Strawberries, Figs and Pears . . . Oh My!

My latest adventure in the kitchen is short and very sweet! My local store is featuring fresh organic figs and while I don’t eat figs very often, I was drawn to these with dessert in mind. I thought of pairing them with pears (forgive the clumsy quip) from my backyard tree. My pears were ripe and tender which was perfect with the figs. I have some wonderful “Cafe Espresso” Balsamic Vinegar in my refrigerator. Throw in a few bright strawberries and add a touch of mint and there you have a late summer dessert that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

Figs are pretty amazing looking, aren't they?
Figs are pretty amazing looking, aren’t they?

Figs and Pears with Savory Balsamic Sauce (one serving)

  • A half-dozen fresh, ripe organic figs
  • 1 organic pear
  • A few strawberries
  • 1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar (You can add instant espresso powder for the “cafe” flavor, but I have seen espresso balsamic in several stores lately. Look in the gourmet section.)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of organic barley malt
  • pinch of sea salt
  • a dash of triple sec
  • Mint leaves

Wash the fruit thoroughly. Core the pears and slice anyway you want. Halve the figs and the strawberries.

In this combination, you want to adjust the fruits so they are pleasant and easy to eat together.  If your pears are very crisp, you can blanch them for just a few seconds in salted boiling water.  This has to be really really fast because you don’t want mushy fruit compote. You just want to take the edge off the crisp pears so they can be easily eaten in this dessert without losing the contrast between the softer fruit and the crisp pear.

In a small saucepan, bring your dark balsamic vinegar, barley malt and sea salt to a simmer and reduce the sauce to the desired thickness. Watch that you don’t over-boil the barley malt. If it gets very hot and boiled it will turn into a soft and then a hard candy texture.  Just simmer.

Assemble the fruit in bowls and put the sauce on them just before serving. Garnish with mint leaves.

Sweet as sweet can be!

Taming this fruit and sauce for photos was certainly a challenge!
Taming this fruit and sauce for photos was certainly a challenge!

Another Pretty Thing

Finding pretty things for spring is what I do—in the clothing store, on my outdoor ventures and in my kitchen. Here’s another pretty thing I whipped up for a whole-grain salad. This time I chose a gorgeous ripe mango to make a piquant sauce for quinoa and black bean salad.

MANGO SAUCE ON QUINOA SALAD

Sweet and Sour Mango Sauce

Find a ripe, un-bruised mango and remove the meat. Throw the mango into a high-speed blender or food processor with juice of half a lemon, a pinch of sea salt and a flavored white balsamic vinegar of your choice. (I used a Hawaiian coconut white balsamic and it was absolutely fabulous!) If you don’t have a flavored vinegar, it is still going to be delish with just a well-aged white balsamic.

The quinoa salad is simply cooked quinoa, black beans, celery, red onion and quite a bit of parsley. I know you’ll improvise here as well!

The outcome? Couldn’t get enough of this! It was nearly gone before I even had a chance to take a picture.

Not Just Brown

Did you ever look back on what you’ve been cooking and notice there’s an awful lot of brown food going on? Brown rice. Toasted almonds. Roasted cauliflower. Soy sauce. Apple pie. Barley. Whole wheat bread and pasta. Nut butters.

All of the above are things I recently cooked and they were really, really delicious and eaten with plenty of lightly cooked greens or salads. But I need C O L O R! My mama always said that one way to ensure good nutrition is to make sure you have a colorful plate of food. She didn’t mean the Fiesta Ware! (Although colorful serving dishes do help with the aesthetics.)  I think she was wise to tell me that.

I don’t go in for specially hybridized food such as the purple and orange cauliflower that I saw in Whole Foods last week. Too unnatural! So what can be done to put some vibrant, natural color into that whole food, plant-based diet? Plenty!!!

Wild rice salad with celery, carrots and peas.  Dressed with a white miso, walnut oil, lemon dressing.

Wild rice salad with celery, carrots and peas. Dressed with a white miso, walnut oil, lemon dressing.

Very lightly boiled kale and yellow squash. I eat greens every day! If you don't overcook them, they will put out this incredible "Alive Vibe!"

Very lightly boiled kale and yellow squash. I eat greens every day.  If you don’t overcook them, they will put out this incredible “Alive Vibe!”

The strawberries make the difference on this bowl of oatmeal with toasted almonds, don't they?

The strawberries make the difference in this bowl of oatmeal with toasted almonds, don’t they?

Colorful Pico Di Gallo could put some zing in your bowl!

Colorful Pico Di Gallo could put some zing in your bowl!

What could you do with these beauties to brighten up a meal?

What could you do with these beauties to brighten up a meal?

How about some red beans? They do wonders for this quinoa dish.

How about some red beans? They do wonders for this quinoa dish.

Sometime try this: walk through the produce aisle of your natural food store and just look for colors you like. I learned this technique from clothes shopping, by the way, because I walk up and down those racks and when I see a color I like then I’ll take a closer look at the clothing item. Maybe you’ll find something you haven’t considered using before.

As growing season is upon us here in the northern hemisphere, we can look forward to an abundance of vibrant colors to choose from!  What is your favorite way to infuse your menu with color?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Description: F Train, Manhattan-bound, 17 May ...

(Wikipedia)

In most major newspapers, Wednesday’s edition includes a food section and recipes and coupons and how-to’s on cooking etc.This was a really bizarre day in “Food News” at the Albuquerque Journal.  I mean really . . .it was the good, the bad and the ugly.

I was glancing over the newspaper and the first piece of “food news” was really great:

“Elementary School Goes All-Vegetarian”

“NEW YORK – A New York City elementary school has adopted an all-vegetarian menu, serving kids tofu wraps and veggie chili.

“Public School 244 is the first public school in the city to go all-veggie. The animal-welfaregroup People for the Ethcal Treatment of Animals says it might be the first all-veggie public elementary school in the nation.”

That’s pretty cool! It said later in the article that the kids gravitated toward veggie offerings. Three cheers for PS 244!

Encouraged to keep reading, I saw another article called, “Acclaimed chef and dad Bill Telepan takes on lunch in New York City public schools” about a non-profit group started by Moms called, “Wellness in the Schools,” dedicated to bringing better food and fitness to public schools in NYC. A Manhattan chef was working with 47 of the schools to incorporate more organic and made-from-scratch menus.

Not vegetarian or vegan, but still that’s pretty good news. “Two stories about school lunches in one day!” I thought.

That was the good. But there was even more food news in today’s paper. There was the bad:

“USDA ready to OK horse slaughtering in Roswell” (that’s in New Mexico.) Subtitle: “Unless Congress intervenes, Valley Meat will get to open.” Remind me PLEASE if I ever decide to eat meat again not to buy anything from them!

And in the very same day’s paper, it went from bad to worse:

“Murder charge in juice poisoning.” Perhaps you heard about this one. A lady in San Jose, California who allegedly poisoned two bottles of orange juice and placed them at a Starbucks has been booked on suspicion of attempted murder. Poisoning by rubbing alcohol. Sheesh!

And then there was the very ugly which you probably don’t want to hear about—but . . . food related once again—“Meat-plant worker killed in blender.”

I am reminded why I like packing my own lunch so much!

Lunch boxes

Savory Bean Squares

Aduki bean squares would be nice served as a side with udon noodles and veggies, or a fresh salad.

Aduki bean squares would be nice served as a side with udon noodles and veggies, or a fresh salad.

Now that I’ve bestowed upon you the facts of a bean-eating life in my post, The Birds and the Beans, it’s time for me to figure out what to do with all those soaked beans! I decided to share an oldie but goodie—this is something that my friends and I used to make occasionally with aduki beans.

I suppose three decades ago we convinced ourselves that this dish could be a vegan substitute for a popular dessert. I’m not going to say what that dessert is because I think it’s obvious from the photo and the ingredients. Besides, I am not presenting it here as any such substitute and not even as a dessert.

I would suggest this for a very nutrient-dense snack or it could be added to a meal as a little side-dish treat. I haven’t thought of any really clever name for this recipe so for now I’ll simply call it:

Savory Bean Squares

  • 1 1/2 cups dried aduki beans
  • 5-6 inch piece of kombu
  • 3-4 tablespoons miso paste (Today I used 1/2 red miso and 1/2 sweet white miso.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup barley malt

1. Soak the beans in the kombu and cook them as described in The Birds and the Beans post.

2. Roast the walnut pieces by laying them out on a baking sheet–single layer–and baking them at 350 until they start to smell aromatic. Take them out at that point.

3. When the beans are about cooked and you have added the salt to them, throw in the currants. [Yes I know I am breaking my own “rule” here because I had advised no fruit with beans. I find adding currants here works okay but you could skip them if you want to.]

4. Combine the miso paste/barley malt with the beans and mix thoroughly.

5. Simmer the bean and miso/barley malt mixture. Barley malt will thicken up like a soft candy so just get the mixture simmering and that’ll be enough.

6. Add the walnuts and put the mixture into a 9 X 9 inch pan and let it cool. Refrigerate it to make it even more firm.

This will firm up really well and you can cut it in little squares. You will find it has a savory, slightly salty, slightly sweet taste. A small serving will be all you’ll need at one time. This is a great snack for anyone doing physical labor or athletic activity.

The Birds and the Beans

All right, kids. Grab a cookie and sit down. We’re going to have a frank chat about the Birds and the Beans. I know this isn’t the most “comfortable” subject in the world and some of you (not naming names) can’t help giggling and chuckling when it is mentioned.

But if you are going to eat less animal protein, make more of your food from scratch and avoid canned, pre-packaged products, it’s time you were armed with the FACTS. Don’t wait until you find yourself in an unwanted situation that is too late to do anything about. Protect yourself!

Don’t end up like this: There you are at work, at school or at a party innocently sitting next to someone you’d like to charm or impress, and suddenly you become the trumpeter of a dreaded intestinal melody—the gaseous vibration that sounds its ugly notes like a public broadcast system alert—the gut-wrenching musical solo that brings infamy instead of fame!

Or worse, you’ve released the silent human breeze that wafts through the room bringing an odor so deadly—so ghastly (I heard that guffaw!)—that you at once find yourself alone.

Alone!

You know exactly what I’m talking about and even though we joke about it and have all sorts of names and euphemisms for it, I am going to use the technical and scientific term, “flatulence.”

Beans, improperly cooked, can cause flatulence. Once you’ve eaten said illicitly prepared beans, well child, you are now in a situation you can’t reverse. You just have to wait until it passes. (What was that chortling I heard?)

How do you avoid this age-old dilemma? With minerals, that’s how! You see, there are proteins, carbs and fats densely packed into those dynamic dried legumes.  And the best way to ensure beans can be easily broken down in digestion is to balance them by cooking with a rich multi-mineral sea vegetable called kombu

Kombu is a sea vegetable that grows wild in cold waters and is sold dried. There are several types of kombu, such as wild harvested varieties sold by Eden Foods, Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, Emerald Cove and other reputable organic food companies. These kombus also have certain salts in them that add a great deal of flavor to foods cooked with them. Cheaper brands often have MSG and/or they are harvested from kelp that is already washed ashore—so not as good.

These are aduki (sometimes spelled azuki) beans. They are soaking in spring water with kombu.

These are aduki (sometimes spelled azuki) beans. They are soaking in spring water with kombu.

Tips for cooking beans

  1. Buy organic dried beans, pick through them removing any little stones or soil, and wash them in cold water. Nothing worse than biting into a little rock or sand!
  2. Soak the beans several hours or overnight as needed, covered in spring water with a 3-4 inch piece of kombu for every cup of dried beans. I usually wipe the kombu with a damp cloth and put it in the bottom of a bowl and put the washed beans on top then add the water.
  3. Use that same kombu in the bottom of your pot and put the beans on top and cover with fresh spring water. I don’t use the soaking water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer with a lid.
  4. DO NOT ADD SALT to the beans until they are at least 3/4 cooked. If you add salt in the beginning, the salt will keep the beans tough and they won’t be cooked enough. But adding sea salt toward the end of the cooking will soften the beans and help finish the cooking.
  5. You can encourage your beans (“Great job, beans! Keep going! You’re going to be delicious!”) to cook from the inside out so they fully cook inside and aren’t a mushy mess. Do this by just covering the beans with water and when the water cooks down, add cold water to drive the heat into the beans and continue cooking. You can do this a few times as more liquid is needed. This is called the shock method.
  6. As I said above, when the beans are mostly done, then add your sea salt. The kombu can be taken out or left in. It may break down quite a bit after all this cooking and you can just stir it in. Or you can take it out and cut it into pieces and add it back in. Kombu is oh so good for you with its vegetable-quality minerals and trace minerals!
  7. Add your veggies and whatever else you wish after the beans have gotten started, depending on what you’re making.

FAQ:  How effective is the Kombu Method compared to others in avoiding the dreaded death knell of dignity and lost social acceptance?

  1. Adding kombu. Very effective and natural. If you are transitioning to a more vegetable-based diet, you may still experience the occasional toot. Additional advice is don’t eat too many beans at once, chew your beans and all your food very thoroughly so digestion can begin where it’s supposed to—in your mouth—and don’t mix the beans with things like fruit, fruit juice, or sugar.
  2. Abstinence. Of course if you don’t eat beans ever, you will not get flatulence from them. But you will be missing out on  a wonderful source of protein packed with energy and good nutrition. 
  3. Bay Leaves. I have seen bay leaves used in beans and while they do help and are certainly flavorful, alas, bay leaves will not guarantee as much protection against flatulence. They just don’t have the necessary minerals.
  4. Canned. You still have to read the label. So many brands in my natural food store are cooked only with salt and only two, I found, are cooked with kombu—Eden Foods and Westbrae. So you might pick up a couple of these if you’re in a hurry.
  5. Pureeing. If the beans were not cooked with a balance of good minerals, you are not protected.
  6. Gas reducing products. There are products like Beano which is made from a fungus called Aspergillus niger. It apparently works for some people and does so by breaking complex sugars down into simple sugars. I’ve never resorted to Beano which is now made by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which is a complete turn-off for me. Also, when you buy a product like that, the cashier and everyone else will know why you are buying it and you could open the door to more giggling, chortling and downright embarrassment. Buying kombu is way more sophisticated and mature. I’m sure of that!

Bhakti Chai

Mural at a local ayurvedic cafe.

Mural at a local ayurvedic cafe.

Other than my once-a-month quest for dark chocolate mousse, I do not use sugar in my cooking. Lately, this has caused quite a dilemma for me because I’ve had a tremendous hankering for chai! Chai is tea made with milk, spices and yes–sugar.

But I don’t drink milk and I avoid sugar. I tried ordering chai at the local coffee shop a couple times, made with soy milk, but the chai part is pre-mixed and you cannot get it without the sugar. And it is, in my opinion, way too sweet. I knew I wouldn’t continue ordering it and I also knew I probably wouldn’t make it myself at home. Sigh.

There are lots of things I do take the trouble to make myself even if it seems time-consuming. Nothing but the best for me and my family! Most of the time when I write about food and cooking here, I am talking about making things yourself, with high-quality ingredients you yourself have chosen and not falling for poor substitutes of pre-made, pre-packaged food. Even from the natural food store!

Then my beautiful young friend Lindsay started talking about chai and how she makes it at home. She said she buys a chai concentrate made with real ginger and traditional spices that is UNSWEETENED!!!!

I couldn’t believe my ears! We went over to the local Whole Foods and to my enormous delight they carry the very chai concentrate Lindsay was telling me about. It is called, “Bhakti Chai” and comes in a quart or larger size in the dairy section.

I read the ingredients: organic fair trade black tea, organic fresh-pressed ginger, organic cardamom (love that stuff!), black pepper, and other spices. That’s it! And it is non-GMO which is very good news.

I was so excited to try my first chai which I made by mixing the concentrate with coconut milk and heating it. Oh! Oh! Yes! That ginger was the dominant flavor and the other spices were in perfect harmony with it. The next day I made it with almond milk. The almond milk was also excellent, but I vote for the coconut milk as being the best choice of the two. I’m sure you can use soy, rice milk or regular milk if you drink that. On the label they suggest several other ways of drinking the chai without any milk at all and one of them is–ready for this–in chocolate! (Yes, the wheels are indeed turning regarding a chai-themed chocolate mousse.)

Here’s to the warmth of fresh ginger and cardamom in a delicious chai tea!

I know some of you have much more expertise when it comes to tea than I have. Have you tried this tea? Did you like the amount of ginger in it? Do you make your own chai?

Acorn Squash with Ground Beef, Apples and Raisins

Acorn Squash fresh from the oven.  Brian Pinkowski

Acorn Squash fresh from the oven. Brian Pinkowski

Please welcome my very first guest author, Brian Pinkowski! Brian is a friend and fellow blogger and I invited him to share a recipe on Mycooklinglifebypatty.

Brian has a wonderful blog of his own, Timor-Leste Images which I invite you to visit.  Just click on the name on my blog roll to the right!

~~~~~~~~

Its Winter and a great time for squash.

I ran across this recipe and thought it was just the right answer for a hot dinner on a cold night in the Rocky Mountains.  Not many written instructions needed.  Photo story will do the trick.

Halved Acorn Squash in 1/4 inch of water.  Brian Pinkowski

Halved Acorn Squash in 1/4 inch of water. Brian Pinkowski

Ground Beef.   Brian Pinkowski

Ground Beef. Brian Pinkowski

Diced Apples.  Brian Pinkowski

Diced Apples. Brian Pinkowski

Apples, Raisins, Cinnamon.  Brian Pinkowski

Apples, Raisins, Cinnamon. Brian Pinkowski

Acorn Squash in the oven for 35 minutes.  Brian Pinkowski

Acorn Squash in the oven for 35 minutes. Brian Pinkowski

At 400 degrees.

At 400 degrees.

Ground beef mixed with the raisins, apples, cinnamon and a bit of salt.  Brian Pinkowski

Ground beef mixed with the raisins, apples, cinnamon and a bit of salt. Brian Pinkowski

Scoop out the Squash.  Brian Pinkowski

Scoop out the Squash. Brian Pinkowski

Mix the cooked squash with the ground beef, apples, raisins.  Brian Pinkowski

Mix the cooked squash with the ground beef, apples, raisins. Brian Pinkowski

Place mixture in the squash shells, drizzle with a little melted butter, and a sprinkle of brown sugar.  Brian Pinkowski

Place mixture in the squash shells, drizzle with a little melted butter, and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Brian Pinkowski

Dinner Time.  Brian Pinkowski

Dinner Time. Brian Pinkowski

Samurai Pickles

The daikon is a mighty radish, white and hot, long and strong in flavor. It is a most common traditional Japanese vegetable and has been around for many centuries as a staple eaten as a condiment, in soup and as a pickle so strengthening as to be known as the “Samurai Pickle.”

Dried daikon radish

Daikon radish hung to dry (Photo credit: detsugu)

The daikon pickle known as “Takuwan” was named after a Buddhist monk who taught the Shogun feudal leaders. During the Shogun period of Japanese history, people began to eat white rice instead of brown and a new use for the rice bran that had been removed was created. The rice bran, called “nuka” was roasted and mixed with sea salt, kombu, and sometimes other flavorings.

MIYAMOTO MUSASHI

Miyamoto Musashi, was a pupil of the Buddhist monk and became one of the most famous Samurai in Japanese history during the Shogun period. Hence the takuwant pickle became known as the “Samurai pickle.” (Photo credit: ..::Fighter-Arts::..)

The takuwan pickle is made by hanging the daikon upside down until it becomes flexible. It is then buried in a crock of nuka for one to three years, yielding a very strong, salty pickle. The takuwan pickle is often soaked briefly to reduce the saltiness before it is eaten.

It is not difficult to make takuwan pickles and sometimes wheat bran or brown rice flour is used instead of rice bran–though these have a slightly different flavor. An excellent reference on this may be found in the book, Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking for Health, Harmony and Peace. But it is possible to purchase high quality takuwan as well.  I find my takuwan pickles already made in the macrobiotic section of my food store or by mail order. The takuwan pickle is a tremendous aide to digestion, a stabilizing influence on body energy and is a naturally delicious accompaniment to brown rice and other whole grains.

Takuan or takuwan, Japanese yellow pickled dai...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cooking With Lotus Root

A frog sits upon its leaves to quietly observe the world around him. Koi play hide and seek beneath its flowers and stems. A proud gardener rejoices to see its big white or deep pink flowers in the pond. But me, I simply enjoy the beauty and variety that the lotus plant brings to my dinner table.

The lotus plant is mostly edible–leaves, blossoms, seeds and roots. Today I’m talking about the lotus root which is a wonderful addition to any vegetable dish, soup, stew or stir-fry. Lotus roots can be purchased in Asian groceries and in some natural food stores and they look like this:

Lotus rhizome (Nelumbo nucifera)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or, they can be purchased dried after which you can re-hydrate them and cook with them. (I mail order mine from Gold Mine Natural Foods and while I’m at it, I usually order dried lotus seeds as well.)

Fresh lotus root is crispy and refreshing with a delicate taste. It stays fairly crispy even when cooked and it’s best to infuse lotus root with sauces or flavors which will enhance it. Like other vegetables, if I find organic lotus root, I don’t peel it. I simply trim off the tough end where these underwater rhizomes grow attached to each other. Once you cut your lotus root, either cook with it immediately, or keep it in a slightly acidic bath so it doesn’t discolor–such as a little lemon in some water.

Truth be told, I thought of lotus root because I had the flu last week and wanted to ease some coughing. See how the vegetable has holes running end to end? They resemble lungs and traditional eastern medicine teaches that the lotus root is an excellent remedy for helping the lungs and quickly breaking down mucous. I made lotus root tea.

That is wonderful!

See how interesting lotus root is with its wheel or flower-like shape when you slice it? You can stuff those cavities with delicious things! You can float them delicately into an asian broth! You can deep-fry or tempura the slices, too!

Using dried lotus root, I made my tea and then I made a stir-fry dish with the rest.

Assemble all your stir fry ingredients before starting to cook.

Assemble all your stir fry ingredients before starting to cook.

LOTUS ROOT STIR FRY WITH  KUZU GLAZE (Serves 4-6)

  • 1 cup fresh sliced lotus root or re-hydrated dried lotus root
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and julienned fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup scallions, cut in 1-inch pieces
  • pinch of chili flakes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon traditionally brewed soy sauce (I recommend Nama Shoyu)
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon kuzu (dried root starch)
  • 1/4 cup spring water
  • sea salt
  • roasted black sesame seeds

Wash and slice all the veggies and keep them separate. Heat up a wok, heavy skillet or cast iron pan with sesame oil. Use medium high heat but don’t let the oil smoke. Add the veggies one at a time starting with the carrots and a pinch of sea salt and toss them around, stir-frying them quickly for about 2 minutes. Add the lotus root and another pinch of sea salt, and stir fry another 2 minutes. Add the celery and another pinch of sea salt and saute until they are bright green, and add the ginger and chili flakes and stir fry. The cooking time is quick depending on how thick or thin you have cut your vegetables. You want everything to retain some crispness. At the last minute, add the scallions and stir them in with a small amount of soy sauce.

Dissolve the kuzu in water until it looks like milky water with no more lumps. Pour the kuzu water into the stir fry and keep stirring. The kuzu will thicken and become clear instead of milky and will make a nice glaze for your vegetables. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the dish and serve.

We served the stir fry with creamy salomon and corn soup, and red kale with fried tempeh.

We served the stir fry with creamy salmon and corn soup, and red kale with fried tempeh.

Lotus root is guaranteed to add interest and an exotic touch to your menu. What can you imagine making with this unique and decorative food?