Archive for the ‘About Food’ Category
Once again, I found myself in Patel Brothers, the big Indian market in Jackson Heights, looking at something I’d never seen or heard of before. This time, it was samo seeds, also known as jungle rice and morio. These seeds are from a wild grass that grows in tropical Asia and are commonly eaten in times of famine. But samo is also eaten during a fasting period called Ekadasee, which occurs twice a month, once when the moon is closest to the earth and once when it’s the farthest. Samo seeds have an earthy flavor and once cooked, looks much like couscous or millet. Uncooked, they could almost pass for white grits.
I found a few recipes for samo seed pulav (pilaf) and this is one version below. I’m going to try a few different other versions, but for now, here’s a recipe for a basic samo seed pilaf, great for a side dish to just about anything.
Samo Seed Pulav
1 cup samo seeds
2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup peanuts, skinned
1 chile, minced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced small
Salt to taste
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup minced cilantro
1. Place the samo seeds in a bowl of water and let it soak for about 5 to 10 minutes. Drain, rise, and drain well.
2. Heat the ghee or oil in a wide pan over medium heat; add the cumin seeds and toast for a minute. Add the peanuts and sauté until they are browned. Add the chile and sauté another minute. Add the potatoes and sauté about 3 minutes more, stirring often to prevent sticking.
3. Add the samo seeds and cook, stirring often, to dry it out.
4. Add the salt and 2 cups water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until water is absorbed and seeds are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Fluff up the grains with a fork, then mix in the lemon juice and cilantro. Serve hot or warm.
I don’t think that anyone would argue that food made from scratch is far superior to anything purchased in a package. Tomato sauce made at home is way better than the jarred stuff; homemade mac ‘n’ cheese blows the box out of the water; and canned soup doesn’t hold a candle to freshly made soup.
Sometimes there are food products that people don’t realize you can make fresh at home. It just doesn’t enter their minds. But there really isn’t much that you can’t make from scratch, including “alternative” milks. One of the things we learned to make at the Natural Gourmet Institute is almond milk. Some people might think that things like almond or soy milk go through some mysterious process, but in actuality, almond milk is one of the easiest things you can make.
Almond milk is naturally dairy free, so it’s the perfect option for people who are lactose intolerant. Soy milk is also dairy free but there’s a lot of controversy surrounding soy. While soybeans are known to have antioxidants, ironically, they also contain estrogen receptors, making it a player in breast cancer. The reports go back and forth, but for those at risk for breast cancer or worry about eating too much soy, almond milk is the way to go. Almond milk has vitamins A, D, and E, calcium, iron, and protein. It helps in maintaining good eyesight, healthy skin, and strong bones and teeth. It’s also low in carbs, making it ideal for weight loss plans
Soaking nuts and seeds overnight add another dimension of health. Nuts and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors, preventing the absorption of nutrients. Soaking releases the enzymes and phytic acid, making the nutrients accessible by the body.
Any recipe you make that calls for almond milk will benefit greatly if you make the milk yourself. You can make it up to a week in advance of preparing your recipe and keep it in the refrigerator. Let me warn you, though, that while the process is a simple one, it does get a little messy. You might find that the ground almonds tend to stray. But it’s worth the little bit of mess to get fresh, rich, homemade almond milk.
Fresh Almond Milk
Makes about 6 cups almond milk
1. Start with 3 cups almonds. The almonds need to be skin-free, so you can purchase blanched almonds or blanch whole almonds yourself. To do it yourself, bring a medium pot of water to a boil; add the almonds and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain. When almonds are cool enough to touch, remove the skin. They should pop out if you squeeze them. (Beware of flying almonds!) Place the almonds in a large bowl.
2. In a clean pot, bring 6 cups water to a boil. Pour it over the almonds, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with a few layers of cheesecloth that has been rinsed and squeezed. Place the sieve over a bowl large enough to catch the milk.
3. Carefully transfer the almonds and water to a blender (do this in two batches if necessary). Puree thoroughly. Pour some into the sieve. Gather up the cheesecloth and squeeze out as much milk as possible. Discard the almond pulp and repeat with the remaining puree.
4. Pour into glass bottles and let it cool completely. Refrigerate.
Fresh almond milk will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.
Cassoulet is a traditional French dish containing various kinds of meat and beans cooked in a casserole dish. Originally from southwestern France, cassoulet is a rich and hearty dish and is usually labor-intensive. You can take a few shortcuts for a quicker, easier cassoulet, but it will turn out rather flat. It’s meant to be a complex, savory dish and you won’t get that depth of flavor if you take shortcuts, so it’s worth taking the time to prepare each component. It’s not that complicated—you just have to be a little patient. Just taking the extra step to cook the beans alone will give a layer of flavor that you simply won’t get from canned beans.
In the U.S., cassoulet often refers to any number of bean dishes cooked in a casserole dish. The word cassoulet comes from cassole, an earthenware casserole dish in which cassoulet was first made. For a great historical account of cassoulet, visit Clifford Wright’s site HERE.
What makes this vegetarian version of cassoulet so delectable is roasting the vegetables. Roasting coaxes the sugar out of vegetables, turning them into something divine. Keep an eye on your veggies and stir them occasionally for an even browning.
What I used in this recipe is brown vegetable stock, which is wonderful to use in many dishes. It’s worth sit to spend the time making it—then just throw it in your freezer for when you need it. However, I know that time is a precious thing these days, so you’ll see that the recipe just calls for vegetable stock. The end product won’t be as rich, but it will be good.
As I said, the beans are made from scratch—that is, you start off with dried beans and cook them until tender. This will give you a much better quality and better tasting dish. You’ll want to throw a piece of kombu in with the beans.
Kombu is a type of seaweed—algae, to be specific. Adding a piece of kombu to a pot of cooking beans makes it more digestible because the amino acids soften the beans’ skin and eliminates some of the gassiness. Kombu is a mild-tasting seaweed so it won’t impart a fishy taste to your dish, as long as you use only a small piece, which is all you need anyway.
Yield 6-8 servings
1 cup dried lima or white beans (navy, Great Northern, cannellini), soaked 12 hours or overnight
5 cups vegetable stock
1 piece kombu (1 to 2 inches)
Sachet (sprig rosemary, 2 bay leaves, few peppercorns)
6 tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
3 large carrots, cut into ½-inch chunks
3 large parsnips, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 small sweet potato, cut into ½-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
¼ tsp fresh thyme
¼ tsp crushed dried oregano
¾ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
3 tbsp olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Drain and rinse the beans and place them in a medium to large pot, along with the kombu, vegetable stock, and sachet. Bring to a boil; lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until beans are tender (1 to 2 hours, depending on the bean).
3. Toss the carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of the oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out onto a greased baking sheet in a single layer and roast until browned. Stir occasionally. Pick out the garlic and finely chop or mash (they will be very soft). Set aside.
4. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil and a medium pan. Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn up the heat to medium-high and continue cooking until they are nicely browned. Transfer to a bowl.
5. In the same pan, heat 1 teaspoon oil. Add the tomatoes and roasted garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
6. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of oil, parsley, thyme, and oregano. Set aside.
7. When beans are cooked, add the onions and tomatoes to the pot and simmer another 5 minutes. Set a mesh strainer over a bowl and drain the bean mixture; remove the sachet and kombu and discard. Reserve the liquid. Pour the liquid back into the pot and cook down over medium heat until thick (it should coat the back of a spoon).
8. Return the bean mixture to the pot and mix. Simmer another 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium casserole dish (about 9 x 6). Spread the roasted vegetables on top of the beans. Finally, sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top.
9. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes or until browned.
I was recently browsing the Gourmet Garage, a high end market in Greenwich Village, and came across a product I’d never heard of or seen before: Kañiwa. As I often do when I encounter a new product, I bought it. (Although I can’t afford to shop regularly in gourmet markets, I like to browse the aisles because I know that I will usually find something that is not commonly found in most other markets.)
Kañiwa , also spelled cañihua or canihua, is a tiny grain, about the size of a poppy seed. It is a species of goosefoot and is related to quinoa. Like quinoa, it is a whole grain native to the Andean mountains of Peru. Also like quinoa, when cooked, kañiwa seeds have little threads around them. Unlike quinoa, they do not contain saponins, which is the compound that gives quinoa its bitter taste. (If you ever cooked quinoa without rinsing it first, you know what I’m talking about.)
Although kañiwa is new to the U.S., it’s actually an ancient grain and health experts are now saying that kañiwa is the next big “super grain.” Nutritional facts about kañiwa are not yet available from the USDA, but considering that the people of the Andes have sustained themselves for thousands of years in part with kañiwa, it’s safe to say that kañiwa has something going for it. In fact, it’s high in protein (it’s 16% protein) and antioxidants, and also contains fiber, iron, calcium, and zinc. And it’s a gluten-free grain.
How to use Kañiwa
Again, kañiwa does not need to be rinsed. Most sources that I’ve consulted recommend toasting. Because it’s so small, it can be incorporated into many things, but is particularly popular made into a porridge. Kaniwa.org provides this recipe (with my edits):
Basic Kañiwa Porridge:
Cook one cup of kañiwa with two cups of water. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed. Just like quinoa, it will sprout little tails when done. Fluff with a fork. Serve the kañiwa with butter and a sweetener, such as maple syrup or Rapadura. This will make about two cups of cooked kañiwa.
Right now, kañiwa is hard to find, although you can order it online. I paid $5 for 12 oz., so it’s not cheap but not over-the-top expensive.
The texture of kañiwa is almost like grits, but firmer and crunchier. It’s quite unique. Below is a recipe that I created. It’s a very simple recipe with simple ingredients. It’s great for a party and it will definitely have people asking, “What is this?” In a good way. Enjoy!
Warm Kañiwa Salad
Makes 6 servings.
1/2 cup kañiwa
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 finely chopped shallots or scallions
1 cup mushrooms (any kind)
2 cups cooked white beans
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 tbsp stone-ground Dijon mustard
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Toast kañiwa in a dry pot, stirring frequently, until it has a nutty aromna, about 2 minutes.
2. Pour in vegetable broth. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl.
3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium skillet. Add garlic and shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms release liquid and start to brown. Add beans and cook until warmed through. Add this to kañiwa in bowl. Sprinkle in parsley.
4. Make dressing. Whisk all ingredients together until well blended. Pour over kañiwa. Toss to mix well. Adjust seasoning as desired.
My friend, Linda, asked me recently for suggestions on what to do with the water she had used to cook kale. This water, known as pot liquor, has set many a cook’s heart aflutter because it’s loaded with flavor. Not only that, it’s also packed with nutrients from the kale, or whatever greens you have cooked in it.
Pot liquor can be used in place of water or broth in almost anything. Here are some ways to use it:
* In soups, stews, or chilis
* To cook rice, quinoa, or any other grain
* To braise vegetables or a vegetable casserole
* In a vegetable smoothie
* In place of broth in a pan sauce
* If you have enough of it, you can reduce it and add a roux for a sauce, too. This would go very well with grilled/baked/sauteed tofu or tempeh.
* Add it to your pet’s food—it’s nutritious for our furry friends, too!
So, get yourself a nice big bunch of greens—any greens—and cook it down. The best way is to sauté greens in a pan with garlic and oil. But you can also use a small amount of water to boil them. That way, you get the nutrient-packed water without leeching everything out of the greens themselves. Place the greens in a large skillet or dutch oven and add about a cup of water and salt. After the greens are cooked, remove them and save the liquid. To sauté in oil, follow the recipe below, then use the liquid for something else. It will have incredible added flavor from the garlic and spices.
(By the way, I was very tempted to call this blog “Pot Liquor,” but I was afraid it would draw the wrong kind of traffic. As it is, I expect to get a lot of garbage from spammers who are keying in on the words “pot” and “liquor.”)
1 large bunch greens, washed, drained
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Coarsely chop the greens.
2. Heat the oil in a wide pan; add garlic and cook 1 minutes. Add paprika and red pepper lakes and immediately add the greens.
3. Add ½ cup water, salt, and pepper and mix well. Cover the pan and cook until greens are tender. The time will vary, depending on the type of green it is. Add more water if it starts to get dry.
4. Use tongs to remove the greens and garlic. Reserve the liquid for use in other recipes.
Until recently, I had never seen sorghum grain in my life. I only became familiar with sorghum molasses a couple of years ago, when I encountered it on a trip through the South. But sorghum, as I learned, has been around for a long, long time.
Sorghum has been known by other names, the most common of which are “Guinea corn, “Johnson grass,” and “milo.” “Egyptian millet” and “great millet” have also been used, which is understandable, since the grain does look like millet on steroids. I’ve purchased sorghum flour in my favorite Indian market, Patel Brothers in Jackson Heights, where it’s called marathi.
The oldest documented cultivation of sorghum is dated at 3000 B.C. in Egypt. Sorghum thrives in hot, arid climates, where other crops might fail. That could be the reason why it became such an important crop in the Near and Middle East. The Muslims introduced it to Spain, who then introduced it to France, and from there, it spread out to other parts of Europe. Sorghum is an important crop in Africa, and it is believed that it was introduced into the U.S. by African slaves in the early 17th century. According to Grain.org, sorghum is the third most important cereal crop grown in the U.S. and the fifth most important in the world. The U.S. is now the world’s largest producer and exporter of sorghum.
Sorghum became a particularly popular product in the U.S. South, where sorghum molasses is a common substitute for maple syrup and is spread on biscuits, corn bread, pancakes, and—as I found out in Alabama—THROWED ROLLS.
Aside from food, sorghum is commonly included in animal feed, and it is used in the production of alcoholic beverages, such as maotai and kaoliang in China and beer in the U.S., such as Bard’s and Redbridge by Anheuser-Busch. In southern Africa, sorghum beer is popular and is said to be a traditional beverage of the Zulu people. Also, people in South Africa used sorghum beer to get around the prohibition laws imposed on the black community. And since sorghum is a gluten-free grain, sorghum beer is a great choice for those with gluten sensitivities. (If you’re so inclined, you can brew your own sorghum beer. Here are a set of instructions.)
As far as nutrients go, sorghum is rich in potassium, phosphorus, thiamine, and niacin, has some calcium, and has small amounts of iron and riboflavin.
When cooking with sorghum, it’s best to use “moist” recipes—that is, recipes that call for moist ingredients or a good amount of liquid—because the grains are thick and starchy and if they’re too dry, they can have a pasty mouthfeel and be difficult to swallow. And it’s best to serve sorghum hot (or at least warm) because as it cools, the starchiness becomes prominent.
While sorghum might be easy to find in the South, not so much in the Northeast. However, I did, by chance, find some at an Asian market. I wasn’t looking for it, but there it was and, of course, I had to buy some. I did a little research on the best ways to use sorghum and came up with this recipe. Enjoy!
Sorghum and Kale Saute with Cannellini
1 cup sorghum grain
2 cups vegetable broth
4 cups chopped kale
1 ½ cups cooked cannellini
3 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp paprika
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F.
2. Rinse and drain the sorghum. Place in a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot or Dutch oven and stir over medium-low heat until dry and slightly browned.
3. Carefully pour in the vegetable stock and a pinch of salt. Stir and place in the oven; bake until liquid is absorbed and grains are tender, about 40 to 50 minutes. If necessary, add a little more liquid to the pot.
4. Heat oil in a wide pan. Add garlic and cook 1 minute, sprinkle in paprika and red papper flakes and immediately put in the kale. Add salt and pepper and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until kale is wilted and tender (but not mushy. Add the sorghum and beans and mix well. Cook for 5 minutes to blend flavors. Add more liquid if necessary.
5. Check for seasoning and serve hot.
Those of you who have heard of durian have probably also heard of its rep. Its bad rep. Well, bad in some ways, good in others. The flesh of a durian fruit is prized in other parts of the world, particularly Southeast Asia, where it is native and people pick and eat them fresh off the plant. Its custardy, yellow flesh is plucked right out of the shell and eaten in hand.
The problem with durian is that it stinks. I mean really stinks. Hotels in Asia post signs forbidding guests from bringing in durian. I read a story once about a traveler who had gone to Malaysia and attempted to bring a durian aboard a plane to take it home with him. He and his durian were kicked off the plane and he was reprimanded. And it wasn’t even in the main passenger cabin—he had packed it and it was stored in the fuselage. That’s how strong the odor of a durian is.
What does it smell like? The best way I can describe the smell is dirty baby diapers that have been sitting in the pail too long. Seriously. The stuff stinks.
I’d always been curious about durian but was afraid to buy it because of its purported strong smell. I didn’t want to stink up my house. And because they are an imported tropical fruit, they’re also expensive and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on something that I might dislike.
Then, one day, my friend Elaine at work, who is from Malaysia, brought in a durian. It had been her mission for some time to introduce me to it and she finally got the chance. After work, we went outside and sat on a bench on the property of my job. As soon as she opened the bag, I smelled the baby poop. I was not deterred. Using a pair of scissors, she prodded open the hard, bumpy shell to reveal the kidney-shaped flesh. It looks firm, but when you touch it, it is soft and viscous, like thick yogurt that is separating. I scooped some with my finger and tasted it. I let it linger in my mouth so that I could get a good sense of its flavor. The first thing I tasted was banana with a faint pineapple undertone. After swallowing, the lingering flavor was garlicky/oniony. And the more I tasted, the more I began picking up notes of coffee and mocha. I don’t know why a stinky fruit that is banned from hotels and airplanes should taste like coffee and mocha, but there it was.
(Unfortunately, Elaine also brought vacuum-sealed durian fruit into the office and it strangely gave off an odor that resembled petroleum gas. More than one person came running through the area asking if there was a gas leak.)
So, that was my first durian experience. I don’t know that I will ever seek it out, but I love trying new foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and so I was happy to give it a go. If you’re brave or adventurous and would like to give durian a try, you will generally find it whole in the freezer case in Asian markets, and it’s often wrapped in a mesh bag. You can also find the flesh frozen. If you can get past the smell, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I suggest, though, that if you’re going to be around people afterward, chew on some parsley or pop a few Tic Tacs. The recipe below is courtesy of IncredibleSmoothies.com. Let me know what you think.
Lemon-Ginger Durian Smoothie
- 1 cup durian
- 1 whole banana, peeled
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- a squeeze of lemon juice
- 4-6 ounces of water
Add all ingredients and then blend on high until creamy and thoroughly mixed. Add additional lemon and/or ginger to taste, if desired.
I enjoy meandering through the aisles of Asian markets because there is always something new that I’ve never seen before, and I will often purchase something without even knowing how it’s used, just out of curiosity.
So, I was in an Asian supermarket the other day, browsing the fare, as usual. I was in the spice section and saw a plastic package with some reddish stuff in it. I had a suspicion of what it was supposed to be, so I picked it up. Sure enough, it was labeled “saffron.” One ounce for a whopping 99 cents! I had to take a picture of it because I couldn’t believe my eyes. And the picture doesn’t do it justice. This is the skunky, dusty looking stuff that they were trying to pass off as saffron.
Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of saffron knows that there is no way you can get it—any amount—for 99 cents. Those with a little more advanced knowledge of the spice know that it simply does not look like this. I can’t even imagine what, in reality, this stuff actually was.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Market prices vary but 1 gram of saffron can cost anywhere from $10 (on the cheap side) to $75 for Spanish La Mancha. Kalustyan’s in NYC sells 1-ounce jars of Persian Saffron for $200. Amazing that this store was able to magically sell 1 ounce of saffron for 99 cents. They probably took a miniscule amount of saffron dust, mixed it with other stuff, and called it saffron.
The adulteration of saffron is an age-old felony, ever since the luxury item was introduced to Europe by the Arabs in the 7th or 8th century (and probably long before that, too). The reason it’s so expensive is that harvesting it is labor-intensive. Each strand is one of only a few stigmas of a crocus flower. The stigmas are hand-picked and dried and it takes about 75,000 flowers tomake one pound of dried saffron.
In Italian, saffron is called zafferano; in French it is zafran. All three words come from the Arabic word za’faaran, meaning “yellow,” which is the color saffron imbues in food. This color is prized throughout the world—for example, in India, Buddhists wear saffron-colored robes.
Greek mythology tells us that a mortal man named Crocos fell in love with the nymph named Smilax, but she did not return his love, and for some odd reason of the Greek mythology kind, he was turned into a purple crocus flower.
Saffron has been used throughout history in numerous ways: it was used as currency; it was used to scent the baths and public halls of both Greece and Rome; Cleopatra used it in her make-up; and it’s been used for medicinal purposes. And the story of risotto alla Milanese, the classic Italian rice dish? Legend has it that that a jilted lover wanted to ruin the wedding of his ex-love and her fiancé by throwing saffron into the risotto to be served at the reception. The groom, a glass maker for Milan’s Duomo who loved to add saffron to his glass pastes for color; throwing saffron into the wedding risotto was the jilted lover’s attempt at mocking the couple. Of course, it ended up being a hit.
In the Middle Ages, saffron was more valuable that gold. One pound of it could be traded for a plow horse, and anyone passing off diluted saffron was burned at the stake. It is mentioned in the Bible, the Iliad, ancient Egyptian papyruses, and in the writings of the Greek historian Pliny. On Crete, there is a fresco that dates to 1700 B.C. on the palace at Knossos showing a worker gathering saffron. Saffron has been used for medicinal purposes and to make perfume and dye. Ancient Greeks used it to perfume the public baths. Romans drank saffron before alcoholic binges to ward off hangovers and then slept on saffron-stuffed pillows for a good night’s sleep. The Phoenicians used it to flavor love cakes, shaped like moons, and dedicated them to Astoreth, the goddess of fertility. It is said that Cleopatra used saffron as make-up. In Asia, saffron represented hospitality, while in India, people marked themselves with it to denote their wealthy status. At one time, it was thought that saffron was a remedy for, and could prevent, the plague. Called “vegetable gold” in some parts of the world, it is used in modern aromatherapy to increase energy. [This paragraph from What, No Meat? Traditional Italian Cooking the Vegetarian Way]
Rules for purchasing saffron:
- Never buy powered saffron. This is usually cut with inferior products. Only buy threads. Which leads to…
- Don’t buy packages that look as if some of the threads have been crushed to a powder.
- Threads should be a vibrant red.
- Threads should feel dry and crush easily.
- It should smell somewhat floral. Do not buy it if it smells moldy.
Here is my recipe for Risotto alla Milanese. Enjoy!
Risotto alla Milanese
Copyright © Roberta Roberti. All rights reserved.
From What, No Meat? Traditional Italian Cooking the Vegetarian Way
5 cups hot vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron strands
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup grated parmigiano
Keep the stock simmering in a saucepot over very low heat. Take 2 or 3 tablespoons of the stock, place it in a small bowl, and steep the saffron in it. Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the rice is translucent around the edges, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the wine and cook for another 3 minutes.
Add ½ cup (about a large ladleful) of the stock to the rice mixture, stir it in, and let it be absorbed by the rice. Continue adding stock, ½ cup at a time and stirring it in. Allow each addition to become absorbed before adding more. Stir occasionally. After the second or third addition, add the saffron infusion, salt, and pepper.
After 4 or 5 additions, begin testing the risotto for doneness. Stop adding liquid when the rice is creamy and tender, yet firm to the bite. If there is not enough broth, add hot water to the stock pan and bring it to a boil. Add the water to the risotto, a little at a time, until the rice is cooked. Total cooking time should be 20 to 30 minutes.
When the risotto is cooked, remove it from the heat and stir in the cheese. Spoon it into individual serving bowls and serve immediately.
Leftovers can be used for rice balls or stuffing. Store tightly sealed in the refrigerator 3 to 5 days.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
On Saturday, January 21, 2012, I went to the Kids Food Fest to be a culinary volunteer. Co-sponsored by Share Our Strength and the James Beard Foundation, the festival was created to get kids interested in food and teach them healthy eating habits.
The event was a two-day affair in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. It was a snowy, cold day and while it brought out the skaters to the ice rink (CitiPond), it kept away a lot of visitors from the festival, which was a shame. They had prepared for 50 children per event, and the numbers were nowhere near that. The most kids I saw at any demo/performance were perhaps 20. But there was a nice cross-section of kids. They ranged in age from toddler to teen; they were black, white, and Asian; and I even saw a couple of kids who, I had reason to believe, had two daddies. These are all good things.
Although there was a lot of frenzied running around, it seemed that they really didn’t have a whole lot for the volunteers to do. I tried to brave out the cold in my chef jacket, in an attempt to maintain a professional appearance at all times. I even helped deliver trays of prepped foods from the event services pavilion to the main building, where they were doing other demos, with no coat.
After a while, another volunteer and I were assigned to the stage tent to help out with the demos. The stage tent was one of those temporary metal-and-Plexiglas structures, and although they had heaters in there, it was absolutely freezing. Over time, I slowly donned parts of my outwear: first my gloves, then my hat, and after about 2 hours, I couldn’t take it any more and finally put on my coat. And despite the fact that I was wearing my snow boots, my toes were frozen after several hours. I eyed the main building, a café/lounge called Celcius, with envy, wishing that I’d been assigned to the demos in there.
The first demo I assisted in was “Avocados From Mexico: Guacamole Mashing with Cricket Azima.” Cricket Azima is a co-founder of the Kids Food Fest and The Creative Kitchen. I had gone in with my knife roll across my back, kind of like an arrow quiver; Cricket told me to put the knives down so as not to scare the kids (not that they would have known that there were knives in there.) Kids were given plastic bags with an avocado and some tomato. The other volunteer and I handed out the bags, along with limes, cilantro, and salt. The kids squeezed the limes into their bags (or their parents did), pinched off the cilantro leaves, and grabbed a pinch of salt, sealed the bags, and then squished everything together with their hands. Then they got to eat it with sweet potato chips.
Next up was “Table Time with Mr. Manners,” hosted by Tom Farley, an etiquette specialist. He engaged the kids in a talk about table manners and the kids’ answers to his questions were pretty cute. For example, he asked them to name some bad table manners, and one kid responded, “No spitting on the table.”
I was interested in “Akiko Thurnauer: Japanese Onigiri Rice Balls,” Chef Akiko and her sous chef taught the audience how to make Japanese rice balls by hand and by using a mold (which actually yielded rice rolls). One of the ingredients she used was red shiso, which is often referred to as Japanese basil. It did have a basil-like flavor, crossed with maybe oregano. Green shiso, also called perilla, is part of the same as basil, but red shiso is another type called akajiso, and is used to dye umeboshi, which are pickled ume plums. (We used a lot of umeboshi paste and vinegar quite a bit at The Natural Gourmet Institute. The medicinal benefits of umeboshi is the subject of another blog. Stay tuned.)
I took a break during “Circus Balancing,” as it did not require any culinary assistance. Cricket was up next with “Snack Time Choices.” At that point, I could no longer feel my toes and decided that 6 hours was enough for me.
All in all, it wasn’t the culinary experience I’d hoped it would be, but it was educational to see the behind-the-scenes activities of an event like this. Well, at least I got a few Clif Bars out of the deal.
I had to go into Manhattan the other day, to Broadway Panhandlers (a kitchen supply store), for some things that I needed. It was a frigidly cold day, and I had nowhere else to be (for the first time in a very long time), so I decided that afterwards, I would stop in somewhere and get a cup of coffee. Well, after I did my shopping, my bladder began warning me that if I decided to have any beverage with ties to Ethiopia, it would boldly protest. And because I hate using public restrooms, I decided to forgo the coffee. I was a little hungry, though, so I went in search of something that I could nibble on while riding home on the train.
A block away from Broadway Panhandlers, I spotted a Financiers, a French coffee/pastry shop, on Astor Place. There’s a Financiers around the corner from my school and I had stopped in there just about every week for a cup of Saturday afternoon coffee, but I had never tried one of their baked goods. So, here was my opportunity. I walked in and checked out the selection in the display case, and found it oddly sparse. I don’t know if this was normal for a Saturday afternoon or if they had gotten a huge influx of people stopping in for something warm and a bite to eat on this bitter January day, but there was not much of a selection. I almost walked out.
Then something caught my eye. Something labeled a galette de rois. With my very limited knowledge of French, I knew that this meant “king cake,” which was reinforced in my mind when I realized what time of the year it was.
King Cake is puff pastry filled with frangipane cream and is associated with the Christian festival of Epiphany. The feast of the Epiphany, traditionally falling on January 6, is the celebration of the revelation of Christ in human form. For Christians in the Western world, this more specifically celebrates the visitation of the Three Kings on the Baby Jesus, which is why the holiday also goes by the name of Three Kings Day. In the East, it revolves around the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. In the United States, the king cake is also eaten in celebration of Mardi Gras, as it is wherever Carnival takes place. Traditionally, a little ceramic baby (representing the Baby Jesus), or some other trinket, is baked inside the cake. The person who gets the little prize is responsible for hosting the following year’s Epiphany celebration. The English tradition is to put a bean in the cake, which is why it also goes by the name Bean Cake. (By the way, there’s a different kind of king cake that is actually a stuffed bread and which is decorated with bright Mardi Gras-type colors. That’s not the kind of king cake I’m talking about.) In the French tradition, a large king cake is topped with a paper crown.
Love Live the King
When I stepped onto my train, I sat down and reached into my bag for a bite of my galette de rois. I tried to break off a mouthful but as I pinched the crisp pastry, I discovered that it was so flaky that it crumbled in my fingers. And it was so buttery that my fingers came away with the pastry glued to my fingers. I knew that if I made any further attempts at breaking off a piece, I would be covered in puff pastry flakes. My king cake had to wait until I got home.
So, now I was home. I made myself some espresso and cut into my cake. The flakey layers crackled slightly as the knife went through them, which promised me a light crunch between my teeth. I wasn’t disappointed. The puff pastry was indeed light, flaky, and buttery, but not sickeningly so (when something is too buttery, it makes me nauseated). The frangipane cream was sweet but not cloying, and had floral, fruity notes. Frangipane is an almond pastry cream made from butter, eggs, sugar, and almonds. It is sometimes enhanced by almond or vanilla extract, or other flavorings. It was really a delicious dessert.
If you want to try making king cake yourself, it’s really quite easy, and here’s a recipe that I made up myself. Although king cake is usually for the Epiphany, I think it will go over very well any time of year.
Galette de Rois (King Cake)*
1/2 cup ground almonds
½ cup softened butter
2/3 cup organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1 package puff pastry (thawed if frozen)
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Combine all frangipane cream ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy.
3. Cut four 4-inch circles in the puff pastry sheet. Place two of them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
4. Place equal amounts of the cream in the center of the two circles. Top each one with the remaining puff pastry rounds. Pinch them gently around the edges to seal.
5. Beat the egg with a little water and brush the egg wash over the tops of each galette.
6. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. If it gets too dark too fast, lower the heat to 350 and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes.
* For a traditional celebration, make several batches and place a little ceramic baby, bean or trinket in one of them. Share them with family and friends and whoever gets the prize will have to make them next year. You can also make little paper crowns and top each cake with one.