Monday, October 29, 2012

Rescuing Spinach

And other dark greens.

How did it get such a bad name?  Well there is the canned version (grey-ish), the over cooked version (slime-ish), and the tough raw kind that squeaks on your teeth (also sandy-ish).  Oh, yeah, and the sautéed baby kind that can taste so (urk) bitter.  And then there was the poison spinach from California.

But spinach does not deserve this kind of press.  The whole point of spinach is that is SO good for you, but tasty and easy too.  And that is where frozen (Thank you Mr.Birdseye) comes in.  First of all, it is already cleaned, chopped and blanched (no sand, softened and that bitterness rinsed out), second so easy to get organic that way, and third and best, if you leave it in your freezer a few extra days/weeks because plans change, it does not melt in the back of your fridge into semi-intelligent slime based life forms.  
            Spinach is one of my very favorite answer to the question, “what veggie to have tonight?” when I just can’t think of anything else.  Besides, if you try this and hate it, you aren’t out very much cash.  Oh, and the reason you’ll never see this on the Food Network? 1) Food people think everyone knows this stuff (we don’t), and 2) there is NO way they could pad this out into a whole show.  It’s too simple and won’t make anyone feel inferior.

            This is the way I was shown back in my much earlier, bumbling cooking days.  Guess what? I still use it as a starting point and a fall back position.

Dawn’s Spinach… with Variations
These are the basics – use it with everything dark green
that’s been blanched and frozen

These amounts are for 1 box/bag of spinach (12 or 16 oz.? not important) 
Only have a partial bag?  Don’t sweat it, use a little less of the other stuff… or not.

skillet/sauté pan + 1 lid
stirring spatula/spoon
cutting board

1 bag/box frozen spinach
1/4 C water
1 smallish onion (or ½ a big one)
olive oil – enough to moisten skillet
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs butter (if you are feeling super fancy)

Chop the onion
Heat the skillet and oil over pretty high heat, until a piece of onion starts to sizzle (2 - 4 min)
Dump in the onion, add a pinch of salt and sauté to give it some color – brown around the edges, translucent in the middle.  If it’s turning black, turn down the heat. 
Dump in the spinach and the water
Spread it out over the skillet and clap on the lid for about 4 minutes (This will steam and melt the spinach)
Take off the lid, stir the spinach, add salt and pepper to taste.
If you are feeling fancy, drop in the butter and stir the spinach to make it shiny and extra tasty.
Done!  Was that so hard?

Substitute soy sauce for salt and sesame oil for butter

I Don’t Like Onions
Substitute 1-2 smashed/pressed garlic cloves for the onion
(or 2 tsp bottled minced garlic)

I Love Garlic
Add above garlic to the onions when they are almost done.

I’m Feeling Southern / I Don’t Want Spinach / I’m Sick of Spinach Variation
Substitute frozen mustard and or collard greens, or some blend of spinach/mustard/collard…. hard to go wrong there.

Southern II
Crisp up a piece of bacon cut into small pieces in the oil before adding the onion.  Remove the crispy bacon pieces before adding the onion, and add them in at the end.

Oh NOs!  I have raw leaves.
This work with raw as well - but you might get the bitterness - depending on when/where/how/how long the spinach was grown.

What to do:
Long Way - Blanch and then sauté as above. (Blanch?! What'e Blanch?  check back in, I'll link this in a few days to my Blanching post)
Short Way - stir the raw (rinsed - and torn if they are huge) leaves into the cooked down onion.  A bit at a time as they wilt and shrink.  Then add the water - and proceed with the steaming.  This can take the 4 minutes - or up to 10 or 20 minutes depending on the toughness of your leaves.  (Spinach takes just a few minutes, kale and mustard green takes much longer.)
Taste test for tenderness and bitterness.  When the leaves are a nice texture they are ready.  If they are bitter add some vinegar a splash/tsp at a time.  Rice vinegar, Cider vinegar and Balsamic vinegar all do a good job here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Karate Smoothies

I got the chance to go work out with some great people from my dojo, and a special guest instructor (who is one of the most amazing teachers I get to watch) for a weekend.

I wanted to eat well, and the best way to do that seemed to be to ask to be in charge of the food.  They let me.

So both mornings I wanted a tasty breakfast with some sugars to wake us up, but some protein to keep us going.... oh and fast prep, fast service and simple clean-up.  (We were serving 17!)

A smoothie with apples-and-peanut butter, or toast-and-something fueled everyone for a rather intense morning.
(This was for a dairy free crowd - so we went the silken tofu route.  Yogurt adds a bit of sour.  Both work and whichever is good for you is the right one.)

Make these with some frozen fruit – no ice cubes needed

large spoon
drinking vessel(s)

2 handfuls of fruit (frozen/partly thawed) – about 1C
1 large spoonful of yogurt or silken tofu – about 1/3 C
(Using fresh fruit?  Add a handful of ice cubes as well.)

In a blender, add two handfuls of frozen fruit, a heaping  spoonful of yogurt or silken tofu, and pour juice of your choice into the blender jar until it comes up to the top of the frozen fruit.

Place the lid on the blender.  Start blending at a lower speed.  Then turn up the power and blend until smooth.  Pour into your drinking vessel(s).


Some combinations to begin with:

peaches and orange juice
raspberries and cranberry juice
plums and carrot juice
cherries and pomegranate juice
strawberries, melon and orange juice
apples, pears, mint and apple cider

frozen blackberries - and protein boost of your choice.
 I also added peaches to this smoothie - but thawing
peaches aren't as pretty.

It is hard to go wrong, and combinations of whatever fruit you have on hand is usually what works best. 
Using a combination of fresh and frozen fruit is a great option as well, or let tomorrow’s frozen fruit melt a bit in the fridge over night.

Feel free to get adventurous by adding more savory flavors, like cucumber and leafy greens.  Learn what you like and makes you feel good.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Mom, Does 'Earthy' Mean it Tastes Like Dirt?"


I tell ya', love or hate 'em.

At least that's what I thought 'till I gave them another try.  Because I had nothing to say to a beet except, "no thank you."  But they started showing up in my CSA box.  And they last forever.  I mean I can ignore arugula for 2 weeks, and then can throw it away without guilt - because it has gone bad.  But those beets, they were still beets a month later.  So not to be daunted, I tried fixing them in some desperate new ways.  And found some things that made me say, "huh?  These actually have potential."  And through sheer force of personality - or force of something, I got my husband to try them (again) too.

Here's the thing.  Except for the adorable, non-threatening early baby beets that are the size of walnuts:

most beets come across like this:

Definitely associated with dirt, and - in this case actually - bigger than your head.  Just not appealing.

And then beet lovers insist on serving them like THIS:
Look at their stripy-ness!
 or this
borscht - you have to try it!  See it has sour cream, it's great!
(apologies to Simply Recipes -
it actually looks like a very good borscht recipe)
 or this
beet salad - where you can really taste the beet-i-ness

But for the rest of us - well, beets do taste a bit, err, ummm earthy.  ("Say it mom, they taste like dirt!")
OK, no ducking out of it, there is definitely the taste of the soil about them.  Or well, really - they are awfully sweet for a vegetable (high sugar content), and they are very low in sodium (taste very bland to our sodium desiring palates), and have a pretty neutral pH (are neither sour - acid, nor bitter - basic).  So  for most of us, they are in dire need of adjustment.

And as the boy genius in my life pointed out, if they were just cut up smaller, they could actually be good.

After all - who goes around chomping up huge plain mouthfuls of arugula, watercress, kale, broccoli or even spinach?  All of these veg need help, and do best when given the appropriate companions.

So how to adjust your beets so they are fit to go out in public - and get consumed:

Step 1:  Make them smaller.  Even the baby beets, when I first tried them raw, were "wafer-thin" to quote a little Monty Python.

BAD:  bigger than a fork

GOOD: very-thin or small beety-bits suitable for matching with other produce.

Step 2: Find good flavor contrasts.  Sharp, Sour, and Crunchy all compliment and elevate the beet.  It after all is soft, sweet and somehow bland.  And, yes, earthy.
But the beet also has a complex set of flavors, that when uncovered, are actually good - no, great!
So do not serve them alone to novices.
Match them with the right partners.

Sharp (or pungent) flavors include  - onions, bitter greens, or strong cheeses.  And radishes - also sliced thin.

Sour - vinegar or citrus.  Use sour-er vingars like cider and rice rather than sweeter ones (like balsamic). Lemon and lime juice or grapefruit segments.

Crunchy - Nuts! Toast!  Beets when properly cooked do have a "cooked carrot" texture about them that can be off putting to those that have bad childhood vegetable memories (I see the raised hands) or continue to have issues with certain textures (and the other hands).  But throwing a handful of roasted pistachios, hazelnuts or almonds can do wonderful things.
And eaten with a crispy piece of toast (with garlic butter?), or a crispy salty cracker - well, now we're talkin'.

All of these tamp down the bad and pop the good to the top.

Step 3: Dressing!  They are a vegetable, and they don't have (much) sodium.  And the sweet benefits from a little pungent heat (mustard and garlic).

So get out a small tupperware with a water-tight lid.  Use it to shake up your tasty vinaigrette dressing.

Basic Vinaigrette - in the small tupperware
a) pinch of salt, pinch of pepper
b) 1 crushed/chopped garlic clove (or 1tsp minced garlic)
c) 2 Tbs acid (vinegar or citrus juice)
d) 1tsp mustard (any kind)
e) 4 Tbs oil - (something tasty if you have it)

pop on the lid - shake it 'til it's cloudy and combined

Note: taste and add salt and pepper and vinegar as needed.  You can whisk this all together in a small bowl with a whisk or a fork too.

Now, make a salad.

BOWL - choose one big enough to toss things around
BIG SPOONS - for tossing your salad - OK any salad servers will work
In the bottom - beet bits (cubes), chopped onions
pour in plenty of dressing to coat (you only made a little dressing - you'll be OK) and toss the onions and beets.

Wash your greens.
Find that handful of nuts.
Cheese - break up the blue cheese or goat cheese into small chunks.

Toss everything together.
Toast the bread - or find the crackers.

And then make it look something like this.
Yup - I had GOLDEN beets for this.  

P.S. For whatever reason - beets pair better with gin, vodka (The Russians!) and bitter beer than they do with wine.  But if you MUST have wine, dry white.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Time to Roast... Vegetables

It is sunny, shiny fall here in the NorthWet...err West.  After our dismal spring and June, the sun just won't stop shining.  And it has made for some amazing fall produce.

And a bunch of it is big, pumpkin big, if you know what I mean.

So what to do with it?

Admire it 1st.

Beets, garlic, tomatillos, jalapeños, tomatoes - regular & cherry
radishes and carrots
pie pumpkins, butternut squash, leeks - oh yeah, and the chicken scraps bag

Holy Full Fridge, Batman!  What to do with it all?

Step one - cut it down to size.  Those whole veggies take up a bunch of space.

Step two - dedicate a day to roasting everything into freezable food.  And MUCH of that is done through the magic of roasting.  By driving off excess water, and breaking down the plant cells by tasty cooking, they are all set up to freeze.  If these are frozen raw - the water/chemical balance ends up with mushy and sometimes rotten (blechk!) food.

It's take a big chunk of a day but the longest part of the prep - the roasting - is done (and because it mostly happens at 425˚F) and done together.  Pumpkins and Peppers don't mind sharing oven space with Radishes and Beets.  And while things are roasting you can do lots of other thing - as long as you don't have to leave the house.

So what are the results from a day spent that way?

Tomatillo-Garlic-Jalapeño Sauce

Roast everything until it gets mushy -pull of the stems
peel off the skins,
(optional remove some/all seeds from the jalapeños)
blend them together - add a little salt.
Perfect over leftover mole beef... if you have it.
Lots of other stuff if you don't.

Roasted beets - and other veg
(see the next post for more on beets - or check out some flash backs:

Pumpkin Puree and Roasted Squash Wedges and Chunks

Dedicate the time to making these - and then THERE THEY ARE ready to go into whatever you want 

- things like...

and the new best thing ...

Pumpkin Mushroom Polenta 
Made lots - freezing this for later use.

(the pumpkin takes the place of the Parmesan - and makes it creamy and savory - and perfect for all stripes of "no dairy" folks -OR- a super way of sneaking in extra veg.)

That is coming up too...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hello? Anybody Home?

I bet you've noticed a HORRIBLE lack of entries here this summer.

Why you ask?

It has been an all hands on deck (oh wait I just have 2) experience getting this cookbook the rest of the way ready to go.

But, now that all the pictures are taken, the recipes written, the copy edited the best it is going to get - by me - the book is gone and out of my hands.

But I'm going out tonight to Foodportunity in Seattle to meet people and figure out how to get it out there in the BEST possible way.
And then time to get back to my adventures here at home.

How many heads are better than 1?
Giant Kraut Cabbage at Central Market
This is what you are supposed to buy to make sauerkraut.
Then what?  I don't know now, but I may some day.
In the mean time, check out OlyKraut.

A post on beets - and how not to get people to eat them - and then a good way to start.

Some tasty fall food - root vegetables and squash.

A tomato sauce primer for the timid - or those who have left over tomatoes for the first time in years!

And then the recipes from my last weekend where I worked hard at Karate - and got to feed hungry athletes and make them happy.

So - things should AT LAST pick up around here, as things have slowed down elsewhere.

My favorite cabbage head!