Friday, February 27, 2009

Spicy Greens with Bulgur

Although the recipe has already been published on my blog, I remember how many of you enjoyed it at our previous Summer get-together and thought you might like to have the recipe.

Originally, the recipe calls for a variety of greens called khoubiz or bakool , which is found growing wild in the fields of North Africa. It tastes like a cross between arugula (rocket leaves) and watercress, with a hint of acidity, and there is no real equivalent for it here in the US. After experimenting, with fair results, with spinach, arugula, Tuscan kale, dandelion, I've had the best luck with the combination of spinach and arugula. It may not be much to look at, but when you have cumin, turmeric and red pepper flakes mingling with bulgur and spinach and arugula, the fusion is irresistible. Even for those who pretend detesting spinach, or any greens for that matter. (I have a friend who wouldn't eat anything with a green color and he absolutely loves this dish)

The spices and the cloves of garlic are pounded using a mortar and pestle to extract as much aroma before adding the resulting paste to the "sweaty" onions. As you pour the stock over the lovely ochre colored onions, restrain yourself from dipping your bread, or your fingers, as it is getting ready for the bulgur. At the end, steamed spinach and arugula join the party; a party that took half an hour to put together and will take half the time to gulp down. It's exquisite. I assure you. It's still fine the following day straight from the fridge, sitting on the countertop with a piece of bread in one hand and orange soda in the other. Every bite brings with it a part of home and my mother's kitchen into my own kitchen.

Happy weekend, my friends!

My mother's Spicy Greens with Bulgur (Tchicha bel Khoubiz)

Recipe: Serves 4
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tsp cumin, freshly ground
- 1 tsp red chili pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
-1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp fine bulgur
- 1 spinach bunch
- 1 arugula bunch
- 1 tbsp cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- Salt, Black Pepper

Wash the spinach and arugula. Drain off the excess water and put them in the basket section of a steamer. Cover and steam over simmering water until the greens just start to wilt, but still have their vibrant green color, about 5 - 7 minutes. When cold to handle, squeeze the water out of the greens and chop roughly. Set aside.

In a pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook on a medium heat until translucent but not brown, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, pound the garlic with turmeric, cumin, and pepper flakes to a paste using a mortar and pestle. Add the garlic paste to the onions and stir to incorporate. Add The tomato paste and the stock and bring to a boil. Add the bulgur and stir again. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook covered until the bulgur is tender, about 15 minutes, depending on the variety of your bulgur.

Uncover the pan and add the steamed greens and the herbs to the sauce. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes and then remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

The dish keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 days, although I never recall keeping it longer than one day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Blogger Aid Cookbook: Children are The Future

This was originally posted on my blog, a2eatwrite, but I thought it might be of interest to the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers group (and those in absentia). It's a wonderful project that will help raise money to feed hungry children and to keep them in school.

So... there's this cookbook:

If you don't know what this is all about, just check out yesterday's post.

The rules for submission are that you can post ABOUT the recipe on the blog, but you can't post the recipe.

I really struggled with what to choose. First of all, I've been sick, sick, sick with one thing or another since early January and my cooking production is not what it usually is. Second, for a whole variety of foods, there are other bloggers who would blow me out of the water - not that this is a competition, but I just would feel... out of my league. Entirely. And I'm going to write about those bloggers tomorrow.

Finally, I realized that desserts would work. Especially healthy desserts that are low in calories and fat, but big on flavor. I do those well.

So I leave you with two choices:

The first is Bittersweet-Banana Power Muffins:

Imagine your house smelling of melted chocolate and rich banana. Imagine cheating on your diet for breakfast (or dessert). Imagine a complete meal of whole grains, fruit and protein and anti-oxidants in a delicious, chocolate muffin. Imagine the whole thing coming in at under 150 calories and under 5 grams of fat.

Imagine... Bittersweet-Banana Power Muffins.

The second, though, is actually my favorite - Orange-Pistachio-Apricot Biscotti:

Imagine biting into a burst of Middle Eastern flavors. Imagine the delicate smell of orange flower water and the tart goodness of dried apricots mixed with the salty goodness of pistachios. Imagine the delicate crunch of this biscotto, which uses a secret ingredient for a slightly different, more delicate texture. Imagine a perfect accompaniment to that morning cup of coffee that won't even put a scratch in your calorie budget. Imagine biting into Spring.

Imagine... Orange-Pistachio-Apricot Biscotti.

Okay, gang, what I submit is up to you. Please just leave a comment below, and that recipe will (hopefully) become part of the history that is Children Are The Future Cookbook. Please leave your votes in the comments section.

And while you're at it, don't forget my Blogger Aid Give-away. Do a good deed and be entered to win a good book!

Monday, February 23, 2009

brown rice sushi salad with seared tuna

I can usually be found blogging at simmer down! (a food lover's blog), but seeing as how I had taken part in suggesting this month's "heart-healthy" theme, I thought it was as good a time as any to get over here to our MLFB blog and submit my first post! The theme gave me an excuse to revisit a Japanese-inspired rice salad that I've made in the past, but to try it with brown rice this time to make it more nutritious. It also includes avocado and tuna, both of which are recognized for their heart-healthy benefits. (The links will take you to a site where there is specific info about why these items are good for the heart.) If you like sushi but have steered away from making it at home because rolling it seemed tricky, this is a recipe for you- it has all the same flavors as sushi in a free-form version. (For another heart-healthy brown rice salad recipe, check out this post.)

For the rice, I used Lundberg Sweet Brown Rice, but I think any short-grained brown rice would be fine. Word to the wise: I strongly advise against following Lundberg's directions on the rice-to-water ratio. I used a 1:2 ratio per the package instructions, and my rice came out like soupy porridge. I had to start over and make a new batch for the salad and was pretty annoyed with myself for not having gone with my gut! I did the second batch with a 1:1.5 ratio (i.e. 1 cup rice to 1 1/2 cups water) and I felt it was still a little too much water, but I just put it in a colander and let it drain a bit. You're going for a consistency that's slightly sticky but not overcooked.

For the protein, I used yellowfin tuna that I pan-seared and left rare in the center, but you could certainly use raw tuna or salmon if you can find sushi or sashimi-grade (deemed safe for eating raw). I used one tuna steak that weighed 1/2 lb; I'd say this would be enough for 4 small-ish lunch portions or 2 larger dinner portions. Feel free to up it to 2 steaks if you want it heavier on the protein, but I just went with 4-5 slices per serving. Alternately, what I often do when I make this to take in my lunch is just use good-quality drained canned tuna. You could substitute sautéed or boiled shrimp too, or some grilled tofu.

brown rice sushi salad with seared tuna

2 cups short-grain brown rice
sushi vinegar or rice wine vinegar (see notes)
furikake seasoning (see notes)
about half a cucumber, seeds scooped out and cut into small matchsticks
1 large carrot, peeled & grated
1 ripe but firm avocado, cut into slices or medium dice
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1 tuna steak (approx. 1/2 lb), thawed if frozen, or 2 if you want bigger portions (see notes)
soy sauce
pickled ginger
wasabi paste

Notes: Furikake is a Japanese rice seasoning. It comes in different flavors but always contains sesame seeds and shredded dried seaweed. Sushi vinegar is "seasoned" rice vinegar that has sugar and salt added to it. If you can't find it, just dissolve 1 tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp salt into 4 tbs regular rice vinegar. For the tuna, I would suggest buying it frozen, since the stuff you get at the fish counter has typically been frozen and thawed anyway, even in the "upscale" markets. Trader Joe's has packages of frozen tuna steaks that are reasonably priced. If using 2 tuna steaks for larger portions, I would probably up the rice to 2 1/2 or 3 cups.

Directions: In a plastic container large enough to hold the tuna, mix together 1/3 cup soy sauce and wasabi to taste. Don't be afraid to go a little on the hot side; the heat will mellow upon cooking. Add a couple tbs of sushi vinegar or mirin (rice wine). Rinse and pat your tuna dry. Leave it to marinate in the soy while you prepare the other ingredients.

Cook the rice. As soon as it's done, stir in 4 tbs sushi vinegar, mixing well. Shake in a generous amount of furikake seasoning, stirring well to incorporate and cool the rice. (If you're unsure how much furikake to use, just add and taste as you go. I tend to use about 1/4 cup.) Set rice aside, covered; you'll want it room-temperature when you assemble your salad.

Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a heavy skillet (not non-stick) over medium high heat. If you like, you can add a few drops of toasted sesame oil. When the oil is hot, place the tuna in the pan and cook undisturbed for about 2 minutes (3-4 minutes if you don't eat it rare). Flip and cook the other side for another minute or two (again, longer if you want it less rare). I brushed a little sweet chili sauce on the tuna and coated it with toasted sesame seeds, but honestly it was a little messy and I'd probably skip this next time. Set aside tuna on a cutting board. Pour the remaining marinade in the skillet and cook for a couple minutes to reduce; it should be slightly syrupy. When the tuna has cooled a bit, cut it into slices. If it's cooked past rare, it may fall apart a little when you try to cut it, but it'll still taste good!

You can put the salad together two different ways: when making this for a lunch to take to work, I just toss the carrot, cucumber, tuna and avocado in with the rice, along with some julienned pickled ginger, and sprinkle a little soy sauce on top. For a slightly fancier presentation, you can put little clumps of each ingredient on top of a bed of rice, with a few tuna (or salmon) slices fanned over the top (as in the photo). Drizzle some of the soy/pan juices on top and sprinkle with some of the scallion.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Adopt an Olive Tree

A few years ago, my life long (well, since college) best friend, Tiffany, got me a subscription to Vegetarian Times. I usually find at least one or two good recipes, even though I am a carnivore. This month, there was a small article about a place in Italy where you can adopt an olive tree. I cut it out and thought about it for about an hour. Then I went onto the site and adopted a tree!!

I did this for a few reasons. Right now, I have some extra money (until my anticipated $5,000-$10,000 pay cut next school year, that is) and it seemed like a nice, eco-friendly thing to do. (Note: After I put in my information, I realized that I had put in the wrong card # and the $130 is actually coming out of my student loan money, but whatever. It all gets paid in the end.) Also, it just sounds cool!! You get an adoption certificate and everything! And I can visit my tree anytime I want (provided I spring for the air fare and the horse tranquilizers that I'd need to get on a plane for that long).

But it's something kind of cool. You know, so when someone asks "What'd you do this weekend?", I can be all, "I adopted an olive tree in Italy, MFer!!" I have a good story, a tree gets adopted, a farmer gets my money (exchanged into Sterling British Pounds, no less). Win, win, win!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Homemade Pizzas for Valentine's Day

You can see that some of the heart shapes are better than others but the intention was heart-felt - i.e., heart-healthy individual pizzas, made with whole wheat crust (whole grains), pizza sauce and pesto from home-grown ingredients (no high fructose corn syrup, no added salt, no chicken fat - yes, some commercial pizza establishments have used chicken fat in their pizza sauce), roasted veggies in extra-virgin olive oil (heart-healthy fats and too many health promoting phytochemicals in the veggies to count), with just a sprinkle of full-flavored cheese for visual interest and taste (instead of the gobs and gobs of mostly tasteless cheese that usually smothers commercial pizzas).

Here is a close-up of the most perfect of the heart-shaped pizzas that I made for my sweetie.

These pizzas were followed by thawed organic strawberries from our garden, carefully guarded in the freezer to be used only for special occasions just such as a Valentine's Day dessert. :-) So sweet that no extra sugar needed. Sweets (naturally so) for the sweetest! Yes, those are baby fresh mint leaves from a plant growing in a windowsill pot during the winter. :-)

Enjoy and savor this easy meal that is also easy on the budget plus easy on your heart. If desired, spend the money you've saved on a great bottle of red wine or special dark chocolates, incidentally, both also "heart-healthy" foods! I think this is a win-win-win stay-at-home meal. :-)

Diana Dyer


I think mushrooms are heart-smart, right?

To my surprise and delight, there were mushroom farmers at the Farmers' Market today. This past summer, I discovered shiitake mushrooms, but since I can never remember their name, I just call them the "S mushrooms". Luckily, they had the "S mushrooms" and so I got some. They cost $4 for 1/4 pound...I have no idea if this is reasonable or not, but they did taste the awesome. I made locavore pizza tonight--cheese from a local cheesemaker in Tecumseh, crust with Westwind whole wheat flour, sauce using frozen sauce from my tomatoes and freshened up with the last of my dried oregano, toppings from my frozen red peppers (from my garden!), the 'shrooms, frozen spinach (from the market) [store-bought ham was on there too, but just for Jeff]--and I must say that the 'shrooms were really a nice treat. They had the nice, earthy taste that you'd except from fungi. Once I refamiliarized myself with their taste, I was delighted. Topped the dinner off with Bell's Best Brown ale and I'm a happy girl.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Heart Smart: The Simplest Pasta Recipe Ever

In keeping with our month-long, Valentine/heart theme, I would like to offer a simple recipe that I sometimes make when I am short on time.

You start with olive oil, and it is up to you how much you want to use. I usually coat the bottom of my frying pan, and that is usually enough. Mince some garlic and add to the olive oil. Heat until fragrant (and it's a lovely smell, believe me). Add some red pepper flakes. Cook up some whole wheat pasta (I recommend Al Dente and I usually cook about 1/2 the bag). Add the pasta to the olive oil mixture and there you go--a simple, delicious, effective, heart-smart meal!

Now. If you don't want to be heart smart, you can do what I do and top it with some pepper jack cheese. Serve with bread and/or salad.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Heart Healthy Mashed Potatoes

Have you tried the Laughing Cow semisoft cheeses? They are really great, and each wedge is only 35 calories, 2 grams of fat and 10 mg of cholesterol. And unlike lots of "light" foods, there is not "fake stuff" in their cheeses. The Laughing Cow logo is from World War I in France - it was how trucks carrying meat to the front line were festooned. I made mashed potatoes the other night, and I was looking to make them Weight Watchers friendly. Instead of my usual half and half and butter, I used Laughing Cow Garlic and Herb cheese and skim milk.
Cheesy Garlic and Herb Mashed Potatoes
serves 4
6 small potatoes
6 wedges Laughing Cow Garlic and Herb Light cheese
skim milk
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Boil potatoes who in their skins until they are soft - about 20 minutes. Put them through a potato ricer. Add cheese wedges and enough skim milk to get it to the right consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. By my calculations, each serving is 4 points and 20 mg cholesterol - and this is a really generous serving!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Summer in January Event

The spread

On January 24 the lovely ladies of the MLFB descended on my house for a late-afternoon get-together that was intended to transport us back to those warm and luxurious days of summer. If it had to be winter outside, then it could also be summer inside, if only for a few hours.

I can't emphasize enough how fortunate I feel to be part of this group of women. You guys (gals?) rule!

This is what happens when you spend the first part of the afternoon listening to opera and get home 45 minutes before the party starts: total biscuit chaos.

Patti, Diana, and Jen (Zora on the couch)

Zora, Cathy, Kim, and Alex (I apologize for the big fingerprint smudge)

Cindy (aka MK) and Alex's fabulous mojitos in the foreground (oh, so divine!)

Maggie's miniature cones and berry sorbet...yum!

Patti's blackberry pudding made with frozen blackberries from Locavorious

The way it should be: an empty glass at the end of the day