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Posts Tagged ‘quick’

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The flavors of a good curry will always be an experience that I seek fervently. I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that more complex flavors in my mouth are highly desirable, and even a basic curry recipe can be so loaded with ample taste that it’s like fireworks on the tongue. A really good curry, as I have gathered from reading through some of my Indian cookbooks, is a process; it takes time to develop and gets better as it sits. In fact, Julie Sahni’s ‘Classic Indian Cookbook’ is full of recipes that simmer and bubble slowly over hours, and then goes on to say something to the extent of “Cover your pot and allow to sit for two hours or more, preferably overnight to create a deeper flavor.”Whoa now.

My love for a good curry dish is too high, too frenetic and too enthusiastic to consider making something such as Julie’s amazing dishes, then forcing myself, with a household of warming spices permeating every surface, to put aside the final product and WAIT to eat it. I may have patience for many things in life, such as a good loaf of bread, Spring to follow Winter and the ending of a long and complicated novel, but curry indulgence is not something I can set in the fridge, ignore and go about my business. When that baby is done and ready, I want to dig in. I want to indulge, feel the play in my mouth and the warmth filling every corner of my stomach and soul. Maybe in another life I was born to a land of coriander and ginger, soothed with the brightness of turmeric and weaned on cumin. How else would I have such a cuisine so infused in my blood? I’m a white girl with blue eyes, but place the aromatic Indian spices in front of me and I turn golden like a cheetah, speeding to pounce in delight on my meal.

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A quick fix is always a good thing among the tried and true, slow creations hidden in the pages of any Indian cookbook. This recipe for highly pungent -and fast cooked- Curried Chickpeas has the warm spices of those stalwarts without the long waiting period. Now I could have used dried chickpeas for a slight flavor edge but in a pinch, for this eager mouth to devour, the canned are a perfect choice. It was barely 15 minutes from start to finish, and a steaming aromatic bowl of tiny, golden infused orbs sat on my counter. One bite and they ‘POW’d and ‘ZING’d their way to every one of my taste buds, delighting me and easing the need for some kind of spicy fury on my fork. Not overwhelming, and certainly not one to make my eyebrows sweat -a sure sign of potent heat- but again with the subtle means of infusing curry to the deepest layer of my skin. And fast. With a deep breath of relief, I was soothed once again.

Curried Chickpeas
From The Los Angeles Times, 10/21/09

1 medium onion, diced
1 t. turmeric
1 t. coriander seed
1 t. cumin seed
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 T. chopped cilantro (more to taste)
1 T. each fresh squeezed lemon juice and zest (lime would work fine, in fact I think it might be better)

With a mortar and pestle, or a spice grinder, crush the coriander and cumin seed into coarse powder.

In a saute pan, heat oil of choice and add onions over medium-high heat. Saute onion until deep golden brown and crispy, about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the turmeric, coriander, cumin and cayenne. Cook, stirring frequently until aromatic and toasted, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, cilantro and lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. Remove from heat and taste. Season with salt if desired. Allow to cool, transfer to a container and chill prior to serving. Adjust lemon juice and seasoning if you wish.

KATE’S NOTES:
I like the fresh flavors of using whole coriander and cumin seed in recipes. If you don’t keep a mortar and pestle, or spice grinder on hand, use pre-ground spices in the same quantity.

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The words ‘chili’ and ‘simple’ often aren’t used in the same sentence, and I’m sure chili purists would snort at a pot of smoky rich chili that’s ready in less than an hour, but while there can be a steadfast debate over what constitutes true chili- beans, no beans, the type of meat or none at all- chili is one of those subjective words that has as many meanings as there are cooks to pull it together.

I love a pot of chili that develops over time on my stove. The extra deep flavors, the rich tender chunks of beef and the warm smoky aroma that fills my house are one of the things I begin to crave as the daylight grows shorter each Fall. Be that as it may, I also love having something hearty, healthy and quick to pull together and offer to a gnawing stomach. Or a broken soul.

I found this quick chili recipe last year from an Eating Well magazine and it was an instant hit. It comes together so quickly that you might barely have time to bake a pan of cornbread before you are ready to indulge. You need canned beans and enough know-how to chop an onion; most anyone can manage that and yet it just begs for improvisation, for peppers or perhaps corn and some late season zucchini to add heft and health to an already stellar pot.

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Soup. Chili. Stew. Chowder. These words have been ringing in my head this past month as we’ve waved off summer and started our reacquaintance with Autumn. Last year I was happily enmeshed in soup-making and found all sorts of good ideas for a steaming pot. This one is a good -and quick-  option for soup season.

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Quick and Easy Three Bean Chili
Adapted by Kate

1 medium red pepper, cored and diced
1 medium poblano pepper, cored and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, cored and diced (for more heat, use serrano)
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz can great northern beans
1 15-oz can black beans
1 15-oz can pinto beans
2 15-oz or 1 28-oz can fire roasted tomatoes
3 T. chili powder
1 T. ground cumin
1-2 T. chipotle chili in adobo, if desired

Drain and rinse all canned beans, set aside. In a medium stockpot, cook onion and all the peppers in oil until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add in chili powder, cumin and garlic and cook about a minute, stirring continually. Add in tomato and all beans, and two quarts of water. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Simmer to develop flavors, about 15 minutes. Add in chipotle for more flavor and heat if you wish. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed.

Can be topped with diced avocado, cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime. Additional ingredients to add if desired: diced zucchini or frozen corn.

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Are you a one-track mind kind of person when it comes to your salad? Does it have to be green, with cukes, tomato, a hard crouton or two and some type of dressing or it can’t possibly be a salad?

If that’s the case, then you might want to skip this post.

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While I certainly have enjoyed my share of salads this summer, resplendent with leafy field greens, dark spinach leaves and all manner of vegetable toppings and extras, I serendipitously came across the be-all to end-all of salad options recently that has thoroughly taken my mind off the standard greens and placed it smack in the middle of Salad Experimentation Land just as the peak of summer produce has me reeling with endless possibilities.

Each of these salads took about 10 minutes to put together, if even that. And every one of them simply shouted with flavor.

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Lemony Garlic White Beans

1 15-oz can great northern or cannelini beans, rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, thin sliced
2 t. fresh thyme leaves
1 t. crushed red pepper
2-3 T. fresh basil leaves, chopped
Juice of one lemon, zest of half the lemon
1/2 c. grape tomato, halved (more if desired)
Olive oil, salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, combine beans, tomato, lemon zest and basil leaves. In a small skillet, warm olive oil slowly with thyme leaves and crushed pepper. When hot and leaves are sizzling slightly, add garlic slices and cook gently until lightly browned. Stir in lemon juice, then pour over beans and stir carefully to combine. Mash some of the beans slightly and season with salt and pepper. Add more oil if too dry. Chill for an hour or two, then stir before serving. Can be eaten alone, a topping for toasted bread or a filling for an omelet.

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Lime Infused Carrots
3-4 medium carrots, scrubbed, peeled and thinly sliced (or grated if you want)
juice and zest of one lime
3-4 T. olive oil
1/2 c. crushed pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Combine carrots, juice, zest and oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and stir in pepitas. Allow to chill before serving.

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Chipotle Corn and Pinto Beans
1 15-oz can pinto beans, rinsed well
3 ears of fresh sweet corn kernels
1 T. chipotle pepper with adobo (more if you like the heat)
1/2 sweet pepper, any color- minced
1 small shallot, minced
Zest and juice of one lime
1/2 c. cilantro, rough chopped
Olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and chill for about an hour. Taste before serving and adjust seasonings if needed.

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This is just a sampling of the 101 salad options I found. The best part of it all is that the suggestions are just baselines for your imagination. That carrot recipe was an off-shoot of the original listed, and the Chipotle Corn salad didn’t have either shallot or sweet pepper in it, but I had them on hand and knew they’d be excellent. The bottom line is simple; the recipes are perfect just the way they are. They’re so easy that cooking skills aren’t even seriously required, but if you’ve got the wherewithal to spark some alternatives, add something with extra pizazz or just take it in a whole new direction, then you could spend now until the coming of winter playing with this list. What are you waiting for? It’s already August!!

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Today marks the 3rd anniversary of this blog. Am I happy about it? That depends on the day, but usually yes. And sometimes, more often than not these days, I would say no.

I admit that I’ve toyed a lot lately – a lot!–  with quitting this past time of mine. Part of me feels if I hit the ‘Delete’ button that there wouldn’t be many people who would notice. You see, the thing is, everyone is writing a blog these days; it’s the thing to do- it’s cool, trendy etc etc. And the sheer number of food blogs out there is astonishing beyond imagination. It seems like anyone who’s ever been told ‘Hey, this is GOOD!’ has decided to write a food blog. Some of them are amazing, and they humble me greatly. Others? Feh. A can of soup poured over a microwaved potato somehow doesn’t strike me as being fodder for a blog, but hey, who am I to ask what other people want? After three years it has become apparent to me that I still haven’t got a clue, and that maybe I never will. This has become OK with me, in a hard-fought and harsh sort of way.

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I’ve had some recent face-palm moments of anxiety though, there’s been ranting and grousing; Facebook conversations with treasured blog buddies and true friends have been able to talk me me down off the ledge which is why I am here to write this anniversary post. These moments of extreme instability have thankfully had a purpose. I have at least come to understand the most important reason why I continue to do this even when it often makes me crazy; I would rather have half a dozen genuine and honest comments about what I post that come right from a readers heart lush with praise than a hundred fickle and shallow ones that only say ‘Yum!’. Because it’s important for me to touch someone through this giant web we live in, to touch a part of them that matters. Our lives are too informal and detached. We type messages to one another instead of speaking face to face, fall into television shows and disappear, plug in our earbuds and tune out the rest of the world. If this is how life has turned, I can jump aboard with the rest and I certainly have. You all know, if you’ve been here long enough, how much I love Facebook and how it keeps me connected with so many, over thousands of miles, the past and the present colliding all in one crazy spot, and this blog is yet another way that I can reach out across the spaces in between and give everyone a part of who I am. That is what’s important to me. I want it to feel like coming home to an old and trusted friend. My reward is in your words, and I want you to know I appreciate them immensely.

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The rest of it is certainly still evolving and no one is more surprised than I am about how this blog has pushed me to stretch and re-define my food tastes and more thoroughly examine both what I do and how I eat, and in keeping with the way I choose to nourish myself and my family, the food will remain real and honest. My hope each time I post a recipe is that you find something in it that lights a spark. That you read the recipe and say not only “I can do that!” but “I WANT to do that!” Because I don’t find it at all coincidental that as we strive towards that always elusive brass ring, surrounding ourselves with technology and silencing the voices of those around us in favor of an array of electronics, that the urge and need to feed our stomachs AND our souls grows ever louder and more persistent. We congregate where there is nourishment for every aspect of our lives and our hunger isn’t always for food; it’s for something to touch us, to touch our lives and give us a reason to smile, a means for being connected – really connected and not just with a power cord-  and I hope that you’ll find a small part of that here.

This blog- this three years in the making blog of mine, it’s not about mass appeal and I hope someone smacks me a good one if I even think to post an ad on it. It isn’t about my stats, or readership. I don’t feel I need to roam the USA going to blog conferences and schmoozing (I hate schmoozing for schmooze sake….I just like to hang out and talk to people). I’m not big on posting recipes that have worn out a welcome, I don’t jump on food trends, I’m not a locavore and I dislike labels. I love to cook and I’m really darn good at it. That’s all I want to share.

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And I did promise you something food related as you put up with me in my last post going on about learning life lessons in the garden and talking about my darling shaved cat, so I won’t disappoint but this is something pretty simple. Almost too simple. That’s what makes it so good though.

It’s a wrap.
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Nothing superbly special, right?

But I’ll tell you, start with this creamy Avocado White Bean Spread and any wrap you make will be just a titch better. Grill some chicken, beef strips or shrimp, get some good crab meat or top quality tuna and add whatever vegetables you prefer. Grate some good cheese into it. Wrap it in a nice flavorful tortilla and pour some ice tea. The weather has been HOT here, and this cool and quick dinner was just the ticket. We were picking at the crumbs and sighing in contentment at each other. A few fresh cherries rounded out a perfect summer meal.


Creamy Avocado and White Bean Spread

From Eating Well magazine (and adapted slightly by Kate)

1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 ripe avocado
1/2 c. grape tomatoes (my addition)
1-2 T. finely minced red onion (or use some good onion powder like Penzeys)
Fresh ground black pepper and coarse salt to taste

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients and process until slightly chunky. Scrape sides. Pulse once or twice more to fully combine and scrape into a clean bowl. Season to taste.

Spread about nice layer of this on a tortilla and top with your choice of fillings. Roll up tightly and enjoy. It’s also delicious as a chip and raw vegetable dip (but it does NOT photograph well! Sorry!)

Would you like something equally delicious and appealing with little fuss? How about a nice Mexican Rice?

Kate’s Mexican Rice

1 15-oz can diced or whole tomato
1 medium onion
1 jalapeno (seeded if you wish)
1 4-oz can green chilies
1 1/2 c. white rice

Fresh lime wedges and oil for cooking.

In the bowl of a food processor, place tomato, onion (cut into fourths) jalapeno and green chilies. Blend until mixture is finely chopped, almost to the point of being like a thin salsa. Pour into a measuring cup. It should be about 3-4 cups.

In a deep skillet over medium high flame, heat about 2 T. of cooking oil until very hot. Pour in the rice and stir to coat with oil. Turn heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring regularly until the rice is turning browned and becoming very fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. The pan should be smoking hot by now. Carefully pour in the tomato mixture- careful of the steam!- and quickly stir to combine it with the toasted rice. Allow to come to a simmer and then cover, reduce heat and cook until liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat and allow pan to stand, covered, for about 10-15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve, squirting some fresh lime juice over the top.

NOTES FOR THE RICE:
You can stir in another chopped jalapeno before serving the cooked rice. It adds another level of heat to the dish. Other good additions are canned black beans (rinsed), frozen corn, sauteed zucchini or roasted peppers. Or all of it. For varied flavors, try using fire roasted tomatoes. If you wish to use fresh tomato, the equivalent would be about three medium sized ones and it’s a good idea if you peel them before using. This is excellent as a rice to use with burritos and tastes fabulous topped with cold chunks of avocado.

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I think everyone is trying to eat better for their health, and subsequently, their pocketbooks. Information abounds in money-saving tips, grocery shopping tactics and ‘Quick! Fast! Cheap!’ meals are everywhere.

I’m thrilled that Springtime, and the return of fresh produce is commencing. It changes the whole tone of what happens in my kitchen, and on our plates. There are sweet baby lettuces that need barely a gasp of fresh squeezed lime juice and a tiny drizzle of balsamic, rich asparagus stems in a quick sputtering stir-fry and tiny crisp radishes dredged through a bit of french sea salt. I keep dreaming about main-dish salads of smoky grilled vegetables. I long for summer cherries, melon season and corn plucked from the field that morning, dew still clinging to the leaves and tassels. It can’t come soon enough. I long to retire my soup pot and clean out the oven; bye bye rutabagas, thick skinned squashes and heavy braises. Nights may still need those extra blankets, but this girl’s in the mood for new food.

I’ve started to move a little from winter’s heavier fare to quicker, simpler and more varied eating, mostly by fulfilling my current hankering for anything cabbage related. This isn’t the most spring-like of offerings, but it’s cheap, chock full of excellent nutrition and it keeps like a trooper in the fridge when properly wrapped. I’ve been a fan of cabbage since I was a little girl. It was one of my Mom’s continual offerings. She would chop up an entire head of green cabbage, place it in the ‘cabbage tupperware’ (reserved only for that use) and then pour on some Good Seasons Italian dressing and grate a bunch of pepper over it. The cover would be pressed into place and she would shake that thing like crazy. I can still hear the sound of all that cabbage being tossed around. Cabbage makes me think of her and I still love it with little else besides that same dressing, doctored in my own fashion, tossed with a handful of chopped almonds for crunch and extra flavor, although there’s far more to this humble vegetable than most people ever realize.

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Cruciferous vegetables-like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale-are rich in a variety of compounds that have been shown to slow cancer growth and development in a number of laboratory studies. Other larger human studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables can help to reduce the risk of lung, stomach, colorectal, prostate, and bladder cancers. (from the Living Strong Living Well website article ’11 Cancer Fighting Foods)

Cole slaw is a very favorite dish of mine as well, only I am not one to beam and shout over most recipes, drenched as they are in a mayo based dressing to the point of giving the term ‘limp and soggy’ a run for its money. Although that tastes pretty darn good on a pulled pork sandwich, from the end of a fork it doesn’t resonate quite so beautifully. Coleslaw needs to be made and eaten quickly. It’s one food where ‘leftovers’ in my fridge tend to cause immense shuddering and a wrinkled nose.

The whole idea of coleslaw has changed dramatically in my mind, thanks to the endless food blogs that pour out every variation of the stuff. It isn’t just about the cabbage anymore, and by definition, if it adds something more, is it still just humble coleslaw?

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This recipe evolved from several sources and plenty of inspiration. It mixes green and red cabbage, jicama sticks, garbanzo beans, cooked bulgur and chopped almonds, with a few cool cucumber slices on the side for color and crunch and in return, it promises you a plate of superb antioxidant protection, a powerhouse of vitamin C, omega-3 fats, whole grain goodness and loads of crunch. It sticks with you long after the fact too, with an amazing amount of fiber that leaves you feeling satisfied and full without being too overbearing. No one needs food to continually outstay its welcome; these days we want a good meal without wishing for a sofa and pillow afterwards. And it’s so good that it won’t take long for you to turn a lovely pile of vegetable goodness into a near  bare and heavily appreciated empty plate.super-cabbage-salad1-004

This is also a perfect offering for the blogging event happening over at Mele Cotte- Cooking to Combat Cancer. Chris is now in Year Three of being cancer- free and calling all food bloggers to offer up recipes with cancer-fighting appeal.

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There is no shortage of good people around me fighting with everything that they have against the ravages of cancer, and this event can help everyone arm themselves with good tools to put in their pantries and tummies that will offer some support to a body that is constantly exposed to an wide range of harmful properties. I owe an enormous amount of my well-being and overall health to the foods that I eat; whole foods, plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean meats, whole grains, nuts; it’s all there. I stepped up my efforts to make our meals even better over the winter, and we were rewarded with only a smattering of illness that took little time to disperse. While food itself isn’t the only way to stay healthy, it’s one good tool you can use to help your body be at it’s very best.

Super Slaw Salad
by Kate

1/4 head of both red and green cabbage, shredded or chopped
1/2 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. cooked bulger
1/2 c. (approx.) of thinly sliced jicama
1/4 c. chopped almonds
Cucumber slices
Dressing of choice

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and toss to mix, adding dressing to taste and seasoning with fresh cracked pepper or a dusting of good sea salt. Allow to sit for 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

KATE’S NOTES:
Obviously, endless variations on this abound. It’s almost silly to make a cut and dried recipe out of it. I would have added carrots if I had some. Shredded apple would be delicious. I love the addition of shredded bok choy and napa cabbages to my slaws also. Vary the dressings too for a different flavor profile, like an asian style with sesame seeds. Change up the nuts, the beans or the grain.

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We all have events in our lives that aren’t the most pleasant to look back on, but when traced with the correct pencil of perspective we can firmly point out maybe a benefit or two gained from the experience. This Sesame Seared Salmon is one of the good things that came from a not-too-pleasant occasion during my culinary school days.

I was a member of our school’s culinary competition team. The local culinary schools engage in a friendly student competition each year at a big food show that goes on in February. We started our practices in October, meeting once a week to work on knife skills and a four-course menu that needed to be done in a 90 minutes window on the day of the competition. The whole thing was fraught with elements of disaster from the start, mostly due to one team member who was so bloated with self-importance that he refused to allow anyone to tell him what to do or work with anyone else on the team to make it a smooth venture. No amount of nagging or threats could get the team captain to kick him off and replace him with someone easier to work with. We plodded on, although I knew the whole thing was going to be only slightly less catastrophic than a thunderous tsunami.

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My part of the team was to do the appetizer and I did a three part salmon plate; one was a Salmon Tartare in a Savory Cornet shell, the other was a Vegetable Bisque with Seared Salmon and the third was bite-sized nuggets of this gorgeous Sesame Seared Salmon. Outside of absolutely loving the Sesame salmon, making a friend for life in my teammate Emily and getting to spend a lot of time with some amazing chef mentors who taught me a great deal, the entire incident was one that I often look at with utmost regret. We placed dead last and quite frankly, it was a little embarrassing to go up against schools who spent an entire year prior to the competition in a class that did nothing but mold them for the end result. We looked like a group of rusty, beat up old clunkers at a Porsche convention.

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This salmon, however, was all my creation and I couldn’t have been more pleased with it. I really need to make it more often.

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The seasoning is a simple blend of Old Bay, lemon and lime zest, a little squeeze of either juice, salt and pepper and a mix of black and white sesame seeds. Press the fish into the mix,  heat a skillet to smoking and drop the fillets in a small puddle of good olive oil. Turn the heat down slightly, cook until the side is burnished and fragrant and flip it over to finish.

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This meal, indulged in on a kid-free night was so full of flavors that Mike and I could do little else but gaze at each other in awe; firm moist salmon with the delightful citrus-y crunch of the sesame crust and my absolute favorite parmesan-garlic sauteed spinach that ended up perfectly cooked even when I was afraid I over-did it.

I made my own Old Bay style blend instead of buying an overpriced tin of it. I’m really a spice hound and have a huge shelf in my kitchen that is full of different spices. I prefer to make my own blends- I made garam masala when I needed it and was able to make a suitable Chines 4-Spice blend  that managed quite well without the star anise. Easy access to bulk spices helps too. The recipe for Old Bay that I found on-line required 13 ingredients- I had 12 on hand.

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February is here and the bitter chill we experienced in January will, hopefully, be all behind us. The light is longer in the afternoon; twilight comes around 6:00pm as opposed to 4:30, and with the last day of our arctic first month we had a brilliant thaw- temps in the 40’s, and a balmy breeze that reminded our frozen extremities that yes, Spring does follow winter, and really, it shouldn’t be too long now. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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My newly adopted African violets seem to really enjoy our sunroom. I was gifted with an entire collection of them after they failed to thrive, and I am really looking forward to seeing what lovely blossoms they will bestow on me. This one poked it’s head out within days of landing amongst the sun and warmth of our house, looking around as if to brightly proclaim “It’s nice here!”

Still, we need some foods to warm us, to take away the icy feeling that comes from old squeaky snow underfoot (more than three weeks since a measurable snowfall), the harsh almost breakable nights where the stars resemble ice shards in the sky and the wind creeps through even the snuggest of weather-proofing. It may be slightly warmer than our bone-numbing arctic blast of a few weeks ago, but that last push through February and into March, where the calendar brings at least the promise of meteorological Spring even if the atmosphere doesn’t get on board, can seem longer and more pressing than the first few weeks in December where everything seems so dark and heavy. It’s like the last few miles of a strenuous trip to a beloved destination; the haul is long, but the end result is oh so sweet.

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The month started out with some beautifully sunny days, although today isn’t one of them. The sunshine makes the house feel very cozy during the day, especially in the second floor bedroom. It’s hard not to curl up against the pillows in the warmth, a good book in my hands and a cup of steaming tea on the bedside table, maybe a purring feline against my leg. Just walking into the room propels me into a different mood, like the warmth and sun work in a swift instant to relax me. It’s best for me to just stay downstairs, focused, a worthwhile endeavor at hand, like stirring together a pot of Red Lentil Dhal.

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I’ve done this dish before and was thrilled with the results. Why I don’t put it together more often is beyond understanding; red lentils, of all the lentil types available, cook the quickest with such little effort besides a swishing through water. This recipes calls for a deeply aromatic melange of toasted spices and seeds, creating a smoky taste that permeates each bite. From start to finish, it barely ticked 30 minutes off the clock- enough time for me to switch a load of laundry, gaze outside at the sunshine, scratch a soft warm cat ear. Even if it cooks a little too long you’re not worse for wear. And the flavor is so delicious. Scooped warm over some rice with a few crunchy pistachios as a garnish and my lunch was sunshine-y perfect.

Even though the temperature fluctuates between barely climbing to double digits and then turning around and surpassing the freezing mark, the sunshine made everything seem so much nicer, regardless of the number on the thermostat outside. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the rest of our winter is friendlier, and my eye on more delicious and warming  meals like this one.

That’s a pretty tomato isn’t it?? They are surprisingly flavorful for a winter tomato and my brain is working out all kinds of ways to use them. I think it’s trying to trick me into thinking it’s summer time. A girl can wish, can’t she?

(recipes and notes follow)

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Don’t know gnocchi??- say no-keee or nyawk-eee…. may I suggest taking the time to get to know these delicious, quick and wonderful little pillows of potato dough.

You can make gnocchi from scratch and recipes are all over the Internets to those who choose to undertake the project. I made gnocchi absolutely eons ago, long before anyone even knew what blogging or the internet was, or even, really what gnocchi was. I don’t think they were all that good. I wasn’t all that good then either. So let’s fast forward.

I’ve read over recipe after recipe for handmade gnocchi and quite frankly, I’m not that interested in making them from scratch. It’s one of those labor-intensive recipes that seems easy enough but can be fraught with problems. I love to cook without issues, besides, when the grocer carries a perfectly acceptable brand of shelf-stable gnocchi that tastes wonderful and is a snap to put together for a meal, for what reason would I sweat over a bowl of floured cooked potato if I don’t have to? Right. I’m glad you agree.

The current issue of Eating Well magazine, my most favorite of all the food publications out there, had a very eye-catching recipe for gnocchi and I just had to try it. I knew it wouldn’t appeal to the little carnivore, but quite frankly, this was one of those meals I wanted no matter what. With plenty of leftovers in the fridge, it worked out fine.

Gnocchi is made from cooked potato that is mixed with flour, usually semolina, and sometimes bread crumbs. Gnocchi comes from the word nocchio, loosely translating to ‘knot in the wood’ and has been a traditional Italian offering since the time of the Romans. It is available in all it’s regional forms throughout Italy, although the potato version is considered to be the most recent, ever since the introduction of the potato to Europe in the 16th century.

Behold the gnocchi……from this

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To this…..

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In about 20 minutes.

And it was all I could do not to eat all of it. This is definitely on the repeat list for us. It was amazingly good.

Gnocchi In a Flash
adapted from the February Eating Well magazine
For the orginal recipe, go <HERE>

1 pkg shelf stable gnocchi
2-3 boneless chicken breasts, cut to strips
1 medium red pepper, cored and seeded, cut to strips
1 bunch spinach, washed and de-stemmed* (equal to a 10-oz bag)
1/4 c. canned diced tomato with italian seasonings
1/2 c. fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice
1/3 c. fresh grated parmesan cheese
Fresh basil to garnish

Season chicken breast strips with salt and pepper. Heat oil in 10-inch skillet, add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until strips are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove to bowl. Add red pepper and cook 3-5 minutes until tender. Add to chicken. Wipe out skillet with paper towel and add about a teaspoon of oil. When hot, add gnocchi and cook about 5 minutes until browned and slightly puffy. Add chicken and pepper to pan, and in bunches, add in spinach, stirring quickly until it’s all wilted. Toss in diced tomato and mozzarella cubes and shave some parmesan over the top. Stir to mix and allow to cook for 3 minutes or so until hot. Serve immediately topped with fresh basil.

KATE’S NOTES:
The chicken is completely optional in this. Truthfully, it was an attempt to get Griffin to try some. He did, but didn’t like it. The original recipe has no meat in it, but it does have white beans. And no red pepper. I think this version is stellar.

The original recipe called for the entire can of diced seasoned tomato. For whatever reason, I just spooned in a few tablespoons and it was perfect. The rest can be frozen in a baggie for another use.

*A word on fresh greens, like the spinach; I always buy greens by the head. I don’t buy the bags of them at all- too expensive and chemically washed, plus they just don’t last as long-  and some markets around me carry the ‘live’ lettuce heads with a root ball attached. They are cheap, mixed and wonderful. I clean the greens as soon as I can after getting them home and place them, wrapped in wet paper towels, in a plastic bag in the drawer of the fridge. They keep for up to a week for the more tender leaf varieties like spinach or field greens, and longer for heartier leaves like bok choy or romaine. Remove any wilted leaves if you notice them.

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Not long ago, I spoke about taking baby steps towards chickpea appreciation.

I’m getting there. Slowly.

And also slowly, I’m foraging into my cookbook cupboard and removing a few under-appreciated and under-utilized books; books that hold glorious recipes that make me drop my head back on the chair in a sort of agony, due to my tastebuds sorrow over never having tried it, and how delicious does this look anyway?? And why do I have this book with the almost perfect spine and unstained pages? These bitter days of January, bright with sunlight and diamond sparkling snow are perfect for experimentation, for exploring the vast untapped knowledge in these books. Now that I am getting my cross country skis out regularly, it gives me a much needed energy boost and all that drive needs to go somewhere, doesn’t it?  Best get cooking, I say.

Well, hello there beautiful…..

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Couscous is about as much fun to say as it is to work with; what other product can you dump in boiling water and forget about, coming back to tender tiny little grains of perfection with zero fuss? What else can be fixed so quickly that you barely have time to chop up a few nuts, or grate some good asiago to mix into it for a stellar side dish? Let’s say couscous….. Cous…..cous.

And this dish turned out gorgeous, if I do say so myself. Brightly colored pepper and carrot nestled up to the rich green of cilantro and with a quick toss of chili garlic sauce, it became just a tiny breath of spice in the mouth, nothing 4-alarm, not a rush of sweat breaking on the brow but just a hint of the heady flavor of chilies. It’s like when you eat something and it evokes a memory that you can’t quite place. Fleeting. Perfect.

Yes, the chickpeas. Right.

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I liked the idea of mixing the chickpeas in the all that couscous goodness, the vegetables and bite of chili sauce, but I thought ‘Hey, y’know, they aren’t the right size!’ because it’s all about symmetry in my world- the towels folded edge to edge, the sheets and comforter hanging to the same length on both sides of the bed- symmetry, similar and even. Besides, when faced with a plate of food, especially something like this, it’s all about the teeny-weeny (it is couscous, after all) and so I blended the pepper and carrot in the food processor to mince them fine, whacked the nuts to pieces and took my chef knife to the chickpeas.

I then turned my kitchen into The Flying Chickpea Circus. Did I think at all that those little guys might be quite sprightly?

Oh, and the skins. Ew. That never occurred to me as I lifted my Wustof. I don’t like those skins. But it was time for chin up, marching forward to the finish line. Think symmetry; ignore the skins.

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In real time this only took about 15 minutes to pull together, of course, minus the chickpea chasing. I had the vegetables seared and waiting, the cilantro chopped, the nuts fragrant and toasted. A few quick tosses and my fork was present and accounted for, heading to my mouth. So delightful. I think the best part of this dish came later, at dinnertime, as I sat down to a steaming bowl of soup I realized that I wasn’t even that hungry. My small bowl of grains, legumes and vegetables had given me some serious sustenance, a bonus to any recipe.

More chickpea appreciation and a great dish to boot; this works perfectly as a good main course or as a side dish. Increase the chili garlic sauce for your own heat level. Watch for the flying chickpeas.

Spicy Couscous and Chickpeas
The Food and Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams.

1/2 c. chopped pepitas
2 c. chicken broth
2 c. whole wheat couscous
2 t. olive oil
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed seeded and diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed well
1-3 T. chili garlic sauce
Fresh chopped cilantro

Toast pepitas in a hot skillet until fragrant, remove to dish. In same skillet, saute pepper and carrot in oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside. Bring broth to a boil, add couscous and stir, then cover and remove from heat to absorb. In large bowl, combine couscous, chickpeas, pepper, carrot, pepitas and chili garlic sauce. Salt if desired. Top with cilantro.

KATE’S NOTES:
In the original recipe, the nuts listed are slivered almonds, which would be delicious in this. Toast them as well. The original recipe did not call for carrot, but it definitely improves the overall appearance and nutrition of the dish. Whole wheat couscous was my addition and I think the heartier flavor of the grain is a real boon. Thin the chili garlic sauce with a little water to make mixing more uniform. I subbed cilantro for parsley as I like it better.

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In getting used to living without dairy in my diet, I have found some easy loopholes for my own personal use of casein. Most everyone lacks the enzyme in their body to digest cows milk protein, or casein, but many people simply don’t recognize any discomfort, or equate it with consumption of milk products.  I do not have an allergy to dairy as many people quickly assume; when I eat dairy products I just get a very bad stomach ache as I’ve now been able to recognize that I can’t digest the protein in cows milk. A dairy allergy is when the body can go into shock upon consumption of dairy, or an anaphylactic reaction. My friend Angela has this. For me, it isn’t that dangerous, it’s just uncomfortable. But as I learn to manage this in my daily eats, I have found some interesting outcomes. I cannot consume any milk product made from mass-produced, factory raised cows. Period. A slice or two of supermarket cheese and I am in agony. A blob of sour cream has the same outcome and lets not even talk about cream or milk. Pizza has sadly disappeared from my menu, although sometimes I am willing to suffer for a slice or two, popping a Lactaid to help. But….and here’s the interesting part….. I can consume high quality cheeses, artisan style products that are made from small batches of humanely raised cows, grass fed cows, or pastured animals. These products do not affect me. Top quality yogurts that are chock full of beneficial flora also do not bother me. For these reasons, you will still see some dishes on the blog that contain cheese. I can still eat cheese, it’s just pricier for me to do so and that doesn’t bother me.

But…..back to cream-less pasta sauce.

One aspect of eating dairy free, obviously, is avoiding milk at all costs and thankfully it’s really easy these days as most outside sources such as restaurants, coffee shops and the like will offer a dairy-free alternative,  but when I look at a restaurant menu and see pasta after pasta dish with cream sauces and the lone dairy free alternative is red sauce, that ain’t making me want to skip for joy. So I was thrilled upon opening a menu at one of my favorite little bistros to find a cream-less alfredo sauce on the menu. My friend Joanna and I pounced on it as we were splitting an entree that night along with our half-price bottle of wine. I do love a good alfredo, but with the heavy cream and butter, the calories and fat are astounding and now that most milk makes my insides implode, alfredo is definitely off the list.

This ‘alfredo’ dish, however,  was made with pureed cauliflower, and although it did have cheese in it, it was an artisan style cheese that my stomach can tolerate. And it was divine. With my first mouthful I swore to recreate this at home.

My first attempt, surprisingly, was pretty good.

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Nothing like the wan light of winter to make a food look so unappetizing! But then again, how do you photograph pasta to make it look good at all?

If you’ve ever used cauliflower as a sub for mashed potatoes then you can grasp the concept of this ‘sauce’ made from pureed cauliflower. Cooked until very tender, the cauliflower is placed in a food processor with some of the cooking liquid and processed until smooth. Cheese, salt and pepper is stirred into it, then it is mixed with cooked pasta. I also added in broiled roma tomato for some color and extra nutrition.

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The first attempt was pretty good, but more cheese would have added to the flavor and I had thought my fridge held more than it did. It also needed a little more seasoning with the salt and pepper but overall was a really good first try. I think that a handful of chopped kalamata olives would have really sealed the deal. Be sure to cook the cauliflower until it’s pretty tender as it helps to make a very smooth ‘sauce’ once processed.

Cream-less Alfredo Sauce

One medium head cauliflower, washed and sectioned
1/2-3/4 c. top quality shredded parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Steam cauliflower until very tender, reserve cooking liquid. Spoon cooked cauliflower into food processor and add about a half cup of liquid. Process until smooth, scraping sides as needed. Pour back into saucepan and add cheese, stirring to melt. Season with salt and pepper and adjust to taste, adding more cheese or S&P if needed. Asiago, or romano cheese can also be used to add more flavor to the sauce.

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