Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ingredient 16 – Chia Seeds

When I was 9 or 10 I convinced my parents to get me a Chia Pet for Christmas.  I was seduced by the catchy jingle.  Sadly, that pet never grew much “fur’ because I couldn’t remember to water the poor thing.  Now, 20 years later, my interest in chia has been rekindled.  This time as a food source.  Chia seeds are not only edible, they are quite nutritious.  The seeds are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids and fiber.

Chia, Salvia hispanica, is a flowering plant that belongs to the same family as mint.  Its cultivation in Mexico dates back to Pre-Columbian times.  The Aztecs believed the seed bestowed supernatural powers.  Today, the majority of chia cultivation occurs in Mexico and Bolivia.

Blackberry Chia Pudding
Adapted from Monica Reinagel
Makes 1 serving
2 Tbp chia seeds
1/2 cup vanilla almond or soy milk. If you prefer to use an unflavored milk, add a touch of honey for a little sweetness.
1/3 cup blackberries

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To make the pudding, place the chia seeds, milk, and berries in a small dish.  Stir the ingredients gently before covering the dish with plastic wrap or a lid.  Let the mixture rest in refrigerator for at least two hours.  When you return the chia seeds will have absorbed the milk, leaving you with a creamy tapioca like pudding.
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I liked this pudding.  It was easy to make and reasonably healthy.  The original recipe said to let the pudding set for 30 minutes.  However, when I took my dish out of the fridge at the 30 minute mark, not all of the liquid had absorbed.  I am looking forward to more experimentation with chia seeds.  Overall grade: B. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ingredient 15 - Rhubarb

This week's ingredient was rhubarb and I made strawberry-rhubarb crumble.  I have been waiting weeks to type that sentence.  I thought I would cook with rhubarb in March, an ode to the arrival of spring.  However, Mother Nature was feeling spiteful this year and delivered a March that was miserable.  Thankfully, the weather these last few weeks has been consistently nice and I was finally able to feature rhubarb without feeling like a total fool.

Before I lovingly discuss the recipe, a little information on rhubarb.  Rhubarb is a vegetable known for its tart flavor.  Originally considered medicinal by the Chinese, its use dates back to 2700 B.C.  The two main varieties found in grocery stores are bright red or more green in color.  The traditional, greenish, variety has a milder flavor.  Regardless of variety, select rhubarb with smaller stalks that are dense and shiny.  Avoid stalks that feel rubbery or dry.

The recipe listed below is a slight variation on Deb from Smitten Kitchen's crumble.  The main difference being, my version has more rhubarb.  Deb is a genius.  Everything I have made from her site has come out really well.  Her dishes are approachable yet sophisticated.  Instant pudding and cream of mushroom soup are not the common denominators of her recipes.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
1 1/3 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbp sugar
3 tbp Sugar in the Raw
Zest of 1 lemon
1 stick salted butter
2 cups chopped rhubarb
2 lb strawberries
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbp cornstarch

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Begin by making the topping.  Place flour, baking powder, and sugars in a mixing bowl.  If you don’t have or care not to purchase Sugar in the Raw, you can substitute in an equal amount of regular sugar.  The raw sugar just diversifies the texture of the topping.

Next, grate the zest of 1 lemon into the bowl with the flour and sugar.  Gently mix contents of bowl with a fork.  Place the stick of butter In a separate bowl and melt it in the microwave.  Do not melt on high, 50% power works just fine.  Pour melted butter into bowl with flour and gently mix with fork until ingredients are thoroughly combined.  The topping will have a sand-like texture when complete.    

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Once the topping is made, pre-heat the oven to 375 and start on the filling.  Wash and trim the ends from the rhubarb, just like you would celery.  Slice the stalks into 1 inch pieces.  Wash and quarter the strawberries.  I cut the tops of my strawberries before quartering. 

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Place strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl.  Add sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice to bowl and gently stir.  Use a strainer to keep the lemon seeds out of the bowl.

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Place the filling in a large baking dish and cover evenly with topping.  Bake for 45 minutes.

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I served my crumble with some fancy vanilla gelato.

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This crumble was ridiculously good.  The cornstarch kept the filling from being a sloppy mess and the addition of lemon juice and zest was divine.  The dessert was flavorful and not too sweet.  An A for Deb from Smitten Kitchen.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ingredient 14 - Lemongrass

This week I opted to cook with lemongrass because I had a hankering for Thai food.  Lemongrass is a native grass of Southeast Asia and a popular ingredient in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.  As the name suggests, the grass has a mild citrus flavor.  Lemongrass is a staple seasoning for savory dishes, like curry and soup, and is also the source of lemon flavor in herbal teas.   
When purchasing lemongrass, look for stalks that are firm.  The bottom of the stalk should be pale yellow and the top should be green.  Avoid stalks that have browning leaves.

Pork and Lemongrass Meatballs in Lettuce Cups  
Adapted from Epicurus
Serves 2 to 3 as a meal

1 lb ground pork
1 lemongrass stalk
1 shallot
2 tbp chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbp fish sauce
2 garlic cloves
1 tbp vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

Dipping sauce:
1 lemongrass stalk
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tbp chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbp coarsely grated carrot
4 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp minced green serrano pepper 
2 tbp vegetable oil

For serving:
20 Butter or Romaine Lettuce leaves
1 cucumber thinly sliced

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Begin by making the meatballs.  Prepare the lemongrass by removing out the outside leaves and cutting off the very bottom of the stalk.  Keep the bottom 5 inches.  Roll over the remaining stalk with a rolling pin or wine bottle to help release the grass’s flavor.  Dice the lemongrass, shallot, and garlic and place it in a food processor or immersion blender with the fish sauce, cilantro, sugar, and white pepper.  Combine ingredients into a paste.

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Place pork and lemongrass paste in a bowl and combine with hands.  Make 12 to 18 meatballs.

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Place meatballs in freezer and begin making the dipping sauce.  Prepare and chop another lemongrass stalk, following the guidance provided above.  Chop the cilantro and de-seed and dice the serrano pepper.  Grate 1 large carrot or 4 to 5 baby carrots.  Place the lemongrass, carrot, cilantro, and serrano in bowl with the sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, and oil.  Mix with a whisk and set aside. 
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Once the sauce is finished, remove the meatballs from the freezer and heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet, medium high heat.  Cook the meatballs for 10 to 15 minutes, turning every few minutes.  I covered my meatballs for the last 5 minutes to ensure doneness. 

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When the meatballs are finished cooking, plate them with the lettuce leaves and sliced cucumber.  To enjoy, place cucumber and meatball in lettuce leaf and top with sauce.

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I really enjoyed this dish.  The lemongrass did not produce a strong flavor, but the dish did not lack flavor.  If you want to add heat to the sauce, don’t de-seed the serrano pepper.  I will be making these meatballs again for sure.  Overall grade A-. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ingredient 13 - Pistachios

Martha Stewart has redeemed herself in my book.  I lost a little faith last weekend while removing some overly roasted parsnips and brussels sprouts from my Sunday dinner.  When it comes to baked goods, Martha is in the know.  I made her pistachio shortbread sandwich cookies this weekend and they came out great.  Best of all, they were amazingly simple to prepare.  I was shocked at how easy they were to make.  Unfortunately, this new-found knowledge may lead to me ODing on shortbread.  Walnut shortbread dipped in chocolate, yes please.

FYI, pistachios are tree nuts that originated in Iran and Iraq but made their way to the Mediterranean in the first century A.D.  The pistachio tree thrives in dry climates with cool winters and hot summers.  Humidity is the enemy of the pistachio.  Iran, Turkey, Syria, and California are all top pistachio producers.

Pistachio Shortbread Sandwich Cookies
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
1/3 cup strawberry jam

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Begin by bringing the butter to room temperature.  I placed my butter on the counter before going out for pizza.  It was ready when I got home 90 minutes later.

Place softened butter, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fully combined, low speed.  Measure and place flour in a bowl. Add flour to butter in small batches, beating on low.  When fully combined, the butter and flour will form a crumbly dough.
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Roughly chop the pistachios and add them to the dough, mix with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Use your hands to press the dough into two logs.  Martha says to make two 8 inch logs, but one of my logs was closer to 12 inches.  Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Note: The logs can be frozen for up to a month.

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When you are ready to bake, remove logs from freezer and slice into 1/4 inch pieces.  If the logs are frozen solid, let them warm up on the counter for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

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Place oven racks in top and lower third positions and pre-heat the oven to 350.  Place slices on a parchment paper- lined cookie sheets and bake for approximately 15 minutes, switching oven position of the sheets halfway through.  The cookies are done when the edges turn golden brown.

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When the cookies have completely cooled, spread jam on the bottom of a cookie and place bottom of a similarly-sized cookie on top.
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These cookies were fantastic.  The perfect cookie for a cup of tea.  They are good sans jam as well.  A great take-along to any brunch or ladylike event.  Overall grade: A.