Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Although the kale took center stage, the nut burgers (served without a bun, as a cutlet) are remarkably quick and easy to make if you have a food processor. I don't like to peddle brands, but I will say that our Cuisinart food processor (this is the one we use) is the most valuable tool in the kitchen, next to the chef's knife.
Nut burgers combine oats (I've used quinoa and millet before), nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, etc.), ketchup, onion, 1 egg, salt, pepper and some sort of seasoning (usually chili powder, but once I used curry powder along with cashews and coconut). It's one of Mark Bittman's recipes from How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.
I ran across another food blog's entry about Bittman's nut burgers. The writer over at Have a Nosh! does a good job explaining the recipe.
You can get about 5 or 6 patties (I usually make a few miniature patties for the girl), doubling it gives you at least a day of lunches.
But nothing can compare to this vegan nut-burger stand called Sunflower in the old and quirky Sacramento neighborhood of Fair Oaks. Their nut-burgers are indescribably unique and out of this world (Yelp). They have outside tables so you can eat while watching the many feral chickens that roam the neighborhood.
Short of having Sunflower's secret recipe, though, Bittman makes one simple and tasty nut-burger.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Now it's still rainy but nothing too intimidating, but El Nino isn't done yet. The weather becomes the immovable force that immediately gets the most respect from a new gardener.
As we hibernate indoors, I've been flipping through seed catalogs, gardening books, notes and any credible information I can get my hands on before starting our first spring/summer garden. I dropped our orders for the season in the mail and started to map out where everything might go.
As usual, I'll probably have more seeds and starts (peppers, tomatoes and eggplant) than places to put them. I can't grow in the native soil and have a gopher problem, which means I can grow in raised beds with welded steel mesh stapled to the bottom (have four so far), individual wire mesh root guards, or containers. If it were easy, it wouldn't be all that interesting, right?
So anyway, here's what I've planned for next season (can't wait to make sauteed tomato and eggplant with garlic again!):
- Eggplant: Casper (ivory colored), Millionaire (purple, slender), Black King (large, round)
- Tomato: We get our tomato starts from this awesome local veggie & chicken farm in Ben Lomond: Love Apple Farm (hundreds of outstanding heirloom varieties, plus great classes on gardening, raising chickens, bee-keeping and other related endeavors)
- Pepper: sweet - Wonder Bell (red), Golden Star (yellow), Gourmet (orange), Italian Sweet (red), Mini Chocolate Bell; hot - Holy Mole, Mulato Isleno (perfect for chile relleno)
- Potato: Yukon Gold (2 1/2 lbs. of seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange)
- Herbs: Lemongrass, English Thyme, Stevia, Aroma 1 (basil), Santo Coriander, Cumin, Dukat (dill), Valerian
- Beans: Romano Purpiat (purple bush variety French beans)
- Cucumber: Orient Express (long, slender variety)
- Watermelon: New Queen (nearly seedless, with yellow-orange flesh)
- Squash: Tigress (zucchini), Fairy (winter), Butternut
- Corn: Stowell's Evergreen (sweet)
As the rain persists, I'm already thinking ahead to drier and sunnier days. Since I have virtually zero experience growing a summer garden (and the climate can be harsh up here, with heavy winds and drought conditions), it will be a truly humbling task.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
It also forces us to use whole foods, since you can't buy Hot Pockets or pizza rolls in bulk.
A bonus advantage is the lack of wasteful packaging, not to mention the wasted energy that goes into packaging and shipping the weight of that packaging (then there's the pollution from the manufacturing of boxes, inks, etc...). But one disadvantage is that sometimes bulk goods, if kept in their bags with only a numeric code, are easily lost among other bags of bulk stuff.
That's why -- on the advice of my mother-in-law, who's a master organizer -- I decided to obtain several large, one-quart mason jars and a digital label-maker. Originally the plan was to get some larger food containers with lids that snap open and closed, but the jars proved much more affordable and we use them for other things around the house (jams, jellies, etc.).
Here are some one-click resources to get you started, but the great thing about mason jars is that they can be found at garage sales and thrift shops, as well as at most grocery and hardware stores. Wide-mouth jars are the best, allowing easier access and filling.
- Ball one-quart mason jars: 12 for $11.49
- Ball half-gallon mason jars: 12 for $11.99
- DYMO Letra Tag label maker: $22 to $33
There's no need to actually buy anything, but this is the system that works best for us. You can also just collect jars and containers (personally, I think it helps for them to fit together on the same shelf), and then label them with tape and a sharpie.
I know, this is pretty boring stuff. But it sure makes cooking and managing the kitchen a whole lot easier.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
We've topped four plants now and have about four more, and each of the topped broccoli plants will grow two smaller shoots. We also have some purple cauliflower on the way (but only one is really thriving).
I usually like to cook broccoli "Roman" style, which involves high heat, garlic, lemon zest and some charring. But I've been cooking these garden fresh crowns gently in a small amount of water with only a dash of salt to really taste the freshness (learned about it from Alton Brown's "Good Eats" on the Food Network):
- Cut the crown(s) into smaller florets
- Save the stems (except the tougher portions), cut into 1/8-inch slices
- Arrange stem pieces flat in a wide saucepan or deep skillet, fill with enough water to just cover them, arrange florets on top evenly
- Sprinkle with salt
- Turn burner on HIGH heat for three minutes (don't wait for it to heat up), then turn it to LOW for three minutes.
Super-simple and cooks it just right. It's basically just steamed, but having the stems on the bottom immersed in water cooks them that extra little amount while the tender florets don't get too saturated or overcooked. It's one of the more healthy ways to prepare it (CookingNook.com) and that's how we do it up for most weekday dinners (be forewarned, though, that this method doesn't enhance the blandness or hide the "offness" of older or lesser-quality broccoli).
Roman-style probably scorches a lot of the nutrients away, but man it's really good. I learned this method from How To Cook Everything, but I'll paraphrase it below:
- Cut the broccoli much as you would in the above recipe
- Mince the zest of about half a lemon, squeeze the whole lemon's juice.
- Chop or mince a few cloves of garlic
- Parboil cut broccoli for just a couple of minutes, drain and submerge in an ice water bath (this will halt the cooking process, for now)
- Heat oil (canola, grapeseed, something that holds up to high heat) to MEDIUM, add garlic, fry until at least translucent
- Increase heat to HIGH, add broccoli, stirring occasionally at first and then reguarly as it gets smoking hot
- When broccoli is cooked (slightly charred and fiery), throw in the lemon zest and mix it in
- Remove from heat and add lemon juice, plus salt, mixing it all together
And probably the best piece of broccoli advice? Don't eat it raw. It tastes bad and gives you gas.
So go cook some kickass broccoli, especially if you can find some super-fresh, super-local stuff. When we get a critical mass of cauliflower, I'll share some more decadent recipes (I like to either drown it in cheese sauce or deep-fry and sautee it in hot, spicy ketchup).
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
For such a delicate, subtly flavored substance, quinoa packs a ton of protein (WholeHealthMD) -- about 11g per 1/2 cup (dry) -- including the amino acid lysine, absent from most grains. So the stuff's really good for you, but it's also easy to cook, tastes great and simple to incorporate into a wide variety of dishes: I've used quinoa in place of oats for veggie burgers and used it as stuffed pepper stuffing, but mostly served as a main dish with complementary ingredients centered around a cultural theme.
So far I've only done two varieties -- Indian curry and Mexican/southwestern -- but an Italian variety would work, too. I've never actually paid attention to amounts when making these, since one of the main benefits of this dish is its simplicity and ability to incorporate dry and/or canned ingredients (of course fresh is best), ideally a healthy whole-food meal that's accessible and versatile.
- 1 white or yellow onion, chopped or pureed
- 3-6 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
- 2 tsp. whole cumin seeds
- 1-2 T. vegetable oil, ghee, or oil/butter mix
- 1-2 T. curry sauce (not to be confused with Thai curry paste)
- salt (to taste)
- can of chick peas (garbanzo beans), can of tomatoes, handful of raisins or 1/2-1 cup of frozen peas, roasted cashews -- the ingredients on this line item are all options and it can be as simple as just using the preceding six.
- 1 white or yellow onion, chopped
- 3-6 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
- 1-2 fresh tomato(s), chopped, or canned tomatoes (avg. sized can)
- 1 can of black beans
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 1 T (or to taste), chili powder
- salt (to taste)
Thursday, September 17, 2009
When we lived in Sunnyvale a few years ago, we had nearly year-round access to some of the best fresh fruit ever. Sunnyvale and the entire South Bay Area region is now mostly a paved-over, bustling part of Silicon Valley, but it once was part of the nation's most important fruit-producing region. Back then, it was known as the Valley of Heart's Delight. Silicon?
Remnants of that era still exist, mostly in people's yards.
We picked oranges and lemons in the winter; bing cherries in the early summer; peaches, nectarines and plums later in July or August; heirloom tomatoes from the local grade school garden and apples in September; there were even a couple of nearby pomegranate trees. I only took fruit that otherwise would drop and rot -- neglected fruit trees or branches that hung over fences -- since otherwise it just wouldn't be cool.
Some Concord grapes from down the street by our new place are pictured above.
But the real show-stopper of our Sunnyvale cornucopia was a massive and productive avocado tree directly across the street. The day I noticed the tree, shortly after we moved into the apartment, I also saw an old ladder with a sign reading "free." At risk of sounding a little too hippie, I did feel as if the universe wanted me to pick those avocados.
Now I just needed permission, since the ones that fell on the ground tended to get munched on by squirrels. To my surprise, the owner actually offered them to me when he saw me looking closely at the tree.
About once a week, I'd drag my ladder over to the avocado tree and pick about a half of a grocery bag full (any more would have gone bad too quickly). We had guacamole pretty much all the time and put generous slices of the delectable fruit on our sandwiches. Now, avocados don't normally grow that far north, so it was a real treat.
Moving back to the coast and its very different climate and vegetation, I didn't find much stone fruit or oranges -- the few cherry trees in the area were decorative only (the cool of the fog killed any chance of fruiting) -- but I did manage to find several pineapple guava trees. Pineapple guavas are not technically guavas, but they're good.
We didn't have as much of a bounty in the Midwest, but I do remember picking marionberries in the woods bordering our subdivision. I know, not exactly urban (or, to be more precise, suburban), but you never really saw much else in our clay-soil neighborhoods.
Wherever you live, look around and see what's growing. If it's cool -- i.e. you're not ripping off your neighbor -- then sample some truly local produce.
I'll be back next week, as things should settle down a bit by then.