Creating

While every other food blogger was posting their Thanksgiving masterpieces earlier this month, I was busy refreshing my repertoire by digging into my older cookbooks and looking online. I came across an old favorite called, “Whole World Cookbook.” It features international macrobiotic cuisine and the book comes from the editors of the now defunct East West Journal.”

Every Thanksgiving I make the cranberry relish from that book. In my humble opinion, it is perfect.

There is a plethora of recipes out there! One might think there is nothing new that can be created. That is not so. When you make the recipe it is yours. Not talking about copyrights–obviously you can’t copy a recipe and say it is yours now. But originality is closely linked with imagination. When you imagine how you will make a dish, it is your original dish. It is your personal touch, your presentation, your seasoning, your judgment that makes the dish yours.

For me cooking is an art.  It is my outlet for creativity. Even if the recipe came from someone else’s repertoire.

The simplest thing, created by you, can be amazing!

For a Thanksgiving event, I signed up for Maple Glazed Carrots. At the time, I did not know exactly what Maple Glazed Carrots would be. It just sounded good. As it turned out, they were ridiculously simple and came out so so delicious. This was my original.

How will you make it yours?

Maple Glazed Carrots

6 large organic carrots, washed and scrubbed

3 inch piece of kombu seaweed

pinch of sea salt

1/4 cup of water

1/4 cup of maple syrup

2 Tsps arrowroot mixed in a little cold water

Umeboshi vinegar

1/4 cup rough chopped Italian parsely

Cut the carrots by slicing the carrot on a diagonal to make a chunk about 1 inch long. Rotate the carrot 1/4 around and slice diagonally again. Rotate 1/4 and slice. Keep going. This method allows you to adjust for variations in the size of the root vegetable so all your pieces are about the same size and will cook in the same amount of time.

Brush off a 3-inch piece of kombu seaweed and put it in the bottom of 3 quart pan and add the water. Let the kombu rehydrate and then add the carrots and sprinkle with sea salt. Use a lid on the pan. Heat up over medium heat until the carrots start to steam and then turn the heat down to low and continue cooking until the carrots are tender but not falling apart. Keep an eye on the water and add more if needed.

When the carrots are tender remove them from the pan. Set aside the kombu to use in another dish.

In the pan, there should still be some liquid left. If there isn’t, put about 4 tablespoons of water in it. Add maple syrup. Add arrowroot that was mixed with cold water and heat it up stirring constantly until everything thickens to a nice glaze consistency. You can adjust the amounts of liquid and arrowroot as needed. Turn off the heat and add a splash of umeboshi vinegar into it. A little bit of this brings out all the flavors and cuts the sweetness just a little.

Mix the glaze into the carrots and garnish with parsely.

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Beautiful Baby Bok Choy

We have had a lovely, hot summer here in New Mexico. The temperatures have soared beyond “toasty” with the bluest skies and the sweetest smelling air.

I have been seeking the quick and easy menu with minimal cooking and preparation.

One of my favorite veggies is baby bok choy because it is sweet and light and looks beautiful. But the stems are so much thicker than the delicate leaves. If you want them to cook evenly you would have to separate them and cook them for different times, right?

No, I have found a way to bypass all that work and come up with a super easy and fast way to prepare baby bok choy and present it in a pleasing way that showcases their natural beauty.

First wash the baby bok choy whole. You will need to let the water run down into the base of the plant to allow all the small particles of dirt wash away.

THOUROUGHLY WASH BABY BOK CHOY

Next, stand them up on end and loosely tie them so they stay put. You may have to trim the stem at the base so they stand up.

LOOSELY TIE THE BOK CHOY UPRIGHT.jpg

Steam the baby bok choy whole in an upright position. This takes a fairly tall steamer pot. The concentration of heat will go to the base and the leaves will steam with less intense heat. Perfect!

STEAM.jpg

I like to cut the baby bok choy vertically in half to show off their beautiful composition and add some drama to the serving plate!  We love to eat these and often just pick them up with our fingers and eat them. You will find they are super sweet cooked this way and don’t need a single thing added like salt or oil. However my husband found that a thin slice of watermelon eaten with the bok choy really sets off the flavors!

BEAUTIFUL BOK CHOY

Suddenly Cilantro

suddenly cilantro

Maybe spending eight years in New Mexico has caught up with me. Or maybe the influence of the 100+ degree weather has overridden my usual sense of taste.

Suddenly, I’m craving cilantro!

Not that there’s anything wrong with cilantro. I wouldn’t say I dislike it. I just don’t choose it for my menus. Ever.

Until now!  I have been creating dish after dish with cilantro and absolutely loving the fresh, bright, green refreshing spark it adds as a garnish to pinto beans, in couscous salad, in pico de gallo and again today in tabbouleh salad.

The result?  Lovely tabbouleh salad with plenty of veggies, chlorophyll from the greens, and a delightful sweet and sour dressing.  And no cooking needed on this toasty hot New Mexican day.

Tabbouleh Salad (serves eight)

1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat and boiling water

Put the bulgur in a bowl and pour enough boiling water over it to cover 1/2 inch above the bulger. Let it sit until all the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Let the bulgur cool and fluff it with a fork.

Add diced veggies to the bulgur. Typically recipes have onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and parsley with a lemon and oil dressing. But don’t feel restricted! Choose whatever you want to use.

On this particular day I needed to use up what was in my refrigerator. I diced one large cucumber, half a red onion, one yellow squash, one bunch of parsely and yes, one bunch of cilantro.

Tip: Wash the parsley and cilantro and spin them in the salad spinner to get them dry. Remove the thicker stems and don’t worry about the small tender stems then gently chop them up.

Dress with a citrus dressing.  Instead of the standard lemon and oil, I used tahini, white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of tart cherry concentrate, juice of an orange, salt and one clove of crushed garlic.

The Cantaloupe Strawberry Pie Experiment

I was innocently thinking about an organic cantaloupe that was sitting in my refrigerator and wondering when I will get around to eating it.  I had some beautiful organic strawberries too.  And I have a husband who, in his quest to eat less sugar, enjoys a nice dessert without it.

My usual pattern when it comes to creating food dishes or meals is that I think about color. Cantaloupe and strawberries would look beautiful together!

And that was how I came up with the idea of strawberry cantaloupe pie which I’ve never made or heard of before. Time to experiment!

CANTALOUPE PIE

Make a single pie crust and pre-bake it.  Mine was 1 1/2 cups of organic whole wheat pastry flour and 2 pinches of sea salt. Combine that. Cut in some oil–about 1/3 cup and then some water until you’ve got a flaky dough consistency. Roll it out, arrange it in the pie plate and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let that cool.

Cantaloupe and strawberry pie filling

1 organic cantaloupe

10-12 beautiful organic strawberries cut in half

pinch of sea salt

2 1/2 tablespoons agar flakes

2 tablespoons kuzu

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/2 lemon

  1. Peel and cut the cantaloupe in chunks and blend this without extra water until it is thick and smooth. My Vita-Mix did a great job for me, but you can use a regular blender.
  2. In a small sauce pan, slowly heat the almond milk and agar. It will need to simmer several minutes until the agar is completely dissolved, so don’t use high heat or the mixture will boil off too much.
  3. Add the blended cantaloupe. [This is where I had some trepidation. I wasn’t sure what would happen to the beautiful sherbet-orange color of the cantaloupe when I subjected it to heat. Would it turn an ugly brown? Would it lose its flavor?]
  4. Dissolve the kuzu powder in a little bit of water and add to the cantaloupe mixture. Stir continuously until the mixture, which up to now had a milky look, changes. When the kuzu is totally cooked into the mixture it will become less milky and thicken.
  5. Add a small squeeze of lemon juice to brighten up the filling.
  6. Arrange the half strawberries in the bottom of the cooled pie crust and pour in the cantaloupe filling. Chill until firm. Garnish with fresh sliced strawberries.

The verdict:  Nice texture. Naturally sweet. Sweetness will depend on how sweet the fruit is.  Almond milk flavor takes over a little too much, even though there was only a small amount of it. Note to self–next time try rice milk or coconut milk.

ONE SLICE

Umami for you, umami for me

We’ve been flirting with springtime for several weeks here in New Mexico. I’ve been lightening up the menu since early February, accented by the occasional heavier stew or soup when needed.

Now we are about to touch upon some much warmer days and I know that May will usher in a long and lovely hot summer. But no matter how hot is gets, I am a dedicated, all-season soup lover!

The secret to great soup is the broth.

A warm weather soup can be more challenging than autumn’s squash bisque or winter’s hearty bean and root veggie soup.  A summer soup calls for a broth that is both light and deeply flavorful. A successful soup broth will rend a delightful soup.

Umami for you, umami for me.

I have heard this word “umami” a lot in the past few years and decided to check out what it really is. Believe it or not, there is a website called “The Umami Information Center” which was enlightening. Seems the Japanese word “umami” has to do with the taste imparted by glutamate.

I react to that piece of information as if they said a bad word.  Glutamate?  As in Mono Sodium Glutamate?  No way I’m using that in my food!

Turns out glutamate is naturally occurring in many foods which can be used in cooking to create the coveted Umami flavor.  Some of the foods on the list I absolutely knew were umami-rich. Others, I hadn’t thought of before.

“Wow!” I thought, “This is enough to keep me souping in my kitchen all summer long!”

Without a doubt, the best umami, the best food, the best meal comes from your own kitchen. Even if you are a novice.

Okay I will get to the soup recipe. I promise! But I’ve gotta take a little side trip here.  I’m going to make a umami-rich broth made with real food ingredients and condiments. It is not difficult and it can even be considered economical because one way to get a highly-flavored soup broth is to save the cooking water from boiling or steaming other veggies and voila! you have umami.  Or, you can consciously decide to create umami from specific foods that you choose just for your soup recipe.

Either way, the point is–cooking for yourself with real food in your own kitchen wins flavor-wise and health-wise every single time over buying soup in the store (natural food store or not) or ordering it in a restaurant. Forty plus years of savoring my own cooking versus even the best dishes in the best restaurants has taught me that.

Lemon Fennel Soup

Making the umami-rich broth:

2 quarts spring water

4-6 inch piece of kombu seaweed

1 head of nappa cabbage (sometimes called Chinese cabbage)

Naturally brewed soy sauce (“Nama” brand is far and away the best flavor and the most umamiful.)

  1. Quickly clean the dried kombu by brushing it off with a clean, damp paper towel or vegetable brush. Place the kombu in the bottom of a large pot and add all the water. Bring this to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile wash a head of nappa cabbage, cut it in half and again in quarters. The core may be cut out and separately sliced fine. Cut the cabbage into 1-inch pieces. If you don’t want to use all the cabbage at once, just use the amount you will probably eat.  The cabbage itself will not wind up in the soup. It will be served separately as a lightly boiled salad.
  3. Put the cabbage in the boiling water and cook for just about a minute or until the green parts become bright green. This may take less than a minute!  Immediately remove the cabbage into a colander to cool.
  4. Continue allowing the broth to simmer with the kombu for about 15 minutes, then remove the kombu. (Save the kombu for another use or to slice up and add to another dish.
  5. Strain the soup broth so there are no solids in it.
  6. You now have a light, flavorful broth that delivers umami flavor.

Putting the soup together

1 large fennel bulb

1 shallot

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lemon

chili flakes (optional)

  1. Wash the fennel and separate the bulb from the rest. Save the feathery fronds for garnish.  Thinly slice the fennel, about 1/4 inch slices.
  2. Slice the shallot
  3. Heat a pan of your choice (I use cast iron) and add the sesame oil.
  4. When the oil is hot add the shallots with a pinch of salt and saute until they soften.
  5. Add the fennel slices and another pinch of salt and continue sauteing until the fennel is well-cooked.
  6. Put the sautéed fennel and shallot into the soup  broth. Season lightly with soy sauce, add and let it all simmer a few minutes.
  7. Just before serving, zest your lemon and add to the soup.  I use a zester that produces thin little slices of zest. In that case I’m going to add about 2 Tablespoons of this.  If you are zesting your lemon with a microplane that produces grated zest, you may want to use less. Experiment with this!
  8. Serve the soup garnished with fennel fronds and a few drops of lemon juice.

Some more soup broth tips:

Keep in mind that some veggies, like carrots, have a very definite flavor and color.  Others, such as white daikon radish taste very different when cooked than when raw. Think  with the flavors to get the broth you want. Sometimes you just want lots of flavor and it doesn’t matter too much what you use. If you make a vegetable soup, you can add all kinds of things together. But if you are going for a more delicate taste like the fennel soup, then choose ingredients for the broth that will enhance but not interfere with your finished product.

Sauteing vegetables helps bring out their flavor and sweetness. Decide, however, what oil you will use based on the flavors of that oil. At first I was going to use toasted sesame oil to saute the fennel and shallots but that would definitely have brought in a flavor that might have taken over too much.

Dried vegetables, such as dried shiitake mushrooms have a concentrated flavor that provides a lot of umami, even though you will reconstitute them by soaking first. See more about shiitake and kombu in my 2013 post, “Rejuvenation and Dashi.”

Apparently tomatoes are considered to yield a very high level of umami.  Hmm, sun-dried tomatoes. Gotta play with that!

The Queen’s Navee Beans

1024px-Pinaforeplaybill

“When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney’s firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!” — Sir Joseph, .M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan

~~~~~~

No idea why they call these little white beans “Navy Beans.” Anyone have a guess? These small white Great Northern beans, also called “pea beans,” got the name “Navy Beans” because they were a popular staple for the U.S. Navy in the 20th Century.

Small white great northern beans

That doesn’t stop me from singing Gilbert and Sullivan while making my Navy Bean Soup!!

One little trick in preparing these beans (or any beans for that matter) is that I use a bit of kombu seaweed in the bottom of the pot while cooking the beans. Kombu adds minerals which help you digest the beans without an unintended “musical accompaniment” to your chorus.

Lest you think that kombu seaweed is only Japanese, let me remind you that kombu grows in cold Atlantic waters too and seaweed was used to wrap and eat pickled herring in the northern British Isles. Blimey!

The Queen’s Navee Bean Soup

(Makes One Gallon – eat some, freeze some)

  • 2 cups of white navy beans, soaked in spring water
  • 1/2 cup of pearled barley also soaked in spring water (you can put both the beans and the barley in the same soaking water after they’re washed, of course)
  • 1 4-inch piece of kombu seaweed
  • 1 large diced onion
  • 2 large diced carrots
  • 3 diced ribs of celery
  • 1 cup of diced mushrooms
  • sea salt
  • parsley
  • black pepper

What you need to know for this soup is basic bean preparation from dried beans:

First sort through the dried beans and barley and take out any stones or mysterious pieces of stuff. It’s so tempting to skip this step but much better to take the time now than to go to the dentist after someone has chipped a tooth on a small stone left in your soup. At the very least, stones are painful to bite down on.

Thoroughly wash the beans and barley in cold water. Do this by putting the beans and barley in a big bowl and filling with water. Use your hands to swish the beans around and pour off the dirty water. I don’t recommend a colander or sieve because they don’t allow the dirt to float away efficiently. Do this at least twice until the water comes out clean.

Soak the kombu, beans and barley in spring water for at least 2-3 hours or as long as overnight.

Place the kombu in the bottom of a large soup pot and layer the beans and barley over it. Cover with spring water and bring it to a simmer.

Do not add any salt at this point. If you add salt now while the beans are uncooked, they will not soften. Salt is added when the beans are almost done. At that point the salt will help finish the beans and sweeten the dish. (Yes I said “sweeten.” That is what good sea salt, properly used will do!)

Continue cooking the beans in this layered fashion without stirring. When the water cooks down, add more cold water to cover again. Do this as often as needed but only when the water has cooked down to almost gone. Adding the cold water to the hot beans will drive the heat into the beans and help them get cooked inside. The result is fully cooked beans that are not mushy.

The beans should soften up in an hour or so but there are no rules about this. You just have to see when they’re done. When the beans are about 2/3 done, add the diced onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms and cook them in until tender.

NOW add sea salt – about 1/2 teaspoon or more if your taste demands it. NOW you can also stir the soup up. [Note: I almost never take the kombu seaweed out. It cooks into the soup and usually breaks down into bits. Or, you can remove it and cut it up and put it back in. No point in wasting this fabulous source of plant-based minerals and trace minerals!]

When the beans are fully cooked, add more water to make the right consistency for soup. Season with pepper and garnish with parsley.,

Serve with greens or a salad and some crusty bread. I sometimes will mix in sauerkraut (Yes! Try It!) or serve pickled vegetables or a semi-pickled pressed salad with a hearty soup like this. It’s a meal to keep anyone’s Navy hard at work and soon they’ll be calling you, “Sir.”

BEAN AND BARLEY SOUP WITH KALE, PRESSED SALAD AND CRUSTY BREAD

Navy Bean and Barley Soup, Lightly Boiled Kale with Toasted Sesame Salt (Gomasio), Pressed Salad Pickles and Ye Olde Crusty Bread

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!

Sweet and Savory Apricot Salad

apricots in basket

Apricot Harvest!

Our first apricot harvest was quite a surprise. We just walked out back one morning and there they were, ready to be picked! Literally two days before, they were not ready.

They turned out to be very good eating so I didn’t want to cook them. I opted for a simple fruit salad but with a little twist.

The apricots were washed, pitted and cut into halves. I added some blueberries and dressed them with a drizzle of olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, chopped raw almonds and topped with coconut flakes. You could easily imagine an herb in there such as a touch of sage. A pinch of sea salt would enhance the sweetness, too.  I didn’t add salt this time because I didn’t want the salt to pull out more purple blueberry juice than I already had!

Fresh, light, sweet and slightly savory!

SWEET AND SAVORY APRICOT SALAD PAINT

Sweet and Savory Apricot Salad – not just for breakfast.

What’s Hiding in My Pancakes?

Wait just a minute!

What is hiding in my pancakes this morning?!

They look pretty normal. In fact they look pretty darned good. They tasted really good too. They had something extra—a taste, a texture, an additional je ne sais quoi!

HIDING IN PANCAKES PAINT

What’s hiding in these pancakes? (Hints:  A full serving of veggies but you can’t see them even on the inside. Yellow and stringy but so tender there’s no telltale sign of it. Delicate in taste, but so subtle one might never know.)

Did you guess?

I cup of cooked spaghetti squash mixed into organic, whole grain pancakes.

Inspiring and Refreshing Summer Cooking

It was love at first sight when I spied their cute little round white heads peaking out from a cluster of delicate verdant leaves.

All it really takes for me to get inspired is a single outstanding element and an entire meal results. And what better time than early summer to find that inspiration! These baby turnips ooze summer, light refreshment!

REFRESHING SUMMER LUNCHEON

Baby turnips and greens with summer squash dressed with fresh ginger and coconut white balsamic vinaigrette.  

Cooking method for turnip and greens salad starts with the tiny turnips cut in halves and dropped into salted boiling water until just bright and slightly tender then take them out. Next the sliced summer squash is dropped into the same water for just a few seconds and removed. Finally the greens, sliced, get dropped into the water and removed as soon as the color turns bright green—less than a minute!  Drain and let it cool.

The vinaigrette consists of freshly grated ginger, coconut white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sea salt.

The rest of the meal soon followed: Easy BBQ tofu, leftover radish pickles and corn and quinoa medley.

BBQ TOFU

Barbecued Tofu made with quick-grab-what’s-available homemade BBQ Sauce.

Barbecue sauce has got to be tangy, slightly sweet, slightly (or more than slightly) hot and its got to be thick and finger-lickin’ good.  No measuring occurred here – just thrown together country barley miso, barley malt syrup, aged balsamic vinegar, chipotle pepper sauce, garlic and a little mirin. It came out real good! Tofu doesn’t have any flavor on its own so these firm tofu triangles were marinated in the sauce for half an hour and then the whole shebang got baked at 350 for 30 minutes.

QUINOA AND CORN

Quinoa, corn and scallion medley.

While my tofu was marinating I washed up a cup of quinoa. Quinoa has a coating of saponin on it and that stuff tastes very bitter. So wash the quinoa thoroughly before cooking. I use 1 1/2 cups of spring water for one cup of quinoa and once it’s brought to a boil, simmer until all the water is cooked away — 20-25 minutes.  I cooked mine with 2 crushed and sliced garlic cloves and a pinch or two of sea salt. At the end I added the corn which has got to be organic. The sliced scallions and some roasted chopped almonds were tossed in last along with a bit of olive oil.

And the radish pickles?  See this post. Only this time I didn’t include the radish greens.

A note on choosing your inspiring vegetable or fruit

The later we get into summer, of course, the less “baby” veggies we’re going to see because, well . . . those little sprouts sure do grow fast don’t they? You can go ahead and make this turnip salad with regular turnips and turnip greens no problem. It can be just as refreshing as long as you choose your veggies wisely and that’s what I want to talk to you about.

As you’re shopping or harvesting from your garden, know that bigger is not always better. Vegetables that are allowed to grow really big are less flavorful, have more seeds and can even be pithy. You might be impressed with that giant baseball bat of a zucchini, but the little skinny one is going to taste better and sweeter.

I don’t pick the biggest onion or the biggest of any veggie or fruit. I pick what is not overgrown and not harvested too late.  I can’t think of any example where it’s better not to do that.

Happy inspiration and Happy Cooking!