Posted by: CCT | June 1, 2010

A book about the elements of cooking

Here we find another staunch advocate of cooking for yourself.

The book is called:  “The Elements of Cooking”,  Author:  Michael Ruhlman

Haven’t bought or looked into it yet, but it looks intriguing and innovative.

Posted by: CCT | April 27, 2010

Moroccan Garbanzo Beans [74]

[#74] Originally adapted from a Moroccan Couscous Recipe, these succulent beans are as exotic and delicious as they come.  Preparation can either be via crock pot or stove-top, both of which are discussed here.  For those who are gluten-intolerant or allergic like me, this is a great alternative to couscous.  Makes about 6-cups of beans.

[CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ABOUT THE POTTERY SHOWCASED BELOW]

Original recipe courtesy of The McDougall Quick and Easy Cookbook. Shown with a sprig of mint and some slices of green onion. The bowl is one my mom made, which contains a little octopus on the side below the rim. Click on picture for closeup.

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Ingredients include the following, most of which store well for long periods:

  • 8-cups water (or 4-cups of water and 4-cups of vegetable broth)
  • 3-cups dried garbanzo beans  (see “Thoughts and Rec…” below for canned)

  • 1 diced onion,   6 shredded carrots,   4 medium sized diced tomatoes
  • 3-cups of chopped up frozen green/yellow/red peppers  (see picture below)

  • 1-tsp cumin seed,   1-tsp cinnamon,   1-tsp turmeric,   4-tsp salt
  • 1/2-tbsp dried cilantro

All of the basic ingredients, most of which store well for long periods.

How a gluten-free recipe is born... at least one with descent and exotic flavor.

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1.  Crock Pot: Place all ingredients in the pot.  Stir to mix.  Cover with lid and cook on high for 10-12 hours.  Stir occasionally.  Most crock pots have a high-heat timer button for either 4 or 6 hours.  So it’s a good idea to hit the 6-hour timer button right before bed, and then hit it again when you wake up.  That way it will be ready by the time you get home from work.

2.  Stove-top: Place all ingredients in the pot.  Stir to mix.  Cover with lid and cook on high for 1-hour.  Stir occasionally.  After this first hour, change heat to medium and cook for 1-additional-hour.  Take care with high-heat cooking — stir occasionally to insure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.  If sticking does occur, turn down the heat a bit to insure that it doesn’t continue.  If you want to cook the beans more, allow an additional hour on medium heat.  This will change their consistency to make them even softer.  It will also infuse flavor more thoroughly.

Thoughts and Recommendations:

1.  Serve alone or over rice if desired.

2.  The dried beans tend to grow to twice their size once re-hydrated.  Therefore 1-cup of dried beans grows to 2-cups of cooked beans. If 6-cups of cooked beans is too much, halve the recipe above in order to create a 3-cup outcome.  I make the entire 6-cup recipe and then throw several portions into the freezer for later.

3.  METHOD-1 (How to speed up cooking time): Soak the dried beans in water for about 10-12 hours.  Then cook in the crock pot for about 6-hours rather than 12.  On stove-top cook on high for about 1-hour and then taste test to insure that beans are as soft as desired and flavor is infused as expected.  If desired consistency is not achieved, cook for an additional hour on medium.

4.  METHOD-2 (How to speed up cooking time): Use canned beans rather than dried.  There are about 2-cups of beans per can. Open 3-cans and pour into pot with other ingredients.  Then cook in the crock pot on high for about 4-6 hours rather than 12.  On stove-top cook on high for about 1-hour.

5.  In either case – METHOD-1 or 2: What you’ll notice is that the longer the cooking time, the more the ingredients mix and infuse together.  So even with canned beans, the minimum desired cooking time will depend on how smooth and flavor-saturated you want the final product to be.

6.  See also:  Beans – Fast & Easy, and Dry Beans vs. Canned Beans.  Read all about garbanzo beans here at the Whole Foods Website.

Crock pot size needed for this recipe. Three cups of dried beans expands to six cups of cooked, therefore a bigger crock pot like this is necessary.

Use the bigger pot (in the background) to make this recipe. Three cups of dried beans expands to six cups of cooked, therefore a bigger crock pot like this is necessary.

Posted by: CCT | April 20, 2010

Cooking with Garlic & Onions

There’s a formula to this and it’s simple:  If you’re going to use garlic and onions together, all you need to do is the following:

  1. Mince the garlic, dice the onions.
  2. Put the garlic in the pan on medium-high with either a small amount of oil or water.  Stir slightly and allow garlic to brown a little before adding the onions.  If needed add a little water to prevent garlic from sticking and burning to the pan.  I end up having to do this a couple times, usually.
  3. Add the onions with a bit of water.  This helps to steam-fry the onions and soften them fairly quickly.  Cook until the onions have a bit of a clear appearance and they are becoming flexible and more rubbery.
  4. Add salt to taste.
  5. Add remaining recipe ingredients.  Follow recipe from here.

Spring-Loaded Mincer by Kitchen Aid - Great divice.

The spring-loaded mincer disassembled. Quick and easy to wash.

Lever press for dicing onions, etc. Makes short work of em.

Lever press - Courtesy of Vidalia Chop Wizard - top view. Easy to disassemble and clean.

Lever press, partially dissassembled to show how easy it is to take apart.

Lever press - fully disassembled to show catch-tray and diced onions. Notice how one side (bottom left) has a pin broken off. I put something too big into the thing and tried to hunker down on it. That's what ultimately broke off the plastic tab. Still works fine, just missing a holding tab. :-(

Posted by: CCT | March 29, 2010

One More Try At Pad Thai [75]

[#75] Is the fifth time a charm? Really?  You be the judge.  No kidding – we’ve made this 5-times in all sorts of different ways and finally came to the conclusion that this is the best we could do with the recipe at hand.  The thing is – it’s not complicated… just a bit involved.  And there are subtle ways to screw this up when you’re not using oil.  We will therefore be hunting for a better healthy Pad Thai recipe, and will let you know when we find one.  In the meantime – tell us what you think.

[CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ABOUT THE POTTERY SHOWCASED BELOW]

Original recipe courtesy of The McDougall Quick and Easy Cookbook.

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Ingredients include the following, all of which store well for long periods:

  • 14-16 oz bag of uncooked rice noodles (aka Pad Thai or stir-fry rice noodles).

  • 6-tbsp San-J organic tamari wheat-free soy sauce
  • 3-tbsp organic brown rice vinegar,   2-tbsp organic ketchup
  • 4-tbsp organic lime juice,   2-tbsp sugar
  • 4 chopped green onions,   1-2 cloves of minced fresh garlic
  • 1-package (6.5 oz) of extra-firm silken tofu  (or 3 scrambled eggs)

  • 4 shredded carrots,   1/2-cup chopped cilantro,   4-6 tbsp chopped peanuts

All of the basic ingredients for the sauce mix, which all store well for long periods.

Shows the size of a 16-oz. bag of rice noodles and 12.3-oz of tofu, both of which store well (and without refrigeration) for extended periods.

The torn up Pad Thai recipe... and some new artwork I've been working on lately. I took to drawing pictures while pondering what we could do to make this recipe taste like the Pad Thai you get in a restaurant. Why God, Why?! :-)

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1. Place the noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water.  Soak for 10-minutes.  Drain.

2. Combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, ketchup and sugar in a bowl.  Mix well and set aside.  This is the sauce.

3. Put about 1/2 cup of water in a large frying pan.  Add the green onions and garlic.  Cook on medium high, stirring frequently, for about 3-5 minutes.  If you need more water to prevent the onions and garlic from sticking to the pan, add as needed.

4. Add the tofu (or scrambled egg bits) and noodles.  Cook and stir for several more (2-5) minutes.  Add water if necessary in order to prevent the noodles from globbing together.  They should slide around on one another easily.

5. Add the sauce mixture.  Cook and stir for another 3-5 minutes until heated through.

6. Transfer to a serving platter.  Sprinkle with carrot, cilantro and peanuts if desired.  Serve immediately.

Thoughts and Recommendations:

1. Keeping the noodles from sticking to one another is really important.  Good Pad Thai has a very specific texture and feel.  If you lose that you’ll lose the believability of the dish entirely.  Why?  Because this recipe already diverges from the expected restaurant-style equivalent.  So attention to texture and feel becomes really important.

Steam frying the green onions and garlic before adding noodles. We used a bigger pot when adding the noodles. This pan was too small to hold all of it. A little "note to self."

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Posted by: CCT | March 23, 2010

The Edible Schoolyard

Here’s a model project that gets kids involved in growing and preparing food.  What a great idea!

The Edible Schoolyard (ESY), a program of the Chez Panisse Foundation, is a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom for urban public school students at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. At Edible Schoolyard, students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious, seasonal produce.

Classroom teachers and Edible Schoolyard educators integrate food systems concepts into the core curriculum. Students’ hands-on experience in the kitchen and garden fosters a deeper appreciation of how the natural world sustains us and promotes the environmental and social well-being of our school community.

Posted by: CCT | March 19, 2010

TED Talks With Chef Dan Barber

Q&A with Chef Dan Barber: Can organic farming feed the world?
TED Talk:  Dan Barber on How I Fell In Love With Fish

The New York Times:  Times Topics – Organic Food Portal (where Dan has articles)
The New York Times:  Query on Organic Food Portal for “Dan+Barber” articles, etc.


Highlights of TED’s interview with Dan Barber below..

So that’s why I think it’s important to get people to realize they have a very powerful set of decisions to make when they eat. And those decisions have a huge effect on how the world works. That’s very powerful!  I mean: How many issues raised at TED can one get up from their seat and say: “Today I’m going to do something about that.” With food, you can vote for the kinds of food you want three times a day.

The second thing you could do is grow your own food. It sounds crazy, but it’s not. If you’re across the street here, in New York, you could grow herbs in your windowsill. If you’re in the suburbs, you can plant in your back lawn. It’s not about providing 100% of your food; it’s about doing something that connects you to a natural system, and gets you closer to the food you’re eating.

MY THOUGHTS HERE:  When people are even one degree of separation removed from something like food production (and ultimately Nature) they tend to lose their connection completely.  And when that happens they also lose their realistic sense of depth, knowledge, or importance on the subject.  The result is a rapidly eroding understanding of where everything comes from, how its made, and what can ultimately be considered as “good” and “bad” in the context of health.  This then leads to all sorts of other problems like obesity, etc. as well.

Why does conventionally raised food taste so bland?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. The main reason is that it’s bred for yield. If you’re breeding a tomato — or a carrot, or a sheep to produce lamb — you can choose from a lot of characteristics. The characteristic of choice for the last 40 years has been yield. The second characteristic is: How long can it travel? How long can it last on a supermarket shelf or in your refrigerator? When you’re breeding for those characteristics, well, those are the characterisitics you’re going to get. It has almost nothing to do with farming, actually. It’s all about breeding.

The second issue is that conventionally raised produce takes a long time to get to you, so the flavor diminishes. And they’re picking fruits and vegetables when they’re not ripe. In a small local system, they’re generally picking it the day before they go to market.

Another factor is that conventional farming relies on chemical additions to the soil. These boost yield, but do nothing to boost flavor. You get flavor from flavinoids, and you get flavinoids from biologically diverse soil — this means there are nutrients in the soil that are feeding the plant, as it’s being grown, and you’re tasting that.

With animals, too, conventional systems aim for the greatest yield. So we’re raising animals in the cheapest possible way, and that includes feeding them really cheaply. When you’re feeding corn to a pig that normally thrives on a diverse diet, or to a sheep that’s naturally an herbivore, you’re going to get flavors that are really dumbed down.

Posted by: CCT | March 18, 2010

Oil-Free Italian Dressing [76]

[#76] This recipe is just one of several that incorporate the corn starch and water dressing base.  The total amount of salad dressing made per recipe is about 1.3 cups.

[CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ABOUT THE POTTERY SHOWCASED BELOW]

Recipe courtesy of Bryanna Clark Grogan’s: The (Almost) No-Fat Cookbook.

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Ingredients include the following, all of which store well for long periods:

  • 1-cup of the corn-starch-and-water dressing base (i.e. oil substitute)
  • 1/4-cup organic brown rice vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you prefer)
  • 1-tbsp organic Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/2-tbsp sugar
  • 1-2 cloves of minced or crushed organic garlic
  • 1-tsp salt,   1-tsp dried basil,   1/4 tsp paprika,   pepper to taste

All of the basic ingredients, all of which store well foreveeeer!

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1. Mix together in a sealable container.  Put the lid onto the container and shake well.  Then chill in the refrigerator before serving with the salad.  And viola!  There you have it – Oil-free Italian dressing.

Thoughts & Recommendations:

1.  Mix the garlic and vinegar together first. This will help pull the garlic flavor into the liquid more quickly.  Then add the rest of the ingredients.  The smaller you mince the garlic, the faster (and more) the garlic flavor will seep into the dressing mix.

Shake it up in a sealable container, then throw it into the fridge to chill.

Posted by: CCT | March 18, 2010

Salad Dressing Base [77]

[#77] An important part of healthy cooking involves reassessing conventional “bases”.  Salad dressings typically use either oil (olive, canola, soybean, etc.) or mayonnaise, or something with similar caloric density as their base.  Our goal here is to make a base that has the look and feel of one of these conventional bases, but without the calories.  So here’s one we’ll be using in a variety of salad dressing recipes that fits the mold.

Dressing Base:  Courtesy of Bryanna Clark Grogan’s: The (Almost) No-Fat Cookbook:

  • 1-cup of cold water
  • 2-tsp organic corn starch

1. Mix the cold water and corn starch together in a small saucepan.

2. Cook, stirring constantly, over high heat until thickening and clear.  This will thicken even more when chilled, which is perfectly normal.

3. You’re done.  It’s that simple… and you know exactly what’s in it… which is something that we can’t usually say about any of the dressings we’ll get in a restaurant… especially when it comes to fast food.

Thoughts & Recommendations:

1.  It should thicken up pretty quickly as it gets hot and clears.  If it doesn’t – I had this happen with an organic corn starch I was using – add an extra teaspoon of corn starch. You’ll need to mix the extra with a bit of cold water in order for it to disburse properly.  Then pour this mixture into the pan along with the rest.  If you put the dry teaspoon of starch directly into the pan with the hot mixture (without disbursing in a bit of cold water first) it will ball up rather than distributing evenly.  And then you’ll have a big clump that can’t be unclumped easily or at all.

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Posted by: CCT | March 18, 2010

“THE” Greek Salad [78]

[#78] This is our third of the 80 recipe countdown and yet another favorite.  It easily adds a bit of international flair to any meal, and is really simple to make.

[CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ABOUT THE POTTERY SHOWCASED BELOW]

Original recipe courtesy of The McDougall Quick and Easy Cookbook. Notice that I did not thinly slice the cucumbers as recommended below. I cut them into small wedges since that's how we like our cucumber here at home. Many prefer the thinly sliced cucumbers for all of the reasons that I've described below.

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Oil-free Italian dressing – Very easy to make & healthy to boot (click here)

Salad ingredients include the following, which store well for up to 5-days:

  • 5 large vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into small wedges
  • 1-2 cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 medium green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2-cup of whole ripe olives (ex: Kalamata olives are my favorite)

Once again - all of the basic ingredients, all of which store well for about 5-days.

The recipe without the raw onion. - Don't worry - still very tasty.

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1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Toss to mix well.  Serve at once or cover and chill until serving time.  Serve the healthy Italian dressing on the side.

Thoughts and Recommendations:

1. If you like cucumbers a lot, add more.  If you hate peppers, remove them from the recipe as I did with the raw onions (can’t digest them).  If you want to add flaky feta cheese, your call.  It does taste more decadent with the added cheese.  But it’s less healthy.  And you don’t really need it since you’ll be using that oh-so-decadent Italian dressing recipe (from above).

2. Thinly sliced cucumbers have a much different texture than those cut into small wedges.  This changes the feel of the salad as you eat it and how well the dressing adheres to the slices as well.  Just something to think about if you’re trying to make a more authentic Greek salad.  Again – a food processor makes short work of this.

3. There are all different types of cucumbers.  Some have skins that are more rubbery, or more bitter, compared to others.  I’ve found some organic imports from Canada that are individually plastic wrapped and have great skin flavor and texture.  Remember that a lot of the nutrients in many fruits/vegetables are in the skin. So peeling it off kind of defeats the purpose.  However, if it bothers you, get rid of it.

4. Scraping off some of the seed goo from the tomatoes (as you chop them up) prevents the salad from getting too gooey as well.  If you’re not planning to eat the whole thing in one hit, this becomes important.

5. I personally like the Kalamata black olives over all of the others.  You can find these at any high-end grocery store.  They do taste differently and have a smoother texture than regular olives.  Did I ever tell you that my sister and I ended up in Kalamata, Greece once? So she said, “Oh My God – Do you know where we are?” And I said, “No.  Is it important?” And then she said, “YES!  This is where all of the Kalamata olives come from in the world – right here!!!” So we each pulled one off of a nearby tree and tried to eat it.  And it was the most bitter thing I’d ever tasted!  My mouth almost collapsed in upon itself!  Lesson learned.  Evidently olive eating requires some sort of preparation…. like brining (aka “curing”) for instance.

6. And Finally – If you really want the onions in the recipe, do the following:

(1) First and foremost, use only sweet onions – not yellow, or boiler, or red onions. For the life of me I can’t figure out why restaurants use raw red onions on salads and such, except for the fact that their client-base just doesn’t know any better.  Well now you know you can do better!  So don’t settle!  Yellow, boiler and red onions are too bitter and rarely prepared properly in restaurants, so don’t even think about following their lead when using raw onions at home.

Onward.  The next secret to incorporating raw onions into this delicate salad  is to (2) finely chop it (use only about half an onion here).  Then (3) put the chopped onion in a bowl of hot water and let sit for about 10-15 minutes.  This allows the slices to dispel/release some of their pungency into the water, similar to what happens in the swiss water process of decaffeinating coffee beans.  It also allows them to cook ever so slightly.  Finally (4) drain off the water and disperse the onion slices throughout the salad.  And viola – you’re done!  You can do the same with potato salads and other different types of salads as well.

About how much you'll have with 5-tomatoes, 2-cucumbers, and two peppers. Notice that I did not thinly slice the cucumbers as recommended above. I cut them into small wedges since that's how we like our cucumber here at home. Many prefer the thinly sliced cucumbers for all of the reasons that I've described above.

What the cucumbers look like when you thin slice them for the salad rather than cutting into small wedges. The salad loses some of its visual appeal when they're sliced like this. It also changes the texture, which we didn't really like.

Another happy customer. :-)

Posted by: CCT | March 14, 2010

Teflon-Coated Cookware

We’ve attached a few references about Teflon-coated cookware.  There is a growing body of knowledge available proving Teflon’s toxicity.  We don’t therefore recommend using cookware like this. Our personal choice is non-coated stainless steel cookware.  It’s durable, easy to clean, and doesn’t leech/outgas coating material like non-stick.

We do not use aluminum cookware either because of the potential link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease.  I’ve marinated chicken using onions and lemon, and then covered the marinating pan with aluminum foil, only to discover that the foil disintegrated all over the meat!  What a surprise!  Evidently the lemon/foil contact created a simple battery – i.e. created some sort of current/electron flow that broke down the foil.  If it’s that easy to dissolve aluminum foil, what’s to stop the cookware from doing the same under the similar conditions?  Nothing.

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