Thursday, May 26, 2011

Meals of the Quinoa variety

Currently I am a solo dweller in a two bedroom condo amidst a rain-soaked Michigan spring and deep into a month long job search. My eating patterns over the last few months have had more changes than Oprah's had hairdos! In March, still in culinary school, I was enjoying those student lunches as often as possible, sampling bakery treats after class and through two jobs, barely cooking for myself. When I finished the program, I began an attempt to "clean out my cupboards" in preparation for my move, meaning I ate whatever I had stuffed into my space in the kitchen (Karen being the lucky recipient of all that I couldn't get through!). Then there was the road trip of fast food, intertwined with my homemade granola bars and gluten free muffins, a last purchase from the Flying Apron Bakery. To say I was craving consistency in my food-life is an understatement.
Basic Quinoa

As I settled into Michigan and regained use of a kitchen, I began to cook...and cook, and cook. There was someone here, always ready to eat (and bear the grocery bill burden!), give his complements to the cook and help with dishes. We had a good rhythm. Now, as he's off to Japan for a three week work trip, I am alone in a "new" place for the first time in my life. Certainly able to enjoy most of the time while sipping my morning coffee, reading and getting into the interview phase with a few positions. What I didn't knew about myself, was what my cooking style would be when no one was around. The answer is a combination of interesting & simple. I try odd combinations of things and haven't really gotten from anywhere in particular. Basically applying the simplest of methods to the foods I'm most comfortable with. This sort of leads to lots of dishes based around one ingredient, the first of which has been Quinoa!

Quinoa Salad
I made this pot of basic quinoa, cooked in water with some leftover caramelized onions and already prepped carrots and celery. Nothing spectacular, but even at this simple and plain state, it was enjoyable. However, that was not the intended end use. For that first dinner, I added sesame dressing to about a cup of quinoa, stirred in chopped spinach, halved cherry tomatoes and sliced scallions. The next morning for breakfast, the basic quinoa mixed up with more spinach and topped with two farm fresh, poached eggs and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar turned out to be excellent (poached eggs on grains being something I picked up from our girl Lorna!). That evening, tossed with scallions, balsamic and extra virgin olive oil, spinach, roasted beets and a hard boiled egg, I had a filling & healthy salad, made with the couple of local veggies I've been able to find.

In the end, I had 3 meals and some snacking in between, all from 1.5 cups of dry quinoa, as it triples in volume when cooked. Try it out, mix it up anyway you like. Especially if you're alone and no one else has to eat it! After all, what do you have to lose but one fairly inexpensive meal. There is so much to learn & gain when playing with your food. Keep in mind, that most grains work like this, a blank canvas for your interpretation. No longer is white rice your only option. Now, what do I want tonight...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Buckwheat Kind of Day

Get your morning groove on with a bowl of buckwheat.  A gluten-free alternative that is high in protien and fast to cook is my kind of grain.  But wait, don't do too many things at once while buckwheat is cooking or you will end up with mushwheat!

Toast It - 1 TBS. Olive oil or butter +  1 cup buckwheat groats
Boil It - Add buckwheat to 2 cups of boiling water
Simmer It - Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for 12-15 minutes
Leave It - Allow the grains to set covered for at least 5 minutes.  Fluff with a fork.

Make a large serving buckwheat on Sunday.  For a quick breakfast during the busy work week, scoop 1/3 cup of buckwheat into a bowl and top it with raspberry Noosa yogut and Bare Naked granola.

amy w.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rye-Sotto, the method...

Risotto is usually made with arborio rice and Pilaf is usually a rice dish. But, both do not have to be made with rice. Technically speaking the name refers to the method of preparation, not the dish itself or the ingredients. So, you can make a pilaf with any grain you really want to, like farro for example, one of my favorite local Seattle products. You can also make risotto with something Rye berries.

Arborio rice is traditional in preparation of risotto because it is very starchy. As you cook it, slowly adding stock and stirring, you release the starch from the outside of the grain into whatever dish you're cooking. In the end a delicate & creamy texture results from your efforts at the stove-top, babying this simple dish of rice.

I have learned from experience, that the same result does not easily (or at all) happen with other grains. I've tried farro, spelt and now rye berries with the same, sad results. None of them has the superior starchy texture of arborio rice, so no matter how long I spend stirring the dish and slowly adding stock, it didn't create that creamy texture I was after. Sure, adding reduced cream or cheese in the end will give that stick-together-grain look, and it is delicious! But, alas I can not have dairy. In the end, I settled for what could have been made via the pilaf method (add the liquid all at once, put a lid on it and put it in the oven) even though I had put in the time stirring and adding. The dish is delicious, really! Like I mentioned, make it creamy by adding some parmesan cheese in the end, it would be amazing!

Today I'm heading out to visit my very first Michigan Farmer's Market! I have been anxiously searching and waiting for one nearby to open and it appears that less than two miles away on the other side of Walled Lake, there will be two markets! Wish me luck ;) Go cook some grains!  -Vicki

Rye-Sotto (or pilaf, either way is fine by me!)
1 Cup Rye Berries, soaked overnight (or whatever grain berry you have or find)
2 Strips of Bacon, cut into strips ... or 1 Tbl Olive Oil (use butter if you can, adds creaminess)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 Onion, small dice
1 Carrot, small dice
1 Celery stalk, small dice
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Cup of white wine or 2 Tbl Vinegar (white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar or apple cider vinegar)
5 Cups Stock, veg or chicken or beef (whatever you have or like the most!)
1 Sprig fresh Thyme
2 or 3 Sage Leaves
*any other seasonings you want to add...I love adding onion powder, house-made seasoning salt, oregano or an Italian seasoning blend. Have fun and experiment!
1/2 bunch of kale, cut into small strips without the tough center rib (chiffanade)...make kale chips out of the other 1/2 of your bunch ;)

-Heat a large pot over medium heat and add the bacon (or oil or butter) cooking until crispy and removing with a slotted spoon. To the warm fat, add the onion and a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and continue cooking another 5-7 minutes until both are brightening in color. Add the garlic and stir another 30 seconds. Meanwhile, in a 2 qt pot heat the stock on another burner and keep it just below a simmer.
-Turn the heat up to medium-high on the veggie pot and toss the rye berries into the pot, stirring to toast and warm the grains, about 2 minutes. Add the wine or vinegar and stir until the liquid mostly evaporates. Ladle a cup of the stock into the pot and stir to coat the grains, then add the thyme and sage sprigs.** Let it it simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed before adding stock, 1cup at a time and stirring often until you've used all the stock. Test the grain for doneness, adding more liquid (water is fine) if it needs it.
-Add the kale into the pan and cook for another 8-10 minutes until softened. Garnish with the bacon, some chopped scallions or stir in some cheese!
**OK, so like I mentioned, I learned that this method (unless you're using the arborio rice) can be a little frustrating as the grain doesn't get creamy, even after an hour of effort. So, after you add the herbs, you can pour all the stock in, put a lid on it and place the pot over low heat or in a 350F oven for about an hour and get essentially the same result. Check it at about 45 minutes, adding liquid if needed and cook as long as it takes to soften the grain to your desired consistency.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Story of the Lentils

Let's go back though to January and the first (and only) time I visited Scott in Michigan before I moved here. As we planned our weekend over the phone he asked if there was anything in particular I would like him to pick up at the grocery store. Of course I said yes and gave him a small list. Later in the week we were talking and he mentioned getting the groceries, the lentils being particularly challenging to find. Wait, what? The lentils, I had "asked for", they were hard to find, but with some help he managed to get them. Well, let me tell you, I did not ask for lentils. He thinks I did, but I did not! Either way, that weekend we made dinner, but not with lentils! They remained in the cupboard for the last 4 months, a source for many jokes between us over that time. Last Sunday as I planned out our first week of meals I looked through his pantry. There it was, a bag of green lentils and figured those must be part of the plan. Lentil soup was something I knew I could make without a recipe. So, on Wednesday night we had on a big pot of lentil soup with rosemary-olive oil bread (a Britt favorite!). We both had soup for lunch the following day and I froze a quart of it for later; I do not know how to make a small pot of soup!

I'm sitting here in my chair at Scott's house, basking in the rays of sun and the quiet around me. I think I'm discovering just how much I like alone time (shh, don't tell him that!). It's beautiful outside and I'm gearing up to head out to the nursery for some plant starts, inspired by the weather of course. There's a head cold working it's way through me, so only low impact trips today. Maybe I'll sit on the balcony for a little while first. Yeah, that sounds good.
Still to come... posts on Rye-Sotto, and Quinoa-Rice Milk breakfast "porridge". I have yet to locate my Grain Girls book in amongst my packing. I know I put it somewhere "easy to find", so of course I can't find it!

Lentil Soup, makes about 3-4 quarts
1.5 cups lentils, soaked for about 30 minutes to an hour
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1 Onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic
2 carrots, small dice
2 celery stalks, small dice
1 bell pepper
1 can diced tomatoes, 28oz (I like fire roasted for added flavor)
Chicken or Vegetable Stock, 1 quart
Water, as much as needed (see below)
Herbs (fresh or dried) Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary
1 Bay Leaf
Pinch of Cayenne Pepper (optional)
Cooked pasta, I used Orecchiette Rigate - "little ears" (optional, & gluten free without pasta)

-Heat a large pot over medium heat, then add the olive oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, sweating for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds before adding the carrots, celery and bell pepper. Cook all the veggies for about 10 minutes.
-Add the can of tomatoes, the stock, the lentils and enough water so everything is submerged with room to spare. The lentils will soak up the liquid and you may need to add more. Add your herbs, spices and another large pinch of salt (seasoning throughout cooking ensures great flavor) and bring it up to a boil.
-Turn down to simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Taste the soup and continue cooking only until the lentils are not gritty. Season to taste. Serve over cooked pasta and with Rosemary-Olive Oil loaf (a Brittany fav!) like we did.