Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fruits of the Earth: Or how I learned to love root vegetables Part II

Ah beets....your astonishing magenta color has always attracted me, but your taste- half sugar, half earth has always left me rather perplexed. And wouldn't you know it, the dominant vegetable in my bag o' roots was BEETS. It was as if the universe (or the farmer) was determined to make me face this obstacle head on once and for all. This was a tough one for me. Borscht was the first thing that came to mind but I've never cared for that soup, and every other recipe I came across left the beets so unadorned that I wasn't sure I could face them. Then I found my solution- Beet Ravioli!

What do parents do when they cant get their kids to eat something healthy? They mix it in with something tasty so it goes down easy. Im certainly not above this sort of trickery when it comes to Jeff and I, so the idea of pureeing beets, putting them into pasta, and then making said pasta into ravioli seemed like it could work. Maybe this is cheating, but hey, its a start right?

I ended up following this recipe for Roasted Beet Ravioli stuffed with Goat Cheese and Ricotta (courtesy of Martha Stewart), but omitted the mint. Look at that amazing color! Jeff said it looked like playdough. My fingers were stained bright pink for a good part of the day after making this, so dont wear any light or precious clothing during this process.

I must apologize for the appearance of my ravioli. Though I have made fresh pasta many times, I have never made ravioli, and without the proper attachments, I sort of had to wing it. They came out a bit chewy, (and the magenta color faded to pink during cooking ) but the flavor was excellent. There was but a ghost of a taste of beets-just a nice earthy undertone, and the goat cheese and ricotta filling had just the right tang. We served the ravioli with a bit of olive oil, grated Romano, some freshly ground black pepper, and a drop of truffle oil. I think any sauce more strong tasting than that, would hide this dish's delicate taste.

I now have about two cups of roasted beet puree left in the fridge, but dont worry, I have plans for it. I have been wanting to make a beet chocolate cake for some time....stay tuned!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fruits of the Earth: Or how I learned to love root vegetables Part I

Do you try to eat seasonally but often find yourself stumped when winter rolls around? Do the mounds of creamy white parsnips and purple beets at the farmers market intrigue you, but you can only imagine them ending up in endless muddy colored stews? Does the persistent oder of dirt that hangs around winter roots put you off? Yep, that was me, but I was so inspired by these storage organs of the plant world, that in a burst of optimistic fervor, I bought one of those dauntingly huge $5 bags of mixed root vegetables at the market, figuring that the guilt and shame of leaving them to rot in my fridge would force me to find ways of incorporating each and every last mysterious little tuber into my meals. In other words, I was so afraid of root veggies, that I deliberately backed myself into a corner and gave myself no option of escape. It was eat that bag or starve. And here's the clincher, everything I made had to taste good! Now there's a new years resolution!

I decided to narrow things down a bit by eating by color. First up, the whites: parsnips, potatoes, and sunchokes.

Parsnips were more popular in medieval times than today, later developing a reputation as animal food. Despite their pallid appearance, they contain carotenoids, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium, and are also rich in fiber.

Luckily for this experiment, a good friend had just lent me a wonderful book called 50 Chowders by Jasper White. Right there on page 178 was a recipe for Parsnip Chowder (I had no idea that New England has a grand tradition of non-seafood based chowders known as Farmhouse Chowders!).

For those of you that have never had them before, raw parsnips have a flavor not unlike carrots. A bit less sweet (unless they are allowed to remain in the ground throughout the winter) and a bit more spicey, but very similar indeed. They cook down into a surprisingly creamy texture with a lovely buttery color.

Here is the recipe I used from Mr. White's book:

3oz meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice (I used a tbs of bacon grease that Ihad in the fridge instead)
2tbs unsalted butter
1 large onion, cut into 3/4 inch dice
1 lb parsnips, peeled and sliced into rounds (thin-about 1/3 inch-toward the top and thicker toward the bottom
1 lb Yukon gold, Maine, PEI, or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch dice
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (I only used about 1/4 cup)
(I also added in a few sunchokes that I had in my bag o roots)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced salt pork. Once it has rendered a few tbs of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the pork is crisp and golden brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cracklings to a small ovenproof dish, leaving the fat in the pot, and reserve until later.
2. Add the butter and onion to the pot and saute, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for 6 to 8 minutes, until the onion is tender but not browned.
3. Add the parsnips, potatoes, and stock, turn up the heat, bring to a boil, and cook vigorously for about 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to low.
4. Remove 2 cups of the chowder from the pot and puree in a food mill held over the pot so it falls directly back into the chowder, or puree in a food processor, then return it to the chowder. Let the chowder simmer slowly for another 5 minutes; the broth should look silky-smooth. Remove from heat, stir in the cream, and season with salt and pepper.

White instructs that the chowder should be left at room temperature for up to an hour before reheating and serving, to allow the favors to meld, but hunger was overtaking me and I skipped that step.

The result was a thick creamy soup with chunks of potato and parsnip that were soft enough to pleasantly dissolve on the tongue. I found the flavor to be a bit sugary for my taste, but for those of you with more of a sweet tooth, this might be right up your alley. Except for the cream this is a rather low-fat dish, but it has all the comfort-food appeal of a thick clam chowder. Jeff, who had been mountain biking all day, just about wolfed it down.

Am I into parsnips now? Will I eye them with lust next time I see them at the market? Probably not...but next time I see their pale shapes in a bag of roots, I'll know just what to do with them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Second beach on the Olympic Peninsula at Sunset.

i will wade out
till my thighs are steeped in burning flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness
in the sleeping curves of my body
Shall enter fingers of smooth mastery
with chasteness of sea-girls
Will I complete the mystery
of my flesh
I will rise
After a thousand years
And set my teeth in the silver of the moon

-e.e. Cummings

Friday, November 12, 2010

Anime at its Absolute Best

When you were a child did you ever watch something that was beyond your years? Something that you couldn't yet understand or analyze but that somehow resonated in your memory even years later? Often when I've tracked these bits of the past down as an adult- a scene in a movie, a cartoon, etc, I find that I can no longer find the significance that my child mind attached to them, that I can only relive their power by remembering who I was and what I felt at the time that I first saw them. But there are those others that prove to be even greater treasures when they are finally recovered, and the magnificence that you only saw hints of in the past can finally be fully realized and comprehended. Its an odd sort of consummation between the pure experience of the child and the intellect of the adult.

Within the past year, thanks to netflix and youtube, I have been lucky enough to find two of these half remembered experiences that have haunted me for some time. I'd like to share them with you now, simply in the hope that you might appreciate them as much as I have.

Both are anime shorts. The first aired as part of MTV's Liquid Television program in the 1990's. Its director, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, went on to make such cult classic films as Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust. But I would argue that none of his later work can touch this early short.

The second piece was part of a trio of shorts produced by the great Katsuhiro Otomo (director of Akira and Steamboy). This short was directed by Koji Morimoto, who later contributed to The Animatrix. I think I saw it when it aired on the scifi channel...back then they actually had good programming and showed alot of obscure anime on the weekends.

Enjoy and please dont blame my mother for letting a kid watch such heavy content, she had no idea what I was up to. ;-)

Here is part 1&2 of Running Man

I've included parts 1&2 of Magnetic Rose, you can go directly to youtube for the other 3 parts (I promise its worth the effort!)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Just one of those lovely bits of syncronicity that we stumble upon now and then.

Fast forward to time stamp 3:44 and watch until 4:13

Now watch this entire scene from Nagisa Oshima's 1999 film Gohatto (Taboo)

Maybe Carl Jung was right....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Taking back Oatmeal: Steel-cut oats with pumpkin

I don't know about you, but when I was growing up the only oatmeal I had ever experienced was the kind that came in a little paper packet and cooked up in a few minutes flat. Convenient as hell yes, but about as gloppy and spiritless as wallpaper paste in execution. Only generous additions of brown sugar and cream could induce me to eat this gluey mess, and when I grew up and learned to cook 'proper breakfasts', I happily removed oatmeal from my table. I felt justified in this decision, superior even, for I perceived oatmeal as a standard-american-diet peasant food; an easy but tasteless mound of sticky carbs, with little redeeming value beyond its ability to quickly fill up a hungry stomach.

But oh how benighted I was! I had no idea that instant oatmeal, and its slightly more respectable cousin, flaked or rolled oats, were but the tip of the breakfast iceberg. I had yet to learn about that which every self respecting British isles dweller has known intimately since birth: steel-cut oats.

In case you have never succumbed to curiosity and picked up one of those lovely tins of John McCann oats at Trader Joes, or poked into the bulk bins at a coop; steel cut oats (also known as Pinhead Oats, Irish Oats, or Coarse-cut Oats) are whole-grain goats (the inner portion of the oat kernel ) which have been cut into pieces by steel rather than rolled. In other words, they are minimally processed. They take a bit longer to cook because of this (about 15-20min longer), but the result is a chewy, nutty delectable porridge that bears little resemblance to what I ate as a child. Steel cut oats also have a lower glycemic index than instant oatmeal, which can be a boon for those of us that have difficulty controlling our blood sugar levels.

The extra cooking time is worth it, but if you want to save yourself some labor you can soak the oats overnight in warm water. This will greatly decrease the cooking time and will also neutralize most of the phytic acid that the whole grains contain. Phytic acid is an organic acid found in the outer layer or bran of grains which many nutritionists caution can combine with minerals in the intestinal tract and inhibit their absorption. Thus, eating large amounts of untreated whole grains can lead to mineral deficiencies and bone loss. However, some sources suggest that phytic acid also binds to heavy metals and thus could have an antioxidant or detoxifying effect on the body.

It sounds to me like yet another case of moderation being the best tactic. Untreated grains are fine now and then, but if you have a diet that is very high in whole grains, you might want to think about putting the extra effort into preparing them properly for at least the majority of the time. For more information on the practice and benefits of soaking grains, check out this link or this

Anyway I digress as usual, you probably want to hear about the recipe portion of this posting, not continue to listen to my musings.

For a tasty breakfast for two you will need 1 cup of steel-cut oats*, 2 1/2 cups of water, and a 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree (I used the fresh puree that I had leftover from when I made my pumpkin pie- yay recycling!).

Bring the water to a boil and add the oats. Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Cook until the oats are al dente but not overly chewy-about 20min. Add the pumpkin (and whatever spices you might like) a few minutes before the oats are done.

Season with brown or musovado sugar and cream, and voila- peasant food fit for a king!

* If you wish to soak your oats the night before, add one cup oats to 1 1/2 cups of warm filtered water and 2 tbs of lemon juice or whey. Cover, place in a warm place, and let sit for at least 7hrs. The next morning, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil and add the water/oat slurry. This will only take about 10-15min to cook.