Cinnamon

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Cinnamon has really been on my mind lately.  I know, I know, it’s such a common little spice, and most of us know precisely what to do with it.  Toss it with sugar on buttered toast or shake it onto a bowl of oatmeal.  But listen, it is not what you think.  First, I like its ubiquitous quality and I like the idea that we all think we know how to use it.  But I’ve been adding cinnamon to so many unusual dishes lately and with much success.  Let’s think outside the jar for a minute and talk about new uses for that perfect, accessible spice you’ve been taking for granted.

Few folks would think of adding cinnamon to their tuna and tomato salad but not me. Cinnamon pairs well with tomatoes and you can feel free to throw a half-stick of it into a tomato sauce when you’re feeling clever and strange.  (And don’t forget to add a whole, peeled carrot to the sauce for added sweetness.)  Cinnamon doesn’t strike the sauce as you might think but is subtle and smoky.  Think of that traditional combination of nutmeg and red meat and tomatoes in a ragu sauce.  It’s not too far fetched to consider using cinnamon in the same way.  Throw a cinnamon stick into your next pot of beef stew and see if you can pick up that wonderful flavor.  What else?  Cinnamon loves lemon and you could make a smooth lemony, cinnamon sauce and toss with fresh pasta noodles.  Think of the Moroccan tagine and find the scent of cinnamon, along with many other aromatic spices, accompanying things like chicken and chickpeas.

Best of all is that cinnamon is considered one of the most healing of spices.  It can relieve diarrhea and nausea, counteract congestion and aid circulation.  It warms the body and enhances digestion, especially the metabolism of fats, among other uses. 

You can see now why I’ve had cinnamon on the mind.  You read a lot about unusual, exotic spices like saffron and cardamom, but we all know cinnamon and have a bit of it on the shelf.  It’s important now more than ever to take a look at some of the most common foods that sit patiently in your fridge door or in the pantry and consider them in new ways.  Start with that jar of cinnamon by adding it to a tomato-based sauce or to a chicken and lemon dish.  Here’s a recipe to try from the great Claudia Roden:

 Syrian-Style Chicken with Orzo (Jaj bel Lissan al Assfour) serves 6

1 large onion (chopped), 2 tbls sunflower (or neutral) oil, 1 chicken (about 3 1/2 lbs), 4 cloves garlic (sliced), 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds or fresh ground, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, salt and pepper, juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 cups orzo, 2 tablespoons butter

In a pan large enough to contain the chicken, fry the onion in the oil until soft.  Put in the chicken, and pour 4 1/2 cups of water (it will not cover the chicken entirely).  Add garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours with the lid on, until the chicken is so tender the meat falls off the bone, turning the chicken over once halfway through.  Take out the chicken, and when it is cool enough to handle, cut it into pieces.

Bring the sauce to the boil, add the lemon juice, and throw in the orzo.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until tender, adding boiling water-about 1 cup-if necessary, and more salt and pepper.  Stir in the butter and put the chicken pieces back into the pan, over the pasta.  Heat through before serving.  The pasta becomes soft rather than al dente.

Cheers,

Kristin

 

 

New Year, New Ways of Eating

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It’s come to my attention that I’ve never been able to produce a December blog entry, this past December no exception.  Just too much hubbub I suppose.  And so here I am, at the heart of a bitterly cold January.  The very-cold has not gotten us down however, except for the truth that my toddler, Riley, and I rarely make it out of the house at all because of the weather.  So, perhaps I’m lacking in perspective a bit, but it could be worse I reckon.  Plus, in the daily company of a small grunting child who could care little for perspective herself, I feel I am not in too bad of shape.  She is my light anyhow and I just follow her about the house all day exploring, exploring. 

What a real fervor in this last entry of mine regarding our new President-elect.  I still feel that fire a bit but so much has happened even since last November.  Our nation, our world is in such a state of upheaval, one thing leading to another to another.  We are in genuine recession and that seems to be setting the tone for most of us, plus another war seems to have begun in the middle east.  However, Nate and I have been mostly finding ourselves content and mostly untouched, witnessing events and reading them as opportunities.  I have always felt that it is important to be regularly shaken and stirred, that these are the moments when we can really make change, large or small.  This will be the year for that beautiful discomfort, where we may be knocked down, only to be reminded that so much of life is in the knowing how to get back up again.

What does food have to do with all this?  For many of us we are seeing and buying food in new ways.  Many of us are either returning to our kitchens again or just getting introduced and are sharing home-cooked meals with our families at the kitchen table.  What a wonderful repercussion, may I say.  Some of us are simply doing more with less for the first time either by slimming down portions or splurging on one element of a meal.  The bulk section available in some markets is seeing more traffic and that is all-together a good thing for one’s pocketbook, turn over of product and therefore boost in quality, and of course the affect on one’s health seeing as though bulk products usually are whole grains, beans and legumes, dried fruits and nuts. 

This can be a new time for us in the realm of food.  Getting back to basics, carefully choosing what we eat so as not to throw away precious dollars, sitting down to eat with our loved ones.  Plus, with all the anxiety in the air we know we need to eat well and nutritiously in order to stay healthy and on top of things.  It seems meal-time is a place again where we can rejuvinate our minds and bodies by coming together with our families, relaxing, and eating carefully and healthily. 

You sense my optimistic tone.  In the spirit of the above I wanted to alert you to the fact that I’m going to be doing quite a bit of teaching this spring on the wide and controversial subject of eating well.  First, at The Wedge I’ll be teaching Eating Well in Tough Times, on April 1, 7-8:30pm and Personal Chef Tips and Tricks on April 22, 7-8:30pm.  I’ll also be teaching two classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill called Cook Once, Eat for the Week on March 31, 6-9pm, and Digging in to the CSA Box on May 19, 6-9pm.  Visit these websites for more details and info on signing up.  

Here’s a simple recipe to sooth and to enjoy at the table with your family.  A Japanese home-style one-pan dish that is one of my favorites.

Oyako Donburi (Chicken and Egg Dish) serves 2, multiply as needed

2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs; 1/2 thinly sliced yellow onion; 4 large eggs; 1 1/2 cups hot cooked rice; Sauce: 1 tbs sake, 3 tbs soy sauce, 2 tbs mirin, 1 1/2 tbs sugar, 1 cup chicken stock

Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, trimming away any excess fat.  Set aside.  Have the onion, eggs, and rice ready.

To make the sauce, in a small frying pan, combine the sake, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and chicken stock and bring to a brisk simmer over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and simmer until the chicken is about half cooked, about 5 minutes.  Add the onion and cook until the chicken is cooked through and onion is soft, about 5 minutes longer.

While the chicken is cooking, break the eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork or chopsticks until well blended.  Place about 3/4 cup of the rice in each of 2 wide, shallow bowls.

When the chicken is ready, add three-fourths of the beaten egg to the chicken and onion and cover the pan.  When the egg has just set, after 4 or 5 minutes, uncover, pour in the rest of the egg, and then immediately pour the chicken, onion, and egg mixture over the bowls of rice, divided evenly.

Happy Days and Happy Eating to You,

Kristin

 

 

Food Matters

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What a week!  Hurrah to all of us for electing such a respectable person to office, Barack Obama.  Even though he was elected three days ago I am still reeling and still finding it unbelievable.  You know, I’ve never been a sinical person but a regularly disappointed optimist.  And now, I feel rather vindicated, like all that hope and faith wasn’t being stored for nothing. I feel a sense of get-up-and-go, do you?  There’s work to be done now, real work.  There’s a shine of pride I’ve never seen the gleam of.  Makes me want to cook, to eat and clap.  Makes me want to gather my daughter in my arms and say there you go then. 

Before sitting down to write today I reflexively got online to see whatever became of that recent article by Michael Pollan in the New York Times titled Farmer-in-Chief.  If you didn’t have the chance to read that beautiful thing it was in letter-format to the next president elect spelling out how our broken food system is affecting and being affected by all other issues plaguing our time now and that in order to heal things like our economy and environment we must solve our current food crisis.  I found out that indeed Barack Obama did read Pollan’s article and mentioned it in depth in an interview with a reporter from Time magazine.  Obama gleaned from Pollan’s piece the environmental impact our food system has had and spoke further of his priority while in office to get moving on environmental issues.  Bravo!  Why?  First, can you imagine any other president (such as the one we’ve had in office these past eight years) even reading Pollan’s article on food and breathing it in and referring to it in an interview? Does this not sound like a good beginning?  Can we believe that we have a president who cares about these seemingly fringe issues and who unpopularly promotes the farm bill while in congress and advocates heartily for African-American farmers?  Oh, I’m just so revved up.

While reading more about Obama and food I found out that his favorite food is pizza from a specific Italian restaurant in Chicago.  Here’s a recipe for our president, a pizza dressed up in Autumn clothes:

Pizza with Tomato Sauce, Autumn Squash, and Ricotta Cheese

One pizza dough (either homemade or store-bought), 14 oz. can of Muir Glen crushed tomatoes (or sauce), clove of garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar, small butternut squash (or other favorite squash), fresh rosemary or thyme, cup of whole-milk ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese to shred on top

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Peel, de-seed, and slice your squash into small 1/4 inch slices.  Toss those slices with a bit of olive oil, a few tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary or thyme, salt and pepper.  Lay the squash in a roasting pan and roast in the oven until tender.   

In a small saucepan, warm a tablespoon of olive oil.  Slice your clove of garlic, add it to your saucepan, and swirl it round for a minute or so but do not allow to brown.  Add in your crushed tomatoes, stir and bring to a simmer. Allow your tomatoes to simmer for about five minutes and then add in a bit of salt and pinch of sugar.  Allow that to simmer for another five minutes and finally taste for more salt or sugar.  

Once your squash and tomato sauce are done you are ready to assemble your pizza.  First, turn up your oven to 450 degrees.  Place your pizza dough on either a cookie sheet or on a pizza peel to be later transferred to a pizza stone in the oven.  Spread your tomato sauce on so that it covers your dough but is not too thick. Distribute your roasted squash pieces and then spoon ricotta cheese around your squash.  Shred some parmesan cheese on top of that and sprinkle a bit of sea salt and pepper on top.  Drizzle your pizza now with a bit of olive oil and then bake in your oven until bubbling and slightly browned.

  

 

We Are What We Eat

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Well, it would be impossible for me not to center my entry this month on the current state of affairs in our country.  How can you not be affected by the dark clouds and just feel absolutely disappointed?  I’ve always thought of food and politics as walking hand in hand, no matter how grim that sounds.  I believe that what you eat and how you eat is a reflection of you and your values–you are what you eat sort of thing.  Why is it that after listening to NPR for a while this week do I feel this hard need to bake a tart with some local plums I’ve hanging around or making a cauliflower soup with that gorgeous orange head of Gardens of Eagan cauliflower I’ve in the fridge?  Why do all of these details matter so much more now than ever and why the mean drooling to cook up a storm? 

I guess I feel like when I can put a name and even a face to a local producer of something I’ve bought, such as in this case a head of cauliflower, I feel empowered.  I feel powerful.  I feel that sense of destiny being in my own hands.  There are no real middlemen between me and my decisions and there is a no great gulf between me and my values.  Does that even make much sense?  I don’t know, I haven’t really thought this through completley, but I know it to be true.  There is something really beautiful about knowledge and empowerment and therefore confidence, particularly in a time when I feel, as a citizen of this country, that so much could be or is out of my hands, even a dinner I put on the table.  And isn’t it lovely to know that you can straight support someone in your community who you can know and learn from and learn about, such as a small farmer, and know that you’re serving your own community, enriching it, and getting something as gorgeous as a fresh head of cauliflower from it in return?

Perhaps I’m crazy, but I feel this to be true.  Doesn’t it seem that something as simple as that can sustain us, as a family, as a community and nation?  In honor of that head of cauliflower, a soup to bring you back around.  A soup to make you patriotic.  Now, don’t forget to invite your neighbor over for a cup of this soup and tell your children where the food is from.  This is what eating well is all about.

Curried Cauliflower and Potato Soup

olive oil or butter, 1 large yellow onion (chopped), 4 cloves of garlic (chopped), 3 tablespoons of curry powder, medium to large head of local cauliflower (chopped into 1/2 inch pieces), 3 potatoes (chopped into half inch pieces), 1 quart of chicken stock, milk added for taste and consistency, salt and pepper

In a large, heavy soup pot melt a tablespoon of butter and tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Sweat the onion, garlic, curry powder, and pinch of salt until softened.  Add the cauliflower and potato and saute for a minute with the onion mixture.  Then add the stock and bring to boil gently and then simmer until the cauliflower and potato are tender.  Blend the soup with either a hand or standing blender until very creamy.  Put back on the heat over medium and stir in as much milk as you’d like for consistency; add salt and pepper to taste. 

Peace, Kristin

 

 

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Where did August go?  Doesn’t August always seem like a month that barely exists, it happens along so quickly?  Now, September.  Times are good and quite busy.  Riley, my daughter, who is nearly a year old now, has taken over completely, if not wonderfully, our lives.  When I think of food, real food, I think of her first, and what can I introduce to her palate next.  This week she’s been eating mushy peas with mint from the garden and she seems to find it delicous.  But the brown rice and azuki beans I made haven’t struck a good chord only a series of unhappy faces and snorts.  The idea of a brand new, impressionable palate obsesses me.  An observation I made through my nose as of late is that when you open a baby food jar bought from the store it smells like very little and smells almost exactly like all of the other food in the other jars, no matter whether it’s meat or fruit.  Creepy.  It isn’t always easy to find the time to make a homemade batch of baby food but it can be done and I’ll go out on a limb here, it should be done. 

My other current obsession now besides my daughter’s new palate is the tomato.  I always get worked up this time of year over that little red fruit/vegetable, or in some cases yellow, orange, or green.  The window for their appearance and loveliness isn’t big enough for me in Minnesota.  I’ve been doing my regular batches of roasted tomatoes with garlic, herbs, cinnamon sometimes, and processing them into sauces.  Tonight I’m going to throw a bit of that chunky sauce on top of dough for a pizza along with a local yellow bell pepper and mozzarella.  At the Wedge you can find the very stylish San Marzano tomatoes in quantity from Breezy Hill Farm.  They make an exquisite sauce if nothing else and are organic.  I’ve given you this recipe before but I’ll provide it again, only because it is so darned simple, delicious, seasonally appropriate and endlessly versatile, and those are the sort of recipes I celebrate most.

Easy/Versatile Roasted Tomato Sauce

2lbs. real/ripe tomatoes (1 lb usually about 1 cup of sauce), olive oil, salt, pepper; other options to add are garlic cloves, cinnamon sticks, saffron, vinegar (such as red wine or balsamic), and fresh herbs (but once it’s done in the oven)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Split your tomatoes in half and face them up in a single row in a roasting pan or 1 inch deep baking pan.  Drizzle over your olive oil and sprinkle over your salt and pepper, and add any other additions you please.  Roast for 30-40 minutes or until they begin to wrinkle and loosen a bit.  At this point you can pass the tomatoes with their juice through a food mill or chop in a food processor or just do as I sometimes do when my child is acting cranky in my other arm and just smash with a fork; this will make a very coarse, chunky style sauce.  Freeze in storage bags or process in canning jars if you’ve much left over.  Enjoy!

What else is in season now?  For now’s the most fecund time in Minnesota where you can pretty much buy all things you need in the produce section from local growers.  Here’s what you can find at the market right now: zucchini and summer squash, all varieties of eggplant, broccoli and cauliflower, sweet corn, cucumbers, a good variety of greens, beets, herbs, onions, fresh garlic, melons, apples (early), blueberries, raspberries, and of course, all varieties of tomatoes.  Eat your heart out!

Until next month, be well and eat just as well,

Kristin

 

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