Saturday, October 31, 2009

Comfort Food

With the recent acquisition of my 3-in-1 slow cooker, I've been looking at a lot of new cookbooks in an attempt to move beyond the chili and bean soups I can make with my eyes closed. There seem to be two camps in the slow cooker world: those who slow cook for convenience, and those who slow cook for the added depth of flavor imparted by long hours over low heat.

There are a lot of slow cooker books out there, enough that I've had to develop my own simple litmus test to use while scanning for promising recipes. If onion soup mix or anything from Campbell's show up in the ingredient list, that's when I put the book down and move on.

I've had some hits (arroz con pollo) and some misses (Moroccan chicken) and learned a few things, namely that most things taste better if I take the time to brown meat, saute onions, and warm spices in oil. Oh, and that you really can overcook slow cooked dishes.

Tonight's dinner was delicious. I made a slow cooked kitchari from the wonderful Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Book in which I've found interesting recipes with real ingredients--nary a can of cream of mushroom soup in sight! The recipe called for heating spices in melted butter to release their fragrance for the base flavors and the last hour spice paste addition gives a bright, fresh taste to this protein-rich Indian comfort food.

My modification: the recipe calls for moong dal but I used the split chana dal I had in the cupboard and was happy with the results, but they didn't completely disintegrate into the rice. If that sounds more appealing to you (or picky little ones) by all means use the moong dal or even red lentils. Also, though the recipe directed cooking on low heat, I cut the cooking time nearly in half by cooking on high. If you choose to do this, watch it at the end so it doesn't dry out too much.You'll find the printable recipe here. Enjoy!

Oh--and if, like me, you can't keep your dals straight, this is the guide I refer to.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Why, hello!

I just looked up my visitor stats for this blog and noticed that a lot of people have been visiting lately. Like, people that don't even know me in real life. So....welcome! I'd love to hear what brought you here. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments--I'd love to know more about my readers.


The recipe I'm sharing with you today came from David Lebovitz' delightful new book The Sweet Life in Paris which I recently devoured. It's my favorite kind of travel writing, the sort that mixes bafflement and delight, good information and random observations, with the added bonus of a generous serving of recipes.

The recipe for Breton Buckwheat Cake caught my eye for reasons not entirely clear to me. There are much flashier recipes in this book for sure. But when I was a kid my dad occasionally made us buckwheat pancakes and there is something about that distinctive flavor that was very attractive--mysterious and familiar at the same time. I had no idea how that would translate to a sweet cake and was anxious to find out.

The sad truth is that I couldn't take a sexy photo of this cake. But please, don't be fooled by its homely appearance because it is a thing of beauty indeed. Its flavor is very nuanced and surprising--I kept getting hints of almond and honey despite neither being included in the ingredient list. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks suggests serving the cake with fresh fruit or Greek yogurt lightly sweetened with maple syrup. But I was enchanted by this cake all on its own. Really, it's the best kind of magic. Do give this one a try and let me know what you think.

You'll find the recipe here. And don't despair about all those leftover egg whites--that's what meringues are for!
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

St Johns + Art

Our homeschool group had the pleasure of a guided tour of the St Johns + Art exhibition by its organizer today. It was a lovely, foggy autumn day, the kind that makes the changing leaves pop as if the trees had all been wired for electricity. Forty different storefronts had art pieces ranging from embroidery to ceramics--so much to look at but sadly very little photographed well through glass so I'm mostly just sharing images from our walk. If you're in Portland you should get on up to St Johns right away as this is the last week of the exhibit.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sick of It

I was going to share with you a pretty post about lots of recently finished projects and upcoming plans. But my brain's been hijacked today and the following is what happens when you come to a blog whose focus is everything that comes through my head.

I've been reading T R Reid's eye opening book The Healing of America this week in which he details how numerous countries around the world established effective, affordable universal health care systems which make our current setup laughable. Except it's not funny. It's life and death.

And this morning's episode on OPB's Think Out Loud addressed the issue of a mandate as part of health care reform. How, exactly, does a mandate make health care affordable? It seems to me that it's a big old gift, wrapped up in a bow, to the very same for profit insurance companies that have made such a debacle of health care in this country.

Today I read that the health insurance industry can't support the proposed changes. Well boo hoo! How many other businesses have folded in our current economy? Let 'em fold. Then maybe we can start over with a real health care system designed to keep Americans healthy, not make corporate executives even richer.

There are so many ways we can make this work. Medicare for all. Private doctors paid through a public system. Private (but not for-profit) insurers paying doctors. Reid's book opened my eyes to so many ways of getting to what we really need: a health care system that puts people before profits, allows doctors to practice freely (without massive medical school debts and frightfully expensive malpractice insurance), and alleviates the fear of medical bankruptcy that haunts all of us, both uninsured families and those whose coverage is sparse and/or may be terminated at the whim of an insurance company employee.

I hope you'll read Reid's book and then write a letter, call a congressperson, make a stink in some way or another. We need to be loud and clear about real health care reform--it really is about life and death.

Next steps:

If you can't get your hands on Reid's excellent (and very readable) book, this video from Mad as Hell Doctors does a great job of explaining why health care is so insanely expensive in this country. Also--not to be missed-- Keith Olbermann's hour long Special Comment last week on the subject of health care. Here's the transcript if streaming video isn't an option.

Is our system in the US really so bad? Why yes it is. Take a look at this interactive map and see just how poorly we compare to numerous other countries.

Even if you're insured, you may not be once you actually need to use the insurance you've paid for. Googling 'health insurance horror stories" turns up pages and pages of results like this one and this one and this one. Of course Michael Moore's film Sicko (which, ironically, arrived in its cheerful red Netflix envelope the day I came home from an overnight visit to the emergency room without insurance) is another strong indictment of for profit health insurance in the US.

Now what?

Unless you've got a better idea (and please share it if you do) please consider working hard to support a public option in upcoming health care reform. It's the only way to cut into the insurance companies' stranglehold. Write letters, sign petitions, donate money, make a fuss because nothing the Obama administration has proposed to tackle comes close to this in terms of improving the economy and making American citizens healthier and more secure.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mas o Menos

I recently retired my trusty old 6 quart crockpot. The earth toned workhorse, embellished with 1970's era herb illustrations, was a hand-me-down when I got it well over a decade ago. It made countless batches, of chili, white bean soup, and tomato sauce. Admittedly, it looked a little homely sitting on my counter but I saw no reason to replace it until a recent discussion with a friend who started talking about lead in old crockpot glazes. I wrote to the manufacturer a number of times and was never able to get a definitive answer regarding the safety of my trusty old crockpot so, with only a little regret, it has been replaced by a guaranteed lead free slow cooker which is very spiffy as it comes with interchangable, nesting stoneware cooking vessels in three different sizes which makes this thing suitable for anything from a small pot of slow cooked morning oatmeal to a vat of chili for a crowd. How cool is that? Of course it's a little spare looking without the groovy 70's color scheme but I can trade that for lead free glazes any day.

Those of you reading this who manage just fine without yet another kitchen device might wonder what all the fuss is about. What's wrong with a soup pot and a stove? Nothing. Nothing at all, assuming one is home to watch over the soup pot. But there is something truly wonderful in being able to throw dinner together in the morning and walk away, knowing that a tasty meal will be waiting at the end of the day. Or to set up a pot of oatmeal at bedtime and know that there will be a warm, slow cooked breakfast, even on busy mornings.

I used to only use it during the week when I work from 6-9 pm but in recent years I've found the slow cooker to be quite versatile as well as providing a depth of flavor that I really enjoy. I've written about using it for tomato sauce. Chutney works just as well. And recently I've found that slow cooking chicken necks for 15 or more hours makes a fantastic chicken broth. A slow cooker uses less energy than stovetop cooking, it's nearly impossible to burn properly prepared food, and it doesn't heat up the kitchen. What's not to like?

I wanted to share with you the maiden voyage meal as it was delicious. I'd had an itch to try making a Cuban style arroz con pollo but was set on using only what I had on hand which meant chicken breasts, leftover rice, and lots of CSA bell peppers. None of the recipes I looked at quite fit the bill so I just went freestyle and what I came up with was a keeper. If 4/5 of this family like a dish, I am doing well and that was how this was received. The trick was pureeing all those Vitamin C filled peppers along with tomatoes in the blender. My kids won't touch peppers if they know they're there but don't have refined enough palates to recognize them by taste alone. I'm calling it Mas o Menos Arroz con Pollo as I doubt it would be recognized as such by an actual Cuban person but I'm OK with that because it's good stuff!

Printable recipe

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

My lovely children were dispersed yesterday, the boys to the mountains and my youngest with friends which meant that my husband and I had some unscheduled time alone together on a beautiful, crisp fall day. I almost forgot to bring my camera but I am so glad he reminded me to tuck it in my bag. Sometimes I think I've already taken all the good pictures I ever will, and then the same old street I've walked 100 times surprises me with its colors.
What a treat to spend a fine, relaxed day off with the one I love best.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Power Bars

Two of my kids and I are not big breaskfast eaters so the mornings when we have to zip out the door for a day of classes can be a little hairy. Thus, I am always on the lookout for healthy, nourishing take along snacks to provide a boost.

I made these last night after searching through internet recipes. I found lots of interesting ones but most were either scary (corn syrup? powdered milk?) or contained expensive, esoteric ingredients like agave syrup and stevia powder. I'm sure you could use those and these would be tasty but plain old honey suited my tastes just fine. There's lots of good stuff here, and room to play around with ingredients. The key for my family is to use the food processor to reduce the offensive elements (cashews, pumkin seeds, and walnuts) along with dried fruit to a barely noticeable paste. Mixed in with oats, peanut butter, and honey, you can hardly tell how nutrient dense these bars are. You can even add some protein powder of your choice (I used a yucky excessively vanilla flavored whey powder my doctor wants me to use in smoothies but it's much less noticeable here).

Let me know what you think of these and if you have a favorite to go type recipe for busy mornings.

Printable recipe

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