Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cauliflower and dead cows

Guten tag. First, news: I don't really want to talk about Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin. I don't think I even have it in me right now. If you don't know to what I'm referring, just google 'aborigine russian figure skaters'. You will soon find out.
More news: “Local farmers buried the cows outside the barn Friday. They would not discuss Pierson or what had happened, but one of the men said these are hard times to be a farmer.” This is taken from an article I read this morning. I guess a farmer in upstate New York shot fifty-one of his dairy cows before turning the gun on himself. The story makes me very sad, partly because it's true: it is tough being a farmer in this day and age, when you are being overtaken by factory farms who receive government payouts and think nothing of crushing their tiny local competitors to death. Literally. It's capitalism, right? It's also the fact that people are just starting to care about local farmers again, after fifty-odd years of singing the praises of factory beef, eggs, chicken and milk. The other part of the story that really makes me sad is that I happen to really like cows. I grew up with them. They're benign. They're also dumb. No, I'm not an animal rights activist or even a vegetarian, but I can only imagine the terror and blind panic that occurred in that barn. Animals shouldn't be shot because their owner can't deal with life anymore. What a waste.
Still more news: I have found out that I will be headed for China either February 24th or March 5th. I don't even know if I mentioned in my last blog that I've been planning on going to China. I am actually traveling with my sister and brother-in-law, who are adopting for the second time. Caleb (their first son) is coming with us to get Asher (their new son), who will be about a year and a half by the time we're there. I can't wait! The Wall and fried donkey. Those are my two main concerns. (Oh yeah – and Asher. :) ) I also really want to visit a fish market. We will be spending our time in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Woo hoo! Rest assured I will take a lot of pictures and share as many as I can when I return.
Now that I've dispensed with all the pressing news, let's move on to the food portion of today's show. I've still been vegging out (literally and figuratively). Remember that head of red cabbage that I had a couple of weeks ago? Well, at the beginning of this week, it was still hanging around my fridge! (Darn the loitering veggies... ) What is a single person supposed to do with a whole head of cabbage? That's one of the conundrums of my life. I decided to make it into a slaw, which turned out to be pretty tasty! It's also very easy – just about as easy as boiling cabbage. But who wants nasty boiled cabbage? (Unless you have an unnatural desire to be the poor char girl in a Dickens novel, or relive Roger Waters' youth. [I always imagine that they ate boiled cabbage at that terrible school. “Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone! And stop feeding them boiled cabbage!”])
Here is the recipe:
1 c halved cranberries (you know you've still got some in your freezer)
¼ c sugar
4-5 c shredded red cabbage
¼ c sliced green onions
¼ c red wine vinegar
½ c white vinegar
½ c sugar
1 t celery seed
1 t salt
½ c vegetable/canola oil
Toss the halved cranberries with the ¼ cup of sugar and let them sit for a few minutes. Combine the dressing ingredients (both vinegars, ½ cup of sugar, celery seed, salt and oil), then toss with the cabbage, green onions, and cranberries. I also threw in some broccoli stalks that I had shredded, because those were still in the fridge too. In fact, you can use whatever you want. Instead of red cabbage, you could opt for regular green, but in that case I would suggest using white wine vinegar instead of red wine.

Simply red....

The best advice with any type of coleslaw is to make it the day before you plan to eat it, so the veggies can get softened up in the dressing, and the flavors can mingle. (Ah... mingling.... I used to do that sometimes....)
Today I made myself a super healthy lunch of roasted cauliflower, kale and garlic on top of quinoa. I don't want this to be too long, so I'm not going to get on to the subject of quinoa right now. Let's just say that it's very healthy.
I had never roasted cauliflower or kale before, so this was a new enterprise for me. And the results were great! I roasted the cauliflower florets with several cloves of garlic for about thirty minutes (until the cauliflower is starting to brown, and the garlic cloves are getting soft). Then I added my washed kale leaves and continued roasting for about fifteen minutes more. All of the veggies were tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper before hand. The kale gets a little crispy on the edges, but that's okay – kind of a pleasant texture distinction, actually.
While the veggies were roasting, I cooked up some bacon to crumble over the top. The smell of roasting garlic is probably one of the best you'll ever come upon (smells, that is). The combined smell of roasted garlic and frying bacon? Heaven.
I also made a warm vinaigrette of white wine, white wine vinegar, saffron, mustard, and a bit of sugar. It was definitely a nice bright contrast to the heavier flavors of the roasted veggies.
All in all, a pretty decent meal. I'm not sure if I need to make it again, but it certainly gave me a good dose of veggies and was not boring. And here are some pics:

White on white

Oooo... saucy!

Washed kale

The finished product

One last thing: I apologize for some of the awkward paragraph spacing in these posts. I can't figure out how to remedy it. And you have no idea how much it grieves me. Until next time....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Polish dumplings and what I learned about baking soda!

What started out with looking for a good homemade drain cleaner yesterday ended up with me trying to dye my hair with coffee. Why? I don't know. As I told my boss the other day, “You are a person who asks 'Why?'; I am a person that asks, 'Why not?'”
I did find a good drain cleaner. It's amazing what some baking soda, white vinegar and a wire coat hanger can do. I also learned that baking soda can be a decent hair cleaner (not technically a shampoo), so I tried that out too. The measurements are one tablespoon of baking soda to one cup of water. After dousing your wet head with this and scrubbing for a bit, follow up the rinse
with one tablespoon of cider vinegar plus one cup of water for conditioning.
Guess what? My hair was definitely clean, very soft and quite poofier than normal. Unfortunately for me, I don't like poofy hair. I need those heavy, unwanted additives in regular shampoo so my hair will remain un-poofy and somewhat sleek. Then of course I use some volumizer to put the exact amount of poofiness that I want back in. Yeah, it's silly, but I really think that all human beings are silly, and we're simply trying to prove most of the time that we're not silly. It usually doesn't work, so I just go with it.
The coffee dying thing didn't work as well. I believe that my coffee simply wasn't strong enough, and if I try it again, I'll probably make a triple strength pot. All you really need to do is rinse your hair with coffee over the sink, then let it sit for about 20 minutes, or longer. Supposedly it stains your hair and will wash out gradually over a couple of weeks, sort of like henna. That's good news for me, since I hate the maintenance that is required with hair dying. It's simply too much for me to keep up with.
What has been on the menu this week? Well, I made a frittata with my leftover spaghetti squash and some more broccoli. Frittatas are very easy – just put your veggies/meat in a pan, then pour an egg mixture over. I used eggs, milk, sour cream and some shredded cheddar. Then I topped it with some crushed cracker crumbs and melted butter and baked it all for about 45 minutes. Super easy and yummy!
My sister and I also made pierogies this week. A pierogi is a Polish stuffed dumpling of sorts, sort of like a Chinese dumpling. I believe there are similar Russian dumplings called piroshki. The dough for the pierogies (or is 'pierogi' the plural form?) is like a basic pastry dough, but it is more rich and less crumbly, due to the addition of one whole egg and one egg yolk. By the way, are you making pastry dough in your food processor? If not, you should be! I learned this about a year ago, and it has changed my LIFE. Sooo much easier and faster than doing it by hand!
Anyhoo, after kneading the dough into a ball and letting it rest for about fifteen minutes, roll it out!

Rollin' like a river!

Then, cut the pastry into circles, and fill each with about a teaspoon of filling. I don't have a pic of this, but we used a potato and cheese filling that included cooked potato, cheddar cheese and ricotta. Once you have the filling in place, fold over one side of the circle and seal it with a fork.

Fork off!

Finally, the perfect pierogi

When all the pierogies are ready, you boil them as you would a Chinese dumpling, then saute them in butter to finish them off.

The butter makes it shiny!

Thanks to Meg and her fabulous camera for the awesome photos!

We had a lot of fun doing this, and Owen the beagle behaved himself enough that no pierogies were snarfed (except by us!). Serve the pierogies with sour cream and/or caramelized onions.

Any other news or views this week? The earthquake in Haiti. Apparently they made a pact with the devil. Somewhere, hidden in a deep, dark cave near Port au Prince, is a very large document that is not only signed by every resident of Haiti, but also by Satan himself! Did you know that?

Enough snarky sarcasm. It is a terrible tragedy, and I urge everyone to do what you can to help. If I weren't already planning on taking a trip to China in the next couple of months, I would be tempted to hie myself down to the Caribbean. However, I hear that they've already stopped planes from coming in because it's too congested.

Well, enjoy the fabulous weather and thanks for reading....

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A new birth and extreme veggies

Hello and welcome! A new year – a new blog! With the completion of this post, I will already have fulfilled one of my New Year's resolutions! (The next one is actually updating this on a regular basis.)
First, some scary news: Apparently, over twelve hundred pounds of dead octopuses (octopi? octopodes?) have washed up recently on a specific beach in Portugal – big and little, young and old. And no one knows why. Disease? A tainted food source? Mass suicide? It's not clear why they're all dying in that one particular area, but authorities are advising the locals to keep their hands off the dead beasts, as octopus happens to be a popular dish in Portugal.
And here's some less scary news: I am an aunt for the third time! My sister gave birth to a boy on Tuesday, and baby, mama and the big sis are all doing well despite sub zero temps. The poor little guy – to be born into this January of all Januaries... Which is reason enough for a memoir when he's twenty-five, plus, of course a film adaptation of said memoir. (Now, just imagine Cate Blanchett's voice over, ala Lord of the Rings): “Axton Grey was born during the coldest winter that the world had known for over one thousand years. Dirty snow piles languished at the sides of ice packed streets for weeks on end. Frozen auto exhaust hung in the air at intersections. And the people of the land donned Snuggies and fur trapper hats to ward off the unforgiving chill.”
Here are a couple of pics:

Big sister Maesa with Axton

Already pissed about the weather
But let's talk food, which is why I'm really here. Tonight I made a special version of veggie lo mein, which can be called Extreme Veggie Lo Mein, or alternately, Faux Mein.
Another one of my New Year's resolutions is to eat more vegetables. Last year it was fruit, and that was a smashing success, so this year my focus is on the other half. I've actually always liked vegetables, probably thanks to my mom the dietitian, but I feel like I've been lapsing in my consumption. In fact, for the last couple of months, I think the only vegetables I've purchased have been potatoes, celery, carrots, and maybe a random pepper here or there. Not exactly a colorful and healthy diet.
So, along with being the Year of the Tiger, 2010 will also be the Year of the Vegetable. (I've been thinking about getting a vegetable tattoo for the last couple of years; maybe after this year I will feel justified enough to do so.)
The good thing about vegetables is that usually the ones that are in season are also the cheapest. Some good winter veggies to try out include broccoli, Brussels sprouts (one of my faves!), cabbage, kale, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and rutabagas (still haven't given these a go, but we will see....). There are literally millions of recipes on the internet for tasty vegetable dishes, but they're also easy to experiment with on your own, and ruining them will not leave you in the poor house (unlike, say, overcooking a prime rib). They take to almost any seasoning and pair well with pasta and rice, or on their own with a creamy sauce or a vinaigrette. In short, vegetables are extremely versatile, cheap and healthy, and hopefully I can share with you some tasty ways to take full advantage of them.
So on to the Faux Mein. I picked up a spaghetti squash the last time I was at the store, since I think it's probably been almost a year since I've had one. And you know what? Spaghetti squash is pretty darn fun. I know it's a popular item among people on low carb diets, since it can be a stand in for pasta. Is it a good stand in for pasta? No, of course not, and if they tell you it tastes just like pasta, they're lying. There is no good stand in for pasta, because it's just that yummy.
As long as you realize this ahead of time (that your veggies will, indeed, taste like veggies, and not like anything else), you shouldn't have too tough of a time getting this dish down your gullet.
I'm sure you can prepare spaghetti squash in a microwave, but, if you're already busy doing other things anyway, you might as well pop it in the oven for awhile. Simply split it down the middle, scrape out the seeds and stringy, mushy stuff, then place both halves cut side down in a baking dish. Add a little water to the bottom, then cover the whole thing with foil. I roasted mine at 350 degrees for a little over an hour, and it was just about perfect. The object with spaghetti squash in particular is not to overcook it, since you want to make sure the flesh stays in strands. (Aha! So that's why it's called spaghetti squash!)
Once you have your squash strands, you can either use it right away, or chill it for later use.

Squash strands awaiting the frying pan

I don't know the ins and outs of real lo mein – I usually just saute my veggies (not an actual stir fry, but I guess it'll work), then add anything I feel like that seems to fit: soy sauce, teriyaki or hoisin, or another sort of stir fry sauce that you happen to have on hand; sesame oil; and of course garlic and fresh ginger if you have it. You could also probably throw in some peanut butter, hot mustard or chile paste, or you could get wild and add orange or lemon juice. As I said, veggies pair with just about anything, so as long as your sauce components go well together, it will probably taste good.
Once the veggies are sauteed/stir fried to your liking, add the spaghetti squash strands and heat the whole mixture through. I used broccoli and celery for my veggies, then threw some red cabbage shreds in at the last minute, so they would stay crunchy and not color the whole thing purple. I also topped mine with some toasted chopped almonds, because I like different textures. Voila! Pretty and super good for you:
Pretty delish!
The other nice thing about spaghetti squash, or any winter squash for that matter, is that you can also toast the seeds for a delicious snack. The hardest part is washing the muck off of them, but once you've got that done, just pat them dry, then stick them in the oven until they're crunchy and just a teeny bit browned. I spread mine out in a single layer in a baking pan, then went for thirteen minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle them with salt while they're still hot, and have a handful while you're preparing dinner.
Well, that's it for me today. Join me next time for more vegetable surprises, and I may even tell some funny stories from the internet dating world (but probably not – they may be too graphic for some viewers).