Monthly Archives: April 2014

Making sprouts, if not friends

It is difficult to make new friends in your 30s. I know that to those of you in and past this phase of life have probably already figured this out, but bear with me a moment while I catch up. I’m just not as social as I used to be. In fact I find that I’ve developed a social awkwardness that I don’t remember having in my 20s. Maybe it’s because most of my social interactions then were at a bar, drink in hand?

In any case, I find I still have the human need for friends, but am less adept at interacting with strangers than I once was. So, one solution to this has been to seek out structured activities where I am thrust into the presence of other people, but do not have to make a lot of conversation with them right off the bat. Knitting class, writing workshop, author readings, gardening class, and one class about sprouting. Yes, a class about DIY sprouting given at the local co-op. How’s that for being a crunchy Oregon hippie?!

lentils

I didn’t make any friends at the class, but I did learn a lot of fascinating things about sprouting and I have been hooked on it ever since. It turns out there is a lot more to sprouts than the alfalfa variety that I remember from my youth, and that I hated. You can sprout nuts, beans, lentils, seeds, grains, the possibilities are endless! Or nearly so.

And there are some convincing health benefits, at least I find them convincing, that have to do with all the nutrients locked up in the seed of a plant (which is, of course, what all the aforementioned things are). When you sprout a bean or a nut, you release all the protein and vitamins that it was storing to help it grow into a strong, healthy plant. Sprouts are also delicious, and have very different flavors depending on what you are sprouting – something that surprised me because my sprout experience had been limited to the alfalfa variety.

spices

My favorite sprouts so far, and the ones that have been the most consistently successful, are lentil sprouts. So, they are the sprouts featured in today’s recipe. I have also had a few challenges, though, and one sprouting disaster – lest you think my sprouting glasses are a little too rose-colored. The disaster was self-inflicted, really, and involved an attempt to sprout garbanzo beans that I knew were way too old to do anything with other than use as pie weights. Pro tip: if beans are too old to cook, they are too old to sprout.

citrus

For the most part though, sprouting has been smooth-sailing, delicious, and nutritious. This recipe is by far my favorite that has incorporated lentil sprouts, but they are supremely versatile. They add a wonderful texture and flavor to salads, sandwiches, or as a topping for just about any quinoa or other grain salad.

finished salad

Carrot, Avocado, Sprout Salad over Quinoa

Barely adapted from DailyCandy (RIP)
Makes four good-sized portions, good for lunch or dinner

Directions for lentil sprouts are below this recipe, but heads up: it takes about 3 1/2 to 4 days to sprout lentils. So, if you want to make this recipe, you best get sprouting!

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 tangerines (I used Cuties), halved
  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
  • 4 cups lentil sprouts (directions below)
  • a couple dollops of sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame, but you could use any seeds you want), toasted

Combine quinoa, 2 cups water, and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn heat down to just what is needed to maintain the simmer and cook until all water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy, 15-20 minutes.

While quinoa is cooking, turn the oven on to 350° and put a large pot of water on to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the carrots and cook until a knife pierces them easily, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the garlic, cumin, thyme, chili, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper in a food processor and pulse until pasty. With the food processor running, add the vinegar and ¼ cup of the olive oil and run until well-mixed. Set aside.

When the quinoa is done, set it aside. When the carrots are done, drain and then arrange them in a single layer on a sheet pan. Spoon the cumin/olive oil mixture over the carrots.

Cut 3 of the tangerines and 1 lemon in half and place them on top of the carrots, cut-side down. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or until carrots are golden brown.

When cool enough to handle, squeeze the juice from the roasted tangerine and lemon halves into a small bowl. Squeeze in the juice each from the remaining uncooked tangerine and lemon. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle about half over the roasted carrots, reserving the rest.

To assemble the dish, start with a scoop of the quinoa and top with saucy carrots, then avocado, then sprouts. Drizzle with reserved sauce, add a dollop of sour cream to the top, and then sprinkle with toasted seeds. Serve immediately.

Lentil Sprouts

Directions from Susan Hyne, who taught the sprouting class
Makes ~4 cups

  • 1/4 cup lentils (I used Puy lentils, but you could use Beluga, brown, red, yellow, etc.)
  • 1 quart glass jar with a screw top lid
  • cheesecloth

Rinse lentils in a sieve and then dump into the glass jar.

Fill the jar with water. Cover the opening of the jar with a 2-ply piece of cheesecloth and then screw lid on to hold cheesecloth in place.

lentils in jar

Cover the jar with a kitchen towel to keep out light and soak lentils for 12 hours.

After the lentils have soaked, drain the water and rest jar in a small bowl so that it’s tilted and any remaining water can drain out. Re-cover with the kitchen towel.

draining lentils

Rinse the lentils and the bowl well 2-3 times per day for 3-4 days, each time returning the jar to the bowl so that the lentils can drain and covering with the towel.

day one

 

day two

day three

The sprouts are ready when they are about 1-inch long.

finished sprouts

Eat right away or store in the fridge. If you are storing in the fridge, do not rinse right before putting them in the fridge (i.e. you want them to go into the fridge as dry as possible to keep them from getting slimy). If you put them in the fridge dry, they will keep for up to 4 days.

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Filed under Food, Lunch, Main Course, Odds & Ends

Eat butter, preferably as shortbread

One of my sisters celebrated a birthday this week…a big birthday. I won’t say which one, but – to make this all about me for a second – it made me feel really old that I have a younger sister that is this age.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were driving to high school together through the gray Alaska mornings and singing along to the radio to keep each other awake? It seems like it couldn’t have been more than a couple weeks ago that we were crawling through six inches of snow in our new yard looking for a place to build our first snow fort. Or more than a couple years ago that we spent our afternoons after school tramping around the fields of our childhood home scanning the ground, looking for arrowheads and looking to avoid cow pies.

sisters

Where, oh where does the time go?

sisters

Since this was such a big birthday, we all chipped in and got her a present she’s been wanting for a while and that was equal to the occasion: a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. When I got my own stand mixer it totally changed my cooking/baking life, and I was so excited to give that gift to my sis. As a little extra treat for her day, I whipped up one of the recipes that makes me oh-so-thankful I have a stand mixer of my own.

zest and herbs

These are a basic shortbread cookie, with some additions that make them special enough for a birthday present. Shortbread cookies have a lot of butter, and as such, there is a lot of whipping together of sugar and butter. This is exactly the type of task that you want a stand mixer for (not to mention making bread and whipping egg whites).

Sure, you could do it with an electric hand mixer, but with a stand mixer you can turn the thing on and go about your business prepping the other ingredients. Then, a few minutes later, you can turn back to the mixer and find perfectly whipped sugar-butter. (Or butter-sugar, in the case of this recipe.)

creaming butter and sugar

It really is a thing of beauty. And the great thing about being in the decade we are both in now (you and I, little sis) is that you tend to care less about things that once seemed so important. Like eating too much butter.

sparkly shortbread

Meyer Lemon & Thyme Sparkly Shortbread Cookies

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
Makes about 36 cookies

These cookies keep fabulously well, and can be reliably sent across the country to a birthday girl (or boy). If you’re not sending half the batch away, you may also like to know that the uncooked dough can be frozen for later.

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • zest of two Meyer lemons, divided
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons…!) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg yolks (save one of the whites)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Dump the 1/2 cup of granulated sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Zest one of the Meyer lemons on top of the sugar, and then rub the zest into the sugar. (This is an important step, trust Joy the Baker).

Beat butter, 1/2 cup of zested granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and salt together on medium speed until creamy and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

With the mixer on low speed, add in the egg yolks one at a time and beat until incorporated.  Then, still on low speed (the lowest you can go), add in the flour and thyme and blend until just incorporated – do not over mix. The dough will be very soft and pliant.

Divide the dough in half and dump onto two pieces of plastic wrap. Shape dough into logs about the size of a paper towel roll. Wrap each log up in the plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours and up to three days. (If you are freezing any, you can just put it in the freezer at this point.)

While waiting for the dough to chill, make more zested sugar with the remaining two tablespoons of sugar and the zest from the second Meyer lemon. Do this on a piece of parchment paper or foil so that you can roll the logs in it to give them their sparkly crust. Set aside.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°. Brush the logs with the leftover egg white and roll in the reserved zested sugar. Then, cut the dough into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Bake on a lined baking sheet for 17-20 minutes, or until the cookies are golden around the edges, but still pale on the top.

Keep for yourself or send to someone you love. ❤

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The beauty of an unplanned meal

I am a planner. I like to organize things and catalog them and plot them out on a timeline if they will let me. I am a librarian, after all. At work I have a master To Do list on my computer that is then broken up into sub-lists, including To Do This Week, To Do This Term, To Do This Summer, you get the idea. I also have a Projects list on a whiteboard in my office, just in case my other lists distract me from what’s really important.

This extends to my personal life as well, and definitely to my kitchen. I have a list of my goals for the year next to my bed, so that I can read them every night and stay motivated. I never (well, hardly ever) go to the grocery store before planning out the week’s meals and making a list. When I first started cooking, I always, always followed a recipe. It didn’t even occur to me, in fact, that there was any other way. And I liked how following a recipe gave me a consistent, predictable result.

Thankfully, I have learned by now that so much of cooking is unplanned. It’s about tasting and adjusting and customizing. Especially since we’ve moved to the Pacific Northwest where there is so much fresh, local produce, I have embraced seasonal cooking, which means you have to be ready to do what you can with what you’ve got at any given time of year. I encountered a perfect example of this one weekend recently when David and I went to our first farmers’ market of the spring.

spring vegetables

It is still indoors, in a warehouse-like building on the fairgrounds. The outdoor market won’t return until later this month, but spring was definitely making its presence known. The booths had more life, the whole place was humming, there were spring onions. Spring onions! They even have the word ‘spring’ in their name. So, of course, we bought some. We also gathered a hodge-podge of other vegetables, whatever spoke to us, as well as a dozen pullet eggs, which are the petite eggs of a hen under 1-year-old.

ingredients

I didn’t know what I was going to do with our random purchases and I started to feel a little Type-A panic about it. But when we got home and unpacked everything it became clear: a spring quiche was in order. It was the best kind of unplanned meal – fresh ingredients combining with a well-stocked pantry to create something delightful.

finished quiche

Hearty Farmers’ Market Quiche

Crust adapted from Joy the Baker, filling modeled on Two Peas and Their Pod
Makes one 9-inch quiche

In the spirit of spontaneity, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this recipe can be endlessly adapted and tinkered with. In fact, that’s what a quiche is for, in my opinion. Especially when it comes to what vegetables and cheese you use. You can use almost anything you can imagine. Just keep the proportions of vegetables and cheese to eggs and milk about what they are in this recipe and you will be sitting pretty.

Crust:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks and chilled or frozen
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons milk, chilled (I used 1%)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch (about 4 cups) Russian kale, ribs removed and then chopped
  • 4 spring onions (white and green parts divided), chopped
  • 5 large eggs (or equivalent in pullet eggs)
  • 1 cup milk (I used 1%, use whatever you have on hand)
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

First, prepare and prebake the crust:

In a medium bowl whisk together flours, salt, sugar, and baking powder. Add the butter pieces and cream cheese and work into dry mixture, using a pastry cutter or your fingers, until most butter and cream cheese bits are pea-sized.

Whisk together the milk and oil, and then add all at once to the flour and butter mixture. Combine wet and dry ingredients with a fork until the liquid is just incorporated. Do not overwork – the dough will not totally come together, it will stay sort of shaggy.

Dump the dough into a clean 9-inch pie pan and use your fingers to press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Try to get it as even as possible, but don’t worry about it too much – no one will ever see it!

Put the crust in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°.

Once your crust is frozen, line it with foil and fill it with beans or some other pie weight. Bake for 8 minutes. Then remove pie weights and foil and bake for another 4-6 minutes until it starts to brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling:

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add kale and the white parts of the spring onions. Cook until kale is wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in spring onion green parts, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk, then stir in the feta. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

When the crust is done prebaking and the filling is prepared, raise the oven temperature to 375°. Spread vegetable mixture over the bottom of the crust, and then pour in egg mixture.

Bake the quiche for 45 minutes or until quiche is set and the top is golden brown. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.

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BookloverCook Reviews: Fannie’s Last Supper by Chris Kimball

Mark Bittman called this book, “Part history and part contemporary journalism,” and I would add to that, part food memoir and part cookbook. There’s a lot going on here. Fannie’s Last Supper by Chris Kimball is made up of interweaving stories about Victorian-era Boston, modern-day Boston, and Kimball’s spectacular and somewhat baffling attempt to recreate a high-society Victorian-style meal (complete with many equally baffling recipes). Think Downton Abbey with more historical context and set in Boston in 2009.

Fannie's Last Supper

I love the Victorian era: I love reading about it, watching movies and shows about it, listening to podcasts about it. Really. Love. So, take a book about Victorian history and add in food – recreating Victorian dishes, restoring an authentic Victorian kitchen, etc. – and I should be in heaven, right? Well, in the case of this book, the answer is…sorta.

I’ll get into some more details in a moment, but here’s the thing that I’ve realized about this book as I’ve tried to sort out, with no small amount of incredulity, my tepid reaction to it: much about the Victorian era has no place in our modern world and this book mashes them together in a way that ends up making me a little uncomfortable and ultimately ruins my Victorian fantasies.

This is because the Victorian era was actually pretty terrible for most of the people living in it, and the rest of the people were the upper class (like super upper, upper class). In that sense there is symmetry, unintended I think, in Kimball’s project because he and the friends he invites to his “Victorian-style” dinner are members of today’s upper class. For us normal people though, even though we may love learning about this time and fantasize about the aspects of life that were reserved for the rich, we would want nothing to do with it in reality. So, bringing it into our actual, current reality just feels…icky somehow.

Put another way – the whole book is just really bougy.

For instance, Kimball’s descriptions of buying and living in his “original Victorian bowfront townhouse” in South Boston in the 1990s will make anyone squirm who is conversant in the politics of gentrification. There’s also the sheer amount of money that is thrown at the whole endeavor: buying and restoring an original Victorian coal-turned-wood cook stove, testing and retesting and then preparing the 20+ (!!) recipes on the final menu, paying a staff of professional chefs and waiters to prepare and work the event itself. It is just absurd. Especially when you consider that this was happening in 2009, during the recession. And then to top it all off, a group of twelve elite food-scene celebrities (well, most of them anyway) gorge themselves on this 12-course meal in one Bacchanalian 4-hour evening. Ugh. It is enough to make me feel like putting on drab, olive-colored clothing and cracking open a copy of The Communist Manifesto

To his credit, Kimball does try to preemptively address the obvious criticism that this is “just a bunch of overprivileged gourmands enjoying ridiculous overconsumption” (his words) with an argument about how meaningful it was for the kitchen staff who prepared the meal, followed by a missive about what we’ve lost in our relentless march towards technological advancement. It is undeniable that we’ve lost something with our processed, microwaved food world, and I enjoy bucking those trends by cooking at home. I’ve even been known to make my own butter, cheese, bread, etc. when I feel moved to do so. Let’s not harken back quite so far though, lest we forget that the vast majority of the people doing this (brutal) kitchen work in the Victorian era were poor women who did not really have much of a choice in the matter.

Anyways, as you can tell, I got a little cranky with this book. But despite this, I did not hate it. I actually enjoyed most of it. I think that if Kimball had just left out the big finale, I would have loved it. I loved reading about the history of Boston in this time period, since much of what we get about this time period tends to be of the British variety. I loved reading about the food and marveling over the ingredients and how complicated and labor intensive many of the dishes are to prepare. Even though some of the descriptions are a bit hard for me to stomach as a vegetarian – seriously, who wants to see a whole calf’s head bobbing around in their soup stock?! – I can absolutely appreciate the respect involved in using the whole animal in the way that many of the recipes do. Meat tended to be a luxury during this time and even those that could afford it needed to make it count. It was also interesting to read about Fannie Farmer, a shrewd businesswoman who, though Kimball found most of her recipes to be a bit pedestrian, taught many a middle-class housewife bereft of kitchen servants how to cook.

So, to sum up this too-long-and-semi-ranty post: if you are interested in Victorian and/or food history, you will probably mostly like this book. There’s even a website where you can watch video of the dinner, look at pictures, and get more recipes. Suspend disbelief enough to get through the aspects I complain about above, and it is a sumptuous, nerdy fantasy. If the points I make above really resonate with you, I would consider skimming over the opening chapters and skipping the last chapter entirely. Or, go ahead and read the whole thing and then rant at people about it. 😉

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