Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cooking Ahead

Steak Salad with Corn and Poblanos Two Ways
  This steak salad is a perfect example of what you can do with leftovers.  Eat some of this for dinner, then turn the rest into satisfying and simple salads for lunch over the next couple of days. 
  Here's how:

Simple Steak Salad with Corn and Poblanos Two Ways
Adapted from a Food and Wine recipe

  • 1 1/4 pound Tri-tip steak, skirt steak, chicken, tuna, tofu etc.
  • 2 ears of corn, shucked
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Salad greens
Using a grill pan or grill, grill shucked corn and poblanos over high heat.  Grill until charred, but peppers still firm, 3-5 minutes or more.  Cut corn from cob.  Place corn from one cob in blender, reserve the corn from the other cob in a bowl.  Seed and chop the poblanos, placing one chopped poblano in blender and the other in the bowl with the corn.  Add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 1 Tablespoon of water to blender.  Blend to form a chunky sauce.  Mix together reserved grilled corn and poblano.  Set aside.
Grill meat.  Slice against the grain, and cut into smaller pieces.  Serve with corn and poblano mixtures.
Refrigerate remaining meat and sauces.

Serve leftover meat and corn-poblano mixtures over salad greens. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Desperately Seeking Spice

Cardamom Iced Tea
  Quite often in life memories are linked to specific smells, tastes, or sounds.  For me, if something is worth remembering it probably has a connection to what I was eating at the time.  From the sweetly steaming bamboo baskets of Vietnamese delights during a last dinner in Paris to making tea sandwich cookies with my grandmother, my memories are steeped in food.
  One of my fondest recollections (and cravings!) is the Friday special from a small Middle Eastern restaurant located in Indianapolis's City Market.  The Market has tons of food booths and other businesses that mostly cater to the downtown lunch crowd.  Pretty much anything you're hungry for is available: pizza, sushi, Philly cheese steaks, get the idea.
   No matter what I ate the rest of the week, on Friday I knew I was getting the 'Special' from Ameer's.  The 'Special' consisted of rice and lentils with sauteed onions, a small salad with a tangy, yogurt dressing, and tea.  Not just any tea, but their special cardamom iced tea.  In the bedwetter Styrofoam size, please.  And then there was the just-spicy-enough cilantro sauce that I squirted all over pretty much everything...
  There is no Ameer in Colorado.  Yet my craving for the Friday Special remains.  That's where Food52 comes in.  Haven't heard of this genius?  Well, let me enlighten you: Food52 is the creation of accomplished foodies, Amanda and Merrill, who have created an online food community offering recipes, cooking supplies, cookbook is almost a Pandora's box for the epicurean devotee.  It is also where I serendipitously (I use this word whenever possible) discovered the recipe for my beloved Ameer's 'Special!'
Mujaddara with Spiced Yogurt
  Jasmine rice, Puy (French) lentils, and loads of caramelized onions turn simple ingredients into complex flavors.  Top it off with spiced yogurt sauce and you have a meatless meal to die for.  Watch those onions; I burned mine on the first try, forcing me to make the entire recipe over again.  What a shame.  Click on the caption below the picture to be directed to the recipe.

  Nothing is better on a hot day than this tea!  Cardamom is a seed commonly used to flavor food and drinks throughout Asia and the Middle East.  In South Asia it is also used to treat infections of the gums and mouth, prevent throat trouble, and treat digestive disorders.  Plus, the aromatic flavor is enchanting.  Tastes great with mujaddara, too.

Cardamom Iced Tea
  • Black tea- enough for a pitcher.  Tazo makes black tea bags specifically for making a pitcher of iced tea, which is what I used.
  • 6-10 Green cardamom pods, crack open with the handle of a knife or heavy object to release flavor
  • Ice
  • Water
 Boil water for tea.  Place cardamom pods in pitcher along with tea bag(s).  Pour hot water over tea and cardamom mixture, let steep for time specified.  Add ice, chill.  Strain cardamom pods out, or leave in for added flavor.

Sweet Shaka in his kerchief
  The next recipe I'd like to share also came from Food52, but since we ate it all before I had a chance to take a picture here's our Ridgeback, Shaka Zulu, instead!  He's cute enough to suffice, right?

  Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, let's learn some new terms:
Merguez- Red, spicy North African lamb sausage spiced with chili pepper and/or harissa (for definition, see below).  You can make your own or Whole Foods will make it for you.  (I had previously thought lambs were too cute to eat, but I may have changed my mind!)
Ras el hanout- Popular Moroccan blend of spices used throughout North Africa; Think cardamom, clove, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, turmeric, etc. (I found some at Whole Foods.  Organic, to boot!)   
Harissa- Tunisian hot chili sauce made with piri piri, serrano, other hot chilis, and spices.  Varies from region to region. 

  Okay, now you get to use ALL THREE to make Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs.  Imagine: A sweet, savory, heartwarming stew with the creaminess of poached eggs adding depth and earthy flavor.  Also imagine sopping up every last bit with slices of crusty bread, and you're close to picturing the satiation that is coming your way.
  *Suggestion* I made merguez meatballs, because Whole Foods will only sell the cased sausage merguez in 3 lbs. increments or more.  I actually think I liked meatballs in this dish more than I would have liked slices of sausage, but I'd like to try both.  If you can't find merguez at all, try substituting Spanish chorizo or even Soyrizo if you'd rather not have any meat.    

  You think your palette has tasted it all, only to discover that there are endless flavor combinations, preparations, and applications.  Maybe the flavors I've described in this post are familiar to you, or maybe you are wondering if you will even like them.  Either way, I invite you to step outside of your food comfort zone and try a new food, ingredient, or recipe.  Not only will you be broadening your horizons, you'll be making memories and possibly, future cravings!

Abandoned roses in Ladd's Addition, Portland, Oregon


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

6 Things I've Learned Along the Way

  Growing up ain't easy.  There are so many things you learn in such a short span of time that sometimes it's hard to grasp it all.  Some life lessons are obvious ones, and your parents or some other adult in your life can at least warn you of them if not fully prepare you for them.  This list of things I've learned along the way is by no means comprehensive or authoritative.  I'm quite sure that it's also far from complete.  It's simply a collection of lessons I felt like sharing.   Make time to notice your place in the world, and how it may or may not have changed since the last time you stopped to take note.     
Enjoy the ride.

    1.  Pick your battles.
Life is too short to spend all of your waking hours arguing with people whose minds you will never change.  Even a brief introduction into the real world as a young person will have you reeling at what you, at that time, perceive to be the absolute ignorance of your elders.  If you're opinionated AND outspoken, it can get even harder to resist the temptation to bite at all of the bait that will drift your way.  My advice?  Only pick the juiciest, plumpest bait that has the greatest potential to enable positive change to occur.  Resist the urge to engage in the same, tired debates about issues that will likely remain controversial for many years to come.  That doesn't mean you have to give up entirely though.  Chances are, there are a lot of other people who think like you, and chances are even greater that they organize to do something within their community.  Get involved!

     2.  You can be humble and self-confident at the same time.

There is a special place in Hell reserved for the people who started making other people feel dumb for being smart.  I know that you know what I mean if you've ever been surrounded by others that are threatened by your intelligence.  Since when did stupid become the new smart?  I don't buy it.  This economic pit of despair that our country is currently languishing in has clearly shown us that education is one of the most clearly defining factors that separates those with the jobs and those without.  So be proud of your smarts, and remember that education is a lifelong process.
That being said, many of those same 'educated' are equally languishing in their cesspools of student debt, which leads me to the next portion of this lesson: Be humble. You may not immediately start working in the field of your dreams, and you may have to do some less than desirable jobs along the way to getting there, but never, never quit.  Self-confidence and humbleness don't make quitting an option.

  3.  There are certain things in life on which you do not skimp:
  •   Haircuts- There is a reason people go to school to learn how to cut and style hair.  Choose a professional!  You might spend a little more on the cut/color, etc. but people notice your hair, and as one of my favorite sitcom characters Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock says, "After all, your hair is your head suit."  I don't mean this in a superficial way, and of course I know that hair will grow, but it's hard to feel self-confident when you're worried about your hair.
  • Toilet Paper- There's a reason that those singular, paper-wrapped rolls are so cheap...because they will rub your ass raw!  Seriously, when it comes to hygiene, splurge a little.  
  • Pet Food- Crappy pet food can KILL your precious animals and even make you ill as well.  Choose pet food that is made without grain, corn, or soy. 
  • Your Food- You really are what you eat, so eat a vegetable or two.  When it comes to olive oil, buy organic extra virgin olive oil.  I know it costs more, but so what.  Simple, fresh ingredients make the best food, as I've said time and again.  Quality over quantity generally always applies when it comes to something that is supposed to nourish and sustain you.  Plus, you'll probably save money if you buy more produce because it usually doesn't require any packaging.  Did you think companies wouldn't pass that cost along to you, the consumer?  Think again.
  4.  Edumahcate yourself, aka, Read a Book!

  Learning doesn't stop the minute you graduate from high school.  If you didn't even make it there, then I don't need to tell you how hard life is, you already know.  College is not for everyone, but education IS.  Be informed, stay informed, get empowered.  If you plan to reproduce, just know that 50% of your genes are going to be passed along to your offspring.  You should also know that children born into homes with less-educated and/or parents living below the poverty line have lower vocabulary levels, tend to struggle more in school, and have less access to health services.

  5.  Find a purpose, benefiting yourself and hopefully others, and do it.

  This one isn't exactly easy, but it is essential to a life well-lived, in my opinion.  Maybe it takes you awhile you figure out where you fit into this and how you can make a difference in your own life and the lives of others, but chances are you know what you're passionate about.  Sometimes it takes doing something you loathe to find what you are born to be doing.  Maybe, hypothetically, you once worked for the Homicide Department in a large, metropolitan area and day after day were confronted with violence, suffering, and rage.  Then maybe one day you had an epiphany and realized that you'd much rather be a librarian.  You figured out what it would take, and you did it.  While this does not define your happiness, it does shape your future.

  6.  "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted."  -Randy Pausch 

  Without being too cliche, sometimes what you want isn't always what you need.  One thing I am sure of is that all we are is a result of how we react to what comes our way in life.  You can run the gamut of emotions- you can be upset, you can be bitter, or you can take things in stride and grow from the defeats as well as the triumphs.  Even the beautiful lotus blossoms up from the mucky depths.
   What have you learned along the way?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Best Egg Salad EVER!

  Do you love egg salad as much as I do?  Well, I have the recipe for you.  Hands-down THE best egg salad I've ever eaten or made.  The part I enjoy the most is that I'm not eating a load of mayonnaise because, wait for it,
no mayonnaise was used in the making of this egg salad.

  What's that you say?  No mayonnaise?  Yes, you read correctly.  Substitute low-fat ricotta and 2% Greek yogurt for a creamier, healthier, even better salad.  After all, you're really just eating it for all that choline, protein, and Vitamin B12.  Right?  
 Perfect Egg Salad (Adapted from the Power Foods cookbook, from the geniuses at Whole Living.)
  • 8 eggs, hard-boiled
  • 3 Tablespoons of part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons of 2% fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard or other mustard 
  • 1 Tablespoon of snipped chives
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper 
  • Ideas for Additions: Chopped dill pickles; fresh dill in place of chives; diced celery; diced red onion...Have fun!  
First hard-boil the eggs.  Fresher eggs are more difficult to shell, so I don't recommend using farm fresh eggs for egg salad.  Grocery store eggs work fine.  Place eggs in a large pot and cover with water by about an inch.  Place over heat and bring to a rolling boil.  Once water is at a full boil, remove eggs from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare ice bath and after 12 minutes have passed drain eggs and plunge into ice bath to stop the cooking.  Shell the eggs once cool enough to handle.  Place yolks in a bowl and crumble.  Reserve whites, finely chop, and then add to yolks.

In a small bowl, mix together ricotta, yogurt, mustard, and chives.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the mixture to the egg and gently fold to incorporate.

  And since I couldn't leave you without dessert...
Ripe plum crostata with fresh whipped cream
  Make the most of ripe plums- Colorado has some mighty tasty ones right about now.  I just happened to have some heavy whipping cream languishing in the fridge, so I decided to whip some up, sweeten it with vanilla and a bit of sugar, and put a dollop on top of the crostata slices.
**Make sure when making fresh whipped cream that you use a small to medium-sized bowl with a tall, narrow opening.  Put the empty bowl in the fridge while the crostata bakes.  Your cream will whip up much faster and fluffier in a cold bowl.**

  This recipe comes from a recent edition of Food & Wine that features Colorado chef, Kelly Liken, and the recipes she makes during 3-day horseback excursions from Vail to Aspen.  Sounds heavenly, I know.  When I have an extra $1200 lying around I'll be sure to let you know how it is!  However, you can make the crostata at home with some very simple (and cheap) ingredients.  View the full recipe here.  Try the tart with a different stone fruit if plums aren't available, and don't be afraid to substitute lemon zest for the orange zest called for in the original recipe.  Either way, the zip of the citrus can't be missed so don't skip it!

Cactus flower in bloom
 Currently Reading: In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes
 Currently Listening to: Chimes of Freedom- The Songs of Bob Dylan

Oh, and I haven't forgotten about the Middle Eastern recipes.  I've just been doing lots of sampling...