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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

So aPEELing (I couldn't help myself)

Last week, I mused, somewhat facetiously, about the fact that there is no part of the vegetable that can't be used... be that leaf, root, stem, etc.

It got me to thinking. (Some people think and then talk about their ideas. Some people talk and then think about what they've said. I'm not saying it's a good thing.)

Why throw away peels?

I searched (and I found that once again millions of internet users had beaten me to the punch), and I read several recipes for candied citrus peels.

Let me back up a little bit. There is a gal at my work who celebrates her birthday this week. I wish I could give her my $1,000 car repair bill, but I can't. I also can't give her anything very extravagant for her birthday, even though she deserves the world. I decided to make her something instead.

Okay, back to peels.

This recipe can be done with any type of citrus peel. I happened to have several citrus fruits that had retired, and were ready to try a second career. I used 5 lemons (that had previously been a pitcher of lemonade), one navel orange (from a banana-orange smoothie), and 2 grapefruits (my breakfast).

The first thing to do is to quarter the fruits, and cut out all of the flesh. Put all of the peels into a pot, and cover with cold water. Bring this to a boil, and boil for one minute. Drain the water, and fill it back up again with cold water, and bring it back to a boil for another minute.

You need to do this a total of four times. Not all recipes asked for this step to be repeated, but the ones that did, said it helped limit some of the bitterness. And since there were several reviews of several recipes that said it turned out too bitter, I felt it was well worth my time.

Let the peels cool enough that you can handle them. The next step is to scrape as much pith as you an out of each peel. This is also to help with bitterness.

But save all that pith... once it dries, you can sew it into sachets, which will keep your linens fresh.

I'm just kidding. I have to draw the line somewhere at what parts of the dang plant we can use. Throw the scraped pith out. It's had a good life, and it is time to let it go.

After scraping out the pith, slice the peels into thin strips.

In a saucepan, bring to a boil two cups of water and two cups of sugar. Once it is boiling and all the sugar has dissolved, you can add the peels back in.

Stir and boil, boil and stir. The recipes said that after 10 minutes, the peels would be almost translucent, and the water almost gone. It took me 25 minutes, but it worked.

Again, wait a bit for this to cool. Spread the peels out on a cooling rack, separated from each other, so the syrup can drain.

Once they have cooled quite a bit, but haven't gotten dry, shake them, a few at a time, in sugar. And enjoy!

Or give them to someone else to enjoy!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Asian pasta salad

What would I do if I didn't have google?

I would just have to call my friend Jacque. Really, other than the fact that I can't call her in the middle of the night without feeling a we bit guilty about setting her nerves on end and potentially sending her to the loony bin some day, she is just as good as google.

Whether I am wondering how to get a tempera paint stain out of carpet, where I can buy cheap baskets, or what to do with a head of broccoli, 15 minutes, and only one pot, she has the answer. Immediately.

So, this week I loosely used a recipe that she provided me... which just so happens to use a head of broccoli, 15 minutes, and one pot.

Let's define "loosely." By this, I mean I used the vegetables that I got in my box of produce this week, and not at all the vegetables that are suggested by the recipe. Also, whenever the recipe called for an ingredient I didn't have, I found something somewhat in the same family and used that instead. I consulted a similar recipe from A Girl A Market A Meal for some ideas in making substitutions. In the end, "loosely" means that the recipe came from two sources, and in may ways resembles both, while at the same time having parts that are nothing at all like either.

This pasta salad works as a great side dish. The flavors in it -- peanut, ginger, garlic -- are somewhat reminiscent of Pad Thai. I served it along with an Asian-flavored cole slaw, and barbecued chicken that I marinated in other Asian-inspired flavors (soy sauce, more garlic, more ginger).  The slaw and the pasta should both be done ahead of time, so when your guests arrive, you can stand around the barbecue, enjoying a drink, knowing that as soon as the meat is done, your meal is ready to go.

But before we count our bottles of beer on the wall, let's make the pasta dish.

First, boil a pound of pasta. Any shape is fine, but I prefer a size that is a similar length as the carrot shreds we will run into very soon.

Cut up your vegetables at this point: Cut a head of broccoli into florets, and slice the stem thinly. Also take the strings out of snap pea pods, and shred a couple of carrots.

While the pasta boils, whisk together some very tasty, very common ingredients: peanut butter, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic. Be sure and do this in a nice big bowl.  Exact amounts are below, in the boring part of this post.

As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain it quickly, throw it on top of the sauce you whisked up, and stir it to combine it all.

Now you can also stir in the shredded carrots. Since they are shredded, they are thin enough that the heat from the just-boiled pasta will make them perfectly soft, but not mushy.

Put your broccoli into that pot of boiling water, and let it cook just until it is crisp, but no longer crunchy.
Drain the broccoli and stir it into the noodles.

Use the same boiling pot of water to cook the pea pods until they are the same. The pea pods will cook more quickly, so you can't put them in at the same time as the broccoli. Stir the pea pods into the noodles as well.

Now let it all cool. That's it! You're done!

But wait! Don't throw that water down the drain! You will notice that it is pretty green. Let all those vitamins floating around in there have another life, and use the water, once it is cooled, to water your garden. Your plants will thank you.

Here is the recipe:

1 pound pasta
1 large head of broccoli
6 ounces snap peas
2 carrots
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup vinegar of your choice
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. minced ginger

Boil pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, chop broccoli into florets and thin slices of the stem. Take the strings out of the pea pods. Shred the carrots.

Whisk together the peanut butter, vinegar, oil, garlic, and ginger in a large bowl.

As soon as pasta is done, add to the sauce and stir to coat evenly.

Stir in shredded carrots.

In the boiling water from the pasta, cook the broccoli for about 3 minutes. Drain it and stir it into the pasta.

In the same boiling water, cook the snap peas for about 2 minutes. Drain and stir into the pasta.

Let it cool before serving.

Monday, March 28, 2011

And they're kosher, to boot.

Why is it, that when I hear of something new, I google it, only to find out that 1,120,000 people have already done it? I am SO not a trendsetter. We could argue that I come rather late to all things trendy, actually.

I guess today I am hoping that you are one of the 6,908,880,000 people on earth who haven't already put something on the internet about how to make green chips.

At any rate.

Green chips.

Take a leafy green vegetable. (I have done this with kale, beet greens, and collard greens, but I hear rumors of it being done with chard and even spinach. For me, I'll stick with the heartier veggies.)

This time, it was collard greens who needed to make their exit from my refrigerator. I discovered that just about every recipe for sautéing collard greens starts with bacon or ham. Like I have said before, if you have to disguise the taste by hiding it in some bacon, it isn't that good to begin with.  So, I chose to skip the stove, and throw them in the oven instead.

Actually, though, cooked into chips, these leaves are very very good! I would eat these every day.

Take your greens, whatever they are, and tear them up into chip-sized pieces. The shape and exact size doesn't matter at all.

Throw them all on a baking sheet, drizzle a little olive oil over it all, and then toss them with your hands, to get them nice and evenly coated.

Amazingly, they will go from the dull green above to a vibrant, bright green.

Shake on some salt and pepper, or even red pepper if you like spice, and spread them out on a baking sheet or two. They need to be in a single layer.

Now stick them in the oven, heated to 300 degrees, for about 5-10 minutes. As soon as they start to brown you need to pull them out, so watch carefully.

Now, you get to enjoy a crispy, salty, tasty snack -- with no guilt!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Susanus of the Boxus

I like to think of myself as on a par with Carolus Linneaus. You know old Carolus. He was the first guy to classify living things, and put them in categories. (Maybe you remember him as Carl, from before he changed his name.) At any rate, when I unpack my box each week, I like to put my fruits and vegetables in categories as well. However, where our buddy Carolus was more concerned with such trivial matters as genus and species, I have more distinguishing categories:

1. Things I have had before and I am quite happy to see them again.
2. Things I have had before and I am not at all happy to see them again.
3. Surprises that make me smile.
4. Surprises that absolutely stupefy me as to what they are, and/or how in the world I am supposed to eat them.

The items in the box fit neatly into the above categories. (And when you consider the example of the duck-billed platypus, you will have to concede that my categories are much more useful than Carolus's).

Category one: Old friends who have come back again

There were more oranges, mandarin oranges, carrots, and spinach. And that was good. I have developed a working rhythm with these items, and I was ready to restock them. More broccoli means that I had best get on the ball and finish last week's broccoli, but I can do that. Ditto for the onions. There were also more potatoes, and so I stuck them in the bowl that has last week's leftover potatoes. I am always happy to see a potato, though. Who doesn't love a potato?

Category two: Obviously these guys don't realize the fates of their forerunners

I got more collard greens this week. Even though it has been a couple of weeks since I had collard greens, I wasn't ready for more. Way back at the beginning of this whole CSA box lifestyle, I made lots of mistakes. One of those mistakes has become legendary amongst some of my friends, and is called the "collard green-turnip-carrot-parsnip-lasagna." A lasagna of which there are still frozen family-sized portions waiting to see the light of day. What can I say? I was enthusiastic, if not skilled. So anyway, I am not too thrilled to see the new bundle of collard greens.

Category three: What a wonderful surprise! Do come in!

A new fruit! Just when I thought I might actually turn into an orange, a la Violet Beauregarde, I was so happy to see grapefruit. As a matter of fact, I took a short break from unpacking the box,  cut open the above featured grapefruit, and ate it up.  I also may or may not have made a cocktail this evening with one of the grapefruits. 

They make a nice centerpiece as well, no?
I was also thrilled to see these babies:

I don't call them babies flippantly. It's baby garlic. YUM!
Finally, I was most excited about this cabbage:

Isn't this the most cabbage-y cabbage you ever saw? I love this cabbage! I was really only vaguely aware that cabbages look like this.  By the time the cabbage hits the grocery store, all of those great outer leaves have been removed. And I, for one, love those leaves. Of course, the first thing I did was take them off and throw them out before I chopped up the cute little guy into tiny shreds. But I liked them before I did that. 

Finally we have category four: What do you expect me to do with you? 

This week, I have only one item that fits here. And thankfully, it's a small item. 

Short of opening a small diner, and garnishing tired plates of tepid eggs and limp bacon, I am really not sure what I am going to do with parsley. 

Any suggestions?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Leftover Cafe

    As I walked out of my son's karate studio with all three kids, the littlest one asked me, "What's for dinner?"
    I replied, "Leftovers."
   And all three kids yelled "Yay!"

At this point some of the other mothers looked at us with expressions that clearly meant, "Is regular dinner so bad that leftover night is welcomed?"

It's not really the food... it's the presentation.

I make a menu of all the foods we have filling up the fridge.

I put on an apron, a very exaggerated accent, and a whole new personality. The kids are shown to a table, questioned as to why their parents let them come out to a restaurant unsupervised, and handed a menu. I then pull a pad of paper out of my pocket, a pen from behind my ear, and start taking orders. They know the drill: They need to order at last one entree, and one side dish. They also need to fill the roles of restaurant patrons. In other words, they must wait their turn, order clearly and politely, and refrain from fighting, getting out of their seats, or complaining about the choices.

Somehow, the same dinners that we ate all week are new and fun. They love it, I love clearing out the refrigerator, and it sure makes my evening easy!

Now, I just need to teach them how to figure out 15%.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Real food, fast

I watched a cooking show once a long long time ago, and the chef (I think his name was Yan?) told me that when using my wok, the secret is to remember that it is "Stir-fry, not stare-fry. Keep stirring it, don't just watch it!" The trick is to crank the heat up all the way, and keep the food moving so it doesn't burn.

The high heat makes for quick cooking time, and that makes this meal perfect for a weeknight. Even a weeknight when you have to go to your kids' parent-teacher conferences, and you will only have a few minutes to get it all on the table when you get home, for example. You can do all of the chopping, and even some of the cooking ahead. As a bonus, it all cooks in one pot, so you will have very few dishes to wash.

Here's a fun story. In college, I had a roommate one semester who was an exchange student from China. All she unpacked in our kitchen was a wok, a cleaver, 2 sets of chop sticks, and a bowl. She was able to cut her food up, cook it, and eat it all with those four items. And everything she cooked was delicious. Even when she came home from the grocery store with a vegetable she had never heard of. "What's this?" "Celery." "Okay. It's good?" "I'm sure it will be when you are done with it!"

But anyway, here we go:

First, you want to chop up all of your vegetables and your meat. You will have a hard time constantly stirring, if you pause to chop in the middle of it all. The exact amounts don't matter. Event the seasoning can be approximated, which makes this very easy to cook.

Start by warming your oil in the wok, on high heat. Once it gets hot, add in a minced garlic clove, about a tablespoon of minced lemongrass, and a tablespoon of minced ginger.

Since you are cooking at a hight temperature, the seasonings will brown very quickly. As soon as they are golden, throw in all of your tougher, thicker vegetables. I used a shallot and two carrots, cut into 1/4 inch slices. You could also do broccoli, celery, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, etc. Whatever you have in your fridge is what you should use in your dinner.

Once the shallots are clear, you can add your meat. I used two chicken breasts, but you can add whatever you like. Keep stirring and cooking this until the meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

At this point, if you really do have a crazy schedule, you can pause and leave the rest for later. For example, you could leave it sitting while you head out to your parent teacher conference. If you are going to be gone for more than an hour, I would stick it in the fridge, but if it's a quick trip, just turn the stove off and go.  If you are going to a parent-teacher conference, though, I would either make sure you wear an apron, or change your shirt. That way, as you enter the classroom, you won't look down and see greasy garlic splattered on your front. Just a suggestion.

Now you are ready to add your leafy vegetables.

I very carefully picked out a variety of greens. Bear with me as I use their Latin nomenclature:

Clockwise, from upper left: red leaf with green stem, green leaf with white stem, red leaf with red stem, and green leaf with green stem.

Okay, I didn't really carefully pick them out. I got them out of my CSA box. Whatever they are. I am pretty sure the one on the top right is bok choy. The others? I have no idea.

Then I threw in another bunch of leaves for good times. This one, I happen to know for sure, is a beet green. I know this because I cut it off of the beets.

 You can use whatever type of leaves you want. If it wasn't picked out and delivered to me in my box, I would buy a head of bok choy or napa cabbage. Or even regular green cabbage. Do you still have half a cabbage left over from Saint Patrick's Day? Use that.

Don't spend time chopping these up nicely. They cook down so much that you can start with pretty big pieces, in any manner of crazy shape, and it will all make perfect bite-sized pieces in the end.

You may feel like you have a ton of greens, but it won't be soon. Here is my wok filled to the brim with the fresh chopped leaves:

And here is my wok a few minutes later, once I'm done cooking:

So, now that you have your wok filled to the tippy top of health and vitality, keep stirring. Cook this all until the greens are wilty but still green. That will take about 5 minutes. Then, put a lid on it, turn the heat down to low, and stir together some sauce. I used a tablespoon of soy sauce, two tablespoons of hoisin sauce, and a teaspoon of corn starch to thicken it all.

Once you have the sauce ready, stir it into the veggies and chicken, and serve it with quinoa or rice. Or if you are watching your carbs, just serve it as it is. 

Here is my recipe, if you care to try this at home:

Vegetable chicken stir-fry

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. minced lemongrass
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 shallot, chopped fine
2 carrots, chopped into 1/4" slices
2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 head of bok choy
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp hoisin suce
1 tsp. cornstarch

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Once it is hot, add the garlic, lemongrass, and ginger. As soon as they are golden, add carrots and shallots to the wok. Stir these constantly until the shallot is clear and the carrots are tender (3-4 minutes). Add chicken, and stir fry until it is cooked through (5 minutes). Add bok choy, and continue to stir until the leaves are wilted, but still green (3-4 minutes). Turn heat to low, and cover.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and corn starch. Stir this into the vegetables and chicken, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Zero to Twenty-Five in a couple of minutes

Oh my goodness! I know that I only have four followers (and of those four, one is my mother). I tend to believe that of the remaining three, only one actually faithfully reads this.

But isn't he great!?!?

Mark of Our Simple Lives wrote about me today! I feel like I am actually becoming a real part of the online world. Or an online part of the real world. More worldly in general, though. Not more streetwise, mind you. That is what my mother warned me against, every day of high school. Or at least every time I tried to make plans with that one friend.

Anyway, Mark's post couldn't have come at a better time. I am so tired of my kitchen today! I spent all day on Monday in the kitchen.... trying out a new recipe for dinner as well as making orange marmalade and then remaking orange marmalade. Then Tuesday, I made a dinner that wasn't necessarily so complicated as it was ... involved. As in, it involved 5 different pots and pans, and at one point, all four of my stove burners. I was going to blog about it, but there were so many things going on at the same time, and so many things going wrong at different times, and so much mess... No one needs to see pictures of that.

Side note here: For a few years, I worked part time doing cooking demonstrations for a major appliance manufacturer. I can't tell you how often people wanted to buy bigger cooktops -- sometimes even redesigning their whole kitchen to fit them in -- so they could have 6 burners. How in the heck do they use six burners? Using four without burning something or other, just about made me lose my cool yesterday! 

This dinner wasn't so very fancy. It was just pasta with cream sauce, sausage, and artichokes. I made the mistake of trying to retain too much of the artichoke, though. Instead, I should have just gone to town removing the outer leaves. And the semi-outer leaves. And even some of the middle leaves. Basically, when using artichokes, all you want is to use the inner leaves and their very closest neighbors.

So anyway, there I was boiling artichokes with too many leaves. Then, I decided to brown them a little bit to add to the flavor and give them a nice consistency. Unfortunately, though, they still weren't so nice. So I ended up throwing them all into the food processor and pureeing them into oblivion anyway. Add the boiling pot, to the browning pan, to the food processor, count in the pasta pot, the pan that cooked the sausages, and the saucepan of cream sauce, and you have yourself one big pile of dirty dishes. I am not really sure I had any clean pots or pans left!

I also have a little confession to make here... I am not the world's neatest cook. By a long shot. So, when all was said and done, I had loaded, run, and emptied the dishwasher 4 times in two days. I had also washed about 4 sinks-full of non-dishwasher-safe items, and wiped down the counters countless times, and the stovetop twice.

When the kitchen was finally clean last night, I went straight to bed. This cooking thing is not good for my social life!

To finally come to the point of this long, riveting story, I was not at all interested in standing in my kitchen today. I got unexpectedly called in to work for a few hours this morning, and I planned to spend the rest of the day sitting. Maybe awake, maybe not.

But then, Mark.

Sweet, kind, complimentary Mark.

I am floating on air so much now, that I have the gumption to go make dinner. I have some greens that need using, and I plan on using 'em.

I tried quinoa this week for the first time. Tonight, I am going to see if it works in my rice cooker. One rice cooker of quinoa, one wok of chicken and veggies, and one spoon.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

There goes two days of my life I'll never get back

This stuff is worth its weight in gold.

I am a rule follower. If there is a form due on a certain day, I turn it in on or before that day. I don't ask if I can have an extension. If there are certain requirements for a project, I don't stop until I have completed all of the requirements. I don't pick and choose. I don't opt to skip part of it. I don't talk on my cell phone while I drive, and I always press the button on the crosswalk.

So imagine my disappointment when I followed all of the directions for a new recipe, and it just didn't work out. Not just any recipe, mind you. One that took two. days. to. cook.

Don't worry... there is a happy ending here. But I am not going to let you hear it just yet. Come, suffer with me!

As I have mentioned, my weekly box of produce comes with a newsletter. In addition to some information about being green and sustaining the earth, there is usually some hints as how to use the less common items in the box (how else would I have known that I have to eat the beet greens and not just throw them out?). Also, every week, there is a recipe or two.

I hadn't used any of the recipes until this week, since they haven't quite worked out with my needs. However, this time the recipe for orange marmalade struck me as sounding kind of fun.

I have been wanting to try canning some of the fruits and veggies. I wonder if it is at all possible that I may actually miss some of the things that are overwhelming me right now, once they are out of season. It could be that I will wish I had them back!

This week, the newsletter contained a recipe for collared greens (Which, ironically are not in the box this week), and a recipe for orange marmalade. I happen to love orange marmalade, so making it seemed like a great way to use up some of the many oranges, try out canning for the first time, and perhaps even have a gift for a friend.

I followed the rules. Both the recipe instructions, and the instructions printed on the box of brand-spanking-new mason jars I bought just for this project.

I chose 5 oranges and 2 lemons. I sliced them in half, cut them into thin strips, and placed them in a pot with water.

why oh why won't these pictures line up nicely?

Then I began to cook them...  According to this recipe, you bring it all to a boil, add sugar, and then let it sit overnight. On day two, you bring it back to a boil, simmer for two hours, and then boil again for a half an hour.

I did all that. I boiled, then simmered, then boiled. I stood by the stove for almost three hours, stirring, watching, scraping foam from the top.

Then, it was time to do the canning. First, I boiled the empty jars to sanitize them. Then, I carefully filled each jar up to 1/4 inch from the top. I put the lid on,  just so tight, and stood by the stove some more, so I could boil it again. 

These jars of marmalade came out beautiful! 

And not at all like marmalade! The dang stuff didn't set. It stayed like runny orange and lemon slices floating in sugary water. Which, it just so happens, is exactly what it is! 

I was ready to give up and rename it "Orange ice cream topping" ... or "Orange pancake syrup"... or "Garbage."

However, I decided to consult my friend Google. He told me that the recipe I used was more or less the same as every other marmalade recipe. He also told me that it needed to boil about half an hour... until it reaches 220 degrees. Well, that little piece of info made all the difference. That little piece of information and a couple more hours in the kitchen.

I unsealed my perfectly preserved jars, poured the stuff back in the pot, stood and stirred and scraped and boiled it for much longer than half an hour, until 220 degrees,  and then did the little refrigerator-plate-test that was suggested in one recipe. Voila! Marmalade! Finally!

Okay, ready, set go: Rewash jars. Put jars back in the boiling water to sanitize. Fill jars back up, tighten the lid just so, put them back in the boiling water to preserve. Boil 15 more minutes, check the lids again, and we're done ... just as soon as I wash all these pots, pans, spoons, ladles, thermometer, knives, etc. And wipe sticky orange goo off of every surface in a 20 foot radius.

Good night!

Here is the recipe that actually works:
Orange marmalade

4 large oranges
2 lemons
8 cups sugar

Cut the oranges and lemons in half crosswise, then into very thin half-moon slices. Discard any seeds. Place the sliced fruit and their juices into a stainless-steel pot. Add 8 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.
The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 2 hours. Turn the heat up to medium and boil gently, stirring often, for another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms on the top. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 220 degrees F. If you want to be doubly sure it's ready, place a small amount on a plate and refrigerate it until it's cool but not cold. If it's firm -- neither runny nor too hard -- it's done. It will be a golden orange color. (If the marmalade is runny, continue cooking it and if it's too hard, add more water.)
Pour the marmalade into clean, hot Mason jars. if you plan to store it, be sure to seal it in boiling water.

I already use reusable bags. Now all I need is a Prius.

I think I hit a whole new level of green living today.

I cooked quinoa.

Why did I cook quinoa? Because everyone is cooking quinoa. Because quinoa is the healthiest substance known to man. I think it cures cancer, aids weight loss, fixes leaky roofs, protects the top coat of paint on your car, and gives your coat a healthy glow.

No joke, here are some quotes I found while researching this superfood:

"Quinoa is perhaps one of the most perfect non-animal sources of protein on the planet." -- Natural News

"[Quinoa] has a protein content that is superior to that of most grains, because it contains all the essential amino acids." -- New York Times

"[The] diminutive seed, which powered Inca armies ... is unmatched in nutritional value." -- AP News

With rave reviews like these, who wouldn't cook the stuff? It's practically guaranteed to improve my life thousandfold.

Of course, I also found news today about quinoa's darker side. Apparently all of us northern Whole Foods shopping, health-conscious, eco-friendly consumers are driving the price up. Up so high that the people who have been harvesting and eating the stuff ever since it powered the Inca armies, can no longer afford it.  While I feel for Bolivia and the people there, the fact remains that today I need to get dinner on the table.

First, I am told, you must rinse the quinoa grains in water before cooking them, to get rid of a bitter taste. Not one to buck advice from people who were green long before I was, rinse I did.

Next, you cook it pretty much the same way you cook rice... in a liquid to quinoa ratio of 2:1. Bring the liquid (in this case, chicken stock) to a boil, add quinoa, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, until the liquid is all absorbed.  Twenty minutes! That's enough time to read a couple of blogs, stir the orange marmalade that is simmering one burner over, have a phone conversation with your son's baseball coach, check your email, sync your phone, or sort the mail. Or, according to someone who shall remain nameless, do all of the above.

When your quinoa has absorbed all of the chicken stock, set it aside, and find a good recipe. I found a recipe online that met all of my usual requirements: It had to use up one or more of my vegetables and be written in English.

I actually found a recipe written by my local food guru, A Girl*A Market*A Meal, that met those requirements and had promise to be amazing. Not only did it use a head of broccoli (the main objective for today's meal), but the seasonings she uses are amongst my favorites, together in a fabulous combination... lemongrass, ginger, garlic, cilantro.

Of course, I can never leave well enough alone. Where she includes tofu, I substituted beef. I think venturing into the world of quinoa was enough green-ness for one day. I didn't really need to go as far as to cook tofu did I? Plus, I had a steak in the fridge that needed to be used post haste.

For the most part, though, I did just as I was told. And once again, I was very happy with my results.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One man's trash is another man's meal

I thought it was quite sweet that the good farmers of Abundant Harvest Organics sent me flowers this week. It almost made me feel a little bashful.

Until, that is, I read the newsletter. Of course, these aren't meant to be a lovely centerpiece for my dining table. They are meant to be used in the dishes that I serve on the table.

Readers, meet the arugula flower. I myself met it for the first time yesterday. According to my newsletter, I will soon get to experience this flower added to salads, cooked into soups, or as a garnish. I'll let you know soon how that pans out.

The rest of the box contained more expected items... the usual excess of oranges and tangerines, more potatoes, more carrots. I was optimistically hoping that we were nearing the end of the root vegetable season, but alas, I hoped too soon.

Not only did I get the potatoes and carrots again, I also got more parsnips (and if you recall, I have a hate/hate relationship with parsnips). I don't feel good about it, but if these here parsnips don't get a new home soon, they are likely going to end up, just as they are, in the composting bin. Anyone want them? They're fresh! And organic! And there are only five left! Grab them now while you have a chance!

And to top it all off, I got not one, but two new root veggies this week. Say hi to my new beets!

And say hi to my new beet tops! ('Cause apparently, according to that darn newsletter, I am supposed to eat both the root and the leaves.)

Speaking of leaves, I also got these babies:

 What are they, you ask? I don't know if I should let you in on the secret. Mostly because my friends, the farmers of AHO, didn't let me in on the secret. These particular green and red leaves came in a bag, with lots of other kinds of leaves, called "stir-fry mix." I completely understand what I am supposed to do with it, but it's kind of a bummer that I can't brag about the exotic things I am eating. Being able to say "I stir-fried some baby vegitula, the leaves of a farmiosa,  and some horticoptia for dinner," sounds so much more impressive than saying "I stir-fried some stuff for dinner."

In happier news, I also got some baby artichokes. I can't wait to find a recipe for a fabulous dip! Who's coming over for cocktails and appetizers? You don't need to bring a thing! (except a bag to take home your new parsnips.)

I believe that you can learn from any situation, if you are open to it. And here is what I learned this week:

Vegetables are something that plants produce. Like this broccoli...

... but why stop there? You don't have to limit yourself to just the vegetable that comes from the plant. You can also eat the plant itself... the leaves, the roots, and even the flowers are all up for grabs. Shoot, at some point you might even find me fashioning clothes and carving tools from the parts that remain.