Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My version of Mexican...

Cooking at Oberlin usually happened in the co-op, but it was hard cooking for 100s of people at once if you didn't quite have a plan or know what you were doing. I can't count how many times I had burnt rice, because we didn't have rice cookers, and people would just accidentally burn entire batches of rice on the stove. Usually the heat was too high; the bottom layer would be burnt to a crisp but the middle and top layers were, shall we say, al dente? Who knew cooking rice would be so hard...

Fortunately, however, not all cooking took place in the co-op. Some took place off-campus, in friends' houses. It was in a house on Elm street that a good friend taught me how to make "Spanish rice". I've made this Spanish rice many times since, always variations of this original dish. It's also become a tradition for me to make Spanish rice into a meal along with black beans, sliced peppers and onions, and a side salad of sorts. My version of Mexican is something I have become very comfortable preparing, something that's not only filling but enjoyable, colorful, and whole.

The recipes for my version of Mexican are below; I've tried to break them up into manageable pieces. You can sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top (I used raw cheddar from TJ's), and accompany with whole wheat or traditional corn tortillas, or not.

4 t oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 t cumin
1 T tomato paste
1 16-oz can diced tomatoes, with their juice
1.5 c brown rice
3.75 c water
4 c black beans, cooked (or 2 16-oz cans)
1/2 T chipotle pepper flakes, or 1 whole dried chipotle pepper.

Pour 2 t oil into medium saucepan and heat on medium. Add 1/2 of the diced onion. Cook until translucent, about 5 min. Add garlic, cumin, tomato paste, and 1/2 c of the diced tomatoes. Stir. Add the rice, and stir, until well coated and ingredients are well blended; cook for about 5 min. At this point, add the water, stir, and from here on out, it's just like cooking regular ol' rice: Bring pot to boil, reduce heat to low so contents simmer, and cover for about 30 min, or until water is absorbed and rice is done. Fluff with a fork.

Put remaining oil into second saucepan, and heat on medium. Add remaining onion and chipotle (flakes or whole), and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 min. Add the rest of the canned tomatoes and all of the beans, including their liquids. Stir. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Then reduce heat so contents simmer. Cook for 30 min or longer, depending on desired thickness.

Peppers and Onions
2 t vegetable oil
2-3 bell peppers, red and/or green, sliced lengthwise, thinly
1/2 yellow or white onion, sliced into strips

In a wok or large saute pan, heat oil on medium-low. Add peppers and onions, and toss until oil is evenly distributed. Cover pan, and cook for 15-20 min, tossing peppers and onions occasionally.

Cabbage Salad (inspired by Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites)
1/2 head of red cabbage, very thinly sliced (think 1/8" slices; use a mandolin or chef's knife)
1/2 of a bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, very thinly sliced
1/4 c small-dice red onion
1/2 c plain yogurt
1 t cumin
pinch cinnamon
2 t juice of lemon or lime
1 t grated red onion
1 clove garlic, pressed or smashed and diced small

Whisk dressing ingredients together. Pour on top of salad ingredients, and toss. Add salt to taste.

Meal items taste great separately laid out on a plate (as in the photo), or all mushed together for a bowl meal (a real co-op favorite). I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Granola: adjective and crunchy food

The word granola has more than one meaning. I have heard it used as an adjective intended to mean outdoorsy, likely to wear birkenstocks in the summer, or perhaps a little smelly, but I'm not sure exactly if the adjective granola is free from negative connotations.

Just this past week I found myself being described by a friend in my graduate program to a new acquaintance as "granola". I wasn't sure how I should react, emotionally or verbally, on the spot to such a description. So when it happened recently, I let it slide...or maybe I pretended I couldn't hear what was said. Either way, it reminded me of a plan I had this summer to replicate the dreamiest granola I'd ever eaten.

In May of 2008, my boyfriend Matt and I drove to Mendocino. We stayed at the wonderful Booneville Hotel, in the Anderson Valley. It was breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful, and aside from having the most ideal lodging, we found a terrific cafe that made their own granola. Ever since our return from that trip, I've been trying different granola recipes, trying to create the perfect granola experience. I should qualify that the perfect granola for me is sweet, but not too sweet, and chewy. After being called granola last week, I decided to act my adjective and make another attempt at the perfect granola. The resulting product was sweet, but not too sweet, and very delicious; both sugar- and oil-free, this recipe is perhaps the most PC granola I've ever made. Unfortunately for my taste, it was crunchy. I will try again soon and repost when I have the perfect chewy granola recipe. But for now, this one will do for you crunchy fans, I think.

PC Granola

5 c old-fashioned oats
1 c sunflower seeds
2 c coconut, shredded, unsweetened
2 c raw almonds
1/2 c brown rice syrup
3 T agave
2 c raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350. Lining 2 sheet pans with parchment will make cleanup easier, but it's up to you if you actually use it or not.
2. On one of the sheet pans, dump the seeds, coconut, and almonds. Toast lightly in oven while it preheats. Leave in oven for about 8 minutes, but watch carefully so as to not let the coconut flakes get too darkened.
3. Measure oats into a very large mixing bowl. Add the toasted seeds, coconut, and almonds. Mix.
4. Add the sweeteners, and mix well, until all contents look fairly well coated.
5. Divide mixture into two batches, spreading each batch on its own sheet pan, aiming for one layer deep, only.
6. Pop sheets in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, and then check to see how trays are doing. The granola should be light to medium brown in color, but if it's too light, remove it from oven, stir it up with a spatula, and replace in oven, baking in 5 minute increments until you think it looks perfect.
7. When done, remove granola from oven, and let cool. When cooling process is almost done, you may add the raisins (we add them at the end because if they bake they will get tough and chewy).

I greatly enjoy this delicious crunchy granola on top of plain, thick, Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Healthy Hangover Breakfast

When I wake up feeling hungover there's only one thing I crave. I don't know why, but every single time I have a hangover, I need eggs. I have tried to substitute them with other breakfast foods, or other meals, entirely. But honestly, the only food that ever satisfies me completely is eggs of some sort.

Different hangovers call for different egg dishes; I'm partial to eggs over easy, with homefries and whole wheat toast, but I've also been known to Hopple Popple my hangover away (potatoes, eggs, cheddar cheese, green herbs all scrambled together in a great cast iron skillet), or settle for an omelet. But sometimes, the grease for which my usual hangover begs is a turnoff. Sometimes, not always, I need a healthy hangover treat. The following recipe is not only tasty but is an excellent source of iron, lycopene, and protein, and has no oil added at all.

Go ahead, give it a try one of these mornings.

Kale-Tomato Poached Eggs

3/4 c leftover tomato sauce (or 1 c freshly chopped ripe tomatoes+salt, pepper, thyme, oregano sprinkled on top)
1/2 bunch dino kale, recently washed, NOT dried, and chopped roughly
2 whole eggs, each cracked into its own ramekin

In skillet, on medium heat, heat wet chopped kale. Cover pan so kale is cooked by steam (If you are using fresh tomatoes, add with salt, pepper, and herbs and cook as kale steams). After about 7 minutes, kale should be bright green and softened. When kale has softened, remove lid, and stir. Clear out kale from the middle of the pan, making a bowl for the tomato sauce (if not using fresh). Still on medium heat, allow sauce to heat up. When sauce begins to simmer, use a spoon to hollow out two small indents in sauce. In these little spaces in sauce, gently pour in each egg from its ramekin. Lower heat to medium low, and cover pan again. After 5-7 minutes, or when whites are set, turn off pan. Spoon or slide onto plate, add hot sauce if needed, and lap it up! DEEE-LISH!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Apologies, Ripe Readers

I must apologize to my readers for my lack of updates these days. My most recent excuse, however, is that I'm grossly sweaty and sick in bed. So because I have no appetite, the cooking and baking have been less than prolific in the past week.
However, just because I've had no interest in food doesn't mean I shouldn't be posting! How ridiculous! Part of why I started this blog was to propagate the positives associated with buying and eating local, seasonal, organic food (it's not only great tasting and good for you, but also a healthy way to stay connected to where your food comes from and promote local agribusiness). Moreover, another reason I started this blog was to shed light on the benefits of herbs, and I realize that until now I haven't been writing about herbs at all!
My passion for cooking and eating local and seasonal foods is complemented by my interest in herbology. In a time when pharmaceutical companies have convinced us that natural is not the way to go, it is important to remember that herbs were the original healers and soothers, and still can have powerful healing abilities.
So as I'm in bed, gross, with sore throat and painful cough, I will share a wonderful soothing remedy for sore throats. All of the ingredients can either be found at your local natural or bulk foods store or through online catalogs, such as Frontier coop or Sure, many have heard of the ol' hot toddy. Toddies are good, too, but basic herbal concoctions are simpler in a really great way. Check out what I call Throat Tea:

1/2 T slippery elm bark
1 t wild cherry bark
1/2 T licorice root

Place ingredients in a tea ball or directly in a pot of boiling water. Steep 5 minutes or longer (longer=stronger). If using tea ball, remove, and drink. If herbs were in water, pour tea through a sieve into your mug. Repeat as many times as needed throughout the day.