling and add more salt if needed. If the filling is bland, it will be even blander after steaming for nearly an hour so season well.

Season the insides of the peppers with salt. Fill each pepper with stuffing. When you have used up all the stuffing, wipe out the pan and place the peppers in the same pan (you don't want to have to do more dishes, do you?). Pour enough stock or water into the pan to cover the bottom of the pan. If you are using water or unsalted stock, add ½ teaspoon of salt to season it. Drizzle the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil over the peppers. Put on their tops. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, just enough to maintain a simmer. Cover the pan and steam the peppers for about 50 minutes until quite tender. If you pierce one with a knife, it won't resist at all.

Serve hot or at room temperature. A little bit of extra virgin olive oil, chopped fresh parsley and/or dill, or crumbled cheese are all nice garnishes. I also like it for breakfast, topped with a fried egg.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jamie Oliver's Blushing Spaghetti Vongole

A pointer over to my other blog, World on a Platter (a link to it always appears in the right-hand margin on this blog). I'm a volunteer ambassador for Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution because I believe in real food. You can read a bit about how I, with my friend Ronnie, started up School of Eating Good on the Food Revolution site. I think Jamie and his organization do great things and I also think Jamie is a masterful chef. He just released a new book: Jamie's Comfort Food filled with comfort food recipes from around the world. There are some fun and exciting things in it, though it's not a beginner cookbook. The Blushing Spaghetti Vongole is one of the simpler recipes, but it does require getting a hold of live clams. Which aren't cheap or easy to find, particularly in landlocked Colorado*. A special meal - when you want to spoil yourself, your loved ones, celebrate something wonderful. That's what the book is about: recipes to treat the ones you love. The ones we love deserve great food and anyone can make it.

*If you live near Boulder, I recommend Pacific Ocean Marketplace on 120th Ave. in Broomfield for live clams and lots of other fishy and Asian things. You will find lots of interesting things there and some of the best deals on produce, anywhere.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Greek Salad

One of the few salads that did have some lettuce - but not much!
The final recipe from my class on Greek food...this one is very easy, full of delicious and healthy things, and very Greek. Rather than consult my extensive cookbook collection on Greek Salad, I talked to my friend Lynn who spent her spring vacation hiking around Greece and exploring ancient ruins. Of course, she had to eat too! She told me that she ate many Greek Salads during her stay and didn't see any lettuce in most of them. OK, skip the lettuce! This makes sense because lettuce is not in season when tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are in season. The dressing is also simple: a lemon vinaigrette made with olive oil. Because what else would you use in Greece, birthplace of olive culture? As far back as 3,000 years ago, olives were a commercial product in Greece, specifically Crete.

Greek Salad
(serves 4)

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 large red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1" chunks
1 large green pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1" chunks
2 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
½ medium red onion, sliced thinly
4 oz. feta cheese, preferably sheep milk
tasty black olives such as Kalamata
dried oregano crushed between your fingers

1 - 2 cloves garlic, smashed
a healthy pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, the best you can afford

Toss together the cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, and red onion in a large bowl. Mash the garlic cloves with the salt until you have a paste of garlic. Press your knife blade while pulling it across the garlic-salt to make the paste. At first, it will be chunky but the abrasive nature of the salt will help to break down the garlic. Place the garlic paste in a medium bowl. Add in the lemon juice and olive oil. Whisk to combine. Drizzle over the vegetables and toss again. Taste for salt, adding more if needed. The feta and olives are quite salty, so don't over-season the veggies.

To serve, arrange ¼ of the vegetables on a plate. Garnish with slices or chunks of feta cheese and olives. Sprinkle lightly with a pinch of dried oregano.

Vegetarian Pastitsio

Here's a great tip for the vegetarians out there for adapting the traditional Pastitsio recipe I posted earlier this week. Instead of using 1 pound of ground meat, substitute 1 ½ pounds chopped mushrooms. Mushrooms have a savory flavor and substantial texture, making them a great meat substitute. You won't need to pour off any fat because mushrooms have next to none. In fact, I would increase the olive oil to 4 Tablespoons to make them a bit richer. The rest of the recipe stays the same.

Photo credit: By wikioticsIan (Mushrooms (cremini)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons