Wednesday, June 22, 2011

rice-sweetened granola

Brown rice syrup is a natural sweetener that I have not used before. It makes an appearance in a number of recipes in Super Natural Cooking (written by one of my favorite bloggers, Heidi Swanson, author of While I love to cook from this book, I'd find myself either avoiding the brown rice syrup recipes or would replace it with another sweetener (maple syrup, agave nectar, honey). I was reminded of the existence of this product when I recently read The Kind Diet and decided it was time to both do a little research and give it at try.

Brown rice syrup is made by fermenting brown rice with enzymes that break down the starches, then straining the liquid and continuing to cook until reduced to desired consistency. Chemically, the syrup is a roughly 52-45-3 ratio of maltotrios to maltose to glucose (respectively), which means a couple of things. First, it is a polysaccharide, or complex sugar, that is broken down easily in the bloodstream. One site I read said that because it's absorbed easily, brown rice syrup leaves less "provision for fat accumulation. Sounds like a good thing to me! Secondly, brown rice syrup takes longer for our bodies to digest, meaning it doesn't cause the quick spike and subsequent plummet in blood sugar that most sugars do. The syrup is dark and gooey and, while certainly sweet, it is a mellower sweetness than you get from white sugar, maple syrup, or honey.

I've been eating the resulting granola all week: it's subtly sweet, nutty and crunchy. I've been enjoying it for breakfast with fresh berries and by the handful as a snack. I'd call my initial test of brown rice syrup a success. Here's what I did:

Rice-Sweetened Granola

3 c. rolled oats
2/3 c. almonds, roughly chopped
2/3 c. pumpkin seeds
1/4 c. coconut oil, melted
1/4 c. brown rice syrup

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients thoroughly in 9x13 baking dish. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes after the first 10 to ensure even browning.

1 year ago: simple salad
2 years ago: veggie veggie enchiladas

Sunday, June 19, 2011

sicilian collard greens

I love leafy greens. I actually get a little sad at the thought of winter turning into spring. While I welcome the warmer weather, it means the end of local collards, chard, and kale which prefer colder environments. But this means there is at least one silver lining of the colder than normal spring that has been happening along the west coast this year: I can still get beautiful leafy greens in June.

My mom doesn't think she's ever had collard greens before. Sounded like a challenge to me. A recipe in The Kind Diet caught my eye; it's similar to my garlicky kale, but the sweet and nutty twists of raisins and pine nuts. The result? Collard greens that even my mother will eat. 

Sicilian Collard Greens

1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch collards, well washed, center stem removed, and roughly chopped
3 Tbsp. raisins (I used golden)
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Toast pine nuts over medium heat in a dry skillet until golden, about 5 minutes (shake pan to prevent nuts from burning). Set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add collard greens. Stir. Cover and cook 2 minutes.

Add raisins and pine nuts. Stir. Cover and cook 2 minutes. Stir in balsamic. Cover and cook 2 minutes longer.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

mushroom brown rice risotto

Given how very animated my Italian cooking instructor was at the thought of using arborio rice in a risotto (NEVER, ever, ever, aborio - only carnaroli!), I shudder at the thought of her reaction to my brown rice adaptation of the classic Italian rice dish.

But in addition to being a whole grain (something I'm trying to consume more of), the earthy color and slightly nutty flavor of brown rice seem somehow better suited for a mushroom risotto than the typical white rice. The shitake mushrooms, which can sometimes get rubbery when cooked, worked well in this preparation. The resulting risotto was simultaneously creamy and toothsome, with a pronounced delightfully mushroomy flavor profile.

Let's take a moment on mushrooms. The brown paper bag my mushrooms rode home from the grocery store in warned me that they absorb the flavors around them (even in the fridge), so I should take care to store them in a wise location. As I was eating this risotto on the second night (yummy leftovers), I was pondering to what extent mushrooms absorb the things in the environments in which they grow. Can you talk about terrior with mushrooms the same way one does with grapes and the resulting wine? I'd like to think so. In the event that is the case, I'm sure I could taste the Northwest ferns and nettles that I imagine grew alongside the mushrooms in my risotto.

Mushroom Brown Rice Risotto
Serves 3-4

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 tsp. dried thyme
a big pinch of white pepper
1 c. short grain brown rice
1/2 c. white wine
5-6 c. hot mushroom stock*
6 oz. shitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 c. fresh parmesan, grated
*I had 4 cups of stock but found the rice wasn't yet done at the end of it (makes sense: brown rice takes longer to cook than white), so I supplemented with 2 cups of hot water.

Heat olive oil in a french oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add thyme and white pepper; stir to distribute. Add rice. Stir until it has a nice sheen from the oil and onions. Add wine. Stir constantly (in a clockwise direction!) until it is fully absorbed. Add hot stock, 1 ladle (about 1/2 cup) at a time, stirring constantly and allowing liquid to absorb completely between each addition. Add mushrooms with the penultimate ladle.

Add parmesan at the end, stirring to incorporate. Serve hot.

1 year ago: european adventure

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

cole's kitch moves again

Sometimes, when it comes up in conversation that I write a food blog, I am asked what kind of food I make. I've always found this to be a difficult question to answer. It started out with a lot of veggies, but that's not always been the case. Usually it's vegetarian (at times, even vegan), but sometimes there's meat. At points, I'm cooking familiar dishes from my childhood, while at other times I'm all about exploring new foods, recipes, and techniques. From dietary detoxes to dinner parties, what comes out of my kitchen seems to be a sort of culinary extension of my mood and of my life.

When I'm energetic, I'm flipping through cooking magazines and websites, looking for new and interesting dishes to explore. Lots of local fruits and veggies in my dishes are a sign of balance, because it means I have both the energy and time to shop the farmers' market and create something with the treasures I find. There have been cleanses when I'm hoping that clearing my body will help clear my mind (it does), fancy and involved meals at home and at restaurants when I'm happy. Long lapses between posts happen when I'm busy or using my emotional energy elsewhere and unable to summon the motivation to be inspired in the kitchen.

One reliable source of inspiration for me is books on food and cooking. Last week, after having dinner at my friend Emily's house, she sent me home with a book she read recently: The Kind Diet. While I have trouble getting behind the become-a-vegan-save-the-planet portions of Alicia Silverstone's writing, the book did serve as a good reminder that food is fuel for the body and mind, and what you put in definitely has an impact on how one feels - both physically and emotionally. Bonus: I have total control over what fuel I choose (something comforting given the lack of control in many other facets of my life at the moment... though the rest pales in comparison to the biggest and scariest monster that haunts me: my mother's cancer).

So, while in the past, I've let my mood dictate my food, I think I'm going to try something a little different. I'm going to see if I can select my food in a way that will help direct my mood. I want to feel strong and like I have the energy needed to deal with my life and all that's going on right now. I've experimented enough with diet in the past to have a good idea of the foods that will help make me feel this way: whole grains and fruits and vegetables - foods in their most natural form.

So the current answer to the question what kind of food do you make? becomes: mood food. In terms of main ingredients, this will manifest as a focus on whole grains and vegetables. This isn't such a departure from many of the types of dishes I've featured in the past, but it does mark a shift in how I'm thinking about the ingredients I choose.

In addition to this shift, cole's kitch is also changing venues. This has happened a number of times over the course of my blogging and, similar to the food, is another reflection of what's happening in my life. The cooking and blogging started from a kitch in Burlingame with cedar cabinets, cool green tile, and stainless steel appliances. It was the preparation and conversation site for many dinner parties with old and new friends. Next came blue granite countertops, a Viking range with some attitude, and loads of natural light in sunny San Carlos. Perhaps it was partially the environment, but the food cooked in this kitch seemed lighter. Cleansing diets were somehow easier and more enjoyable in this bright space. Most recently, I've been cooking mostly for one (when I cook, which has been much less frequent than in past kitchs) in a cozy but convenient kitch in Palo Alto.

My next venue? Back to the Northwest, to a place that predates my California adventure: Poulsbo, Washington. In the kitchen of my mother, I hope the meals I make for us both will foster the energy, healing, and comfort that are much needed right now.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

cherry cornbread upsidedown cake

I took a lovely weekend trip to the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea a couple of weekends ago. It was a relaxing escape from real life for a bit. While I had taken the direct route via freeway to get there, on my way back I took the scenic route up the winding coast. This allowed for two things that I love. First, the seaside scenery: cliffs dropping straight into the water, salty ocean mist, and beach. You need not give me two seconds at the beach before my shoes are off and my feet are in the sand. This action prompts my tactile memory, transporting me instantly to my youth growing up on the beaches of the Puget Sound. Though it was grey and not particularly warm that day, I of course still had to stop and put my feet in the sand.

The second opportunity the Highway 1 route along the ocean affords is a stop at one of my favorite vegetable stands just north of Castroville. I very much enjoy perusing fresh fruits and vegetables and thinking about their potential: the magical creations that can come of them. This particular trip, the bounty I walked away with included the makings for salsa, some pretty avocados, and a big bag of beautiful bing cherries.

Fast forward a few days, and I was the proud new owner of what I would consider my latest favorite fun kitchen device: a cherry pitter. It's like a little gun that you can use to propel the pit from the cherry (a surprisingly soothing action). Once I had a bowl of pitted cherries in front of me, the question was how to put them to use.

I knew I wanted them to be the star of some sort of baked-good production. I started scanning the cupboards to see what I might have on hand that would pair well. Polenta gave me pause...something about cherries and cornmeal seemed meant to be combined. A quick scan of the internet proved that I am not the first to have this thought.

The recipe I landed on is from one of my favorite food blogs: Smitten Kitchen. I followed the recipe exactly, so rather than repeat it here, I'll direct you to the source. I don't have a cast iron skillet that can go in the oven, so I baked the cake in my french oven. The high sides made the turn-it-upside-down step a little dangerous (I ended up with only one sloping edge - a pleasant surprise given the vigor with which I had to shake it to get the cake out of the pan - the rest of the cake looked pretty good). The resulting cake is like a dense, slightly sweet cornbread, topped with cherries that impart tangy, juicy goodness. The cake seems to call out to be enjoyed along with a big cup of coffee, perfect for brunch.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

minestrone soup

The last time I was at my mom's, I wanted to make a big pot of something that could be parsed out to freeze half and enjoy the remaining half for a few days. Minestrone soup was the response from my mother when I asked her what this should be.

I consulted a book, Enlightened Soups, that my friend Marika sent over after my mom's cancer diagnosis. The soup I made was based very loosely on a recipe for "Winter Minestrone". The recipe's version had fennel, chard, and cannellini beans. I replaced these items with some others (specifically, carrots, spinach, and a mix of kidney and garbanzo beans) based on what sounded good to my mom.

The resulting soup came together relatively quickly and was healthy with the robust taste of the vegetable medley that comprised it. As we were eating, it struck us how strange it was to be consuming soup on Memorial Day weekend - further evidence that the weather this year has been cooler than normal. The soup provided the warmth we were seeking. We enjoyed it with hot sourdough bread and butter. Here's what I did:

Minestrone Soup
Makes a big pot of soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
3 large carrots, diced
2 handfuls baby red potatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt, pepper, and herbs (basil, oregano)
4 c. chicken or vegetable broth
2 c. water
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 c. small pasta
2 handfuls spinach
2 tsp. red wine vinegar

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots. Cook 5 minutes. Add potatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs. Stir to combine. Cook 10 minutes. Add broth, water, tomatoes with juice, beans, and pasta. Turn heat to high and bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until pasta and potatoes are tender, about 12-15 minutes.

Add spinach and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with crusty bread.
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