I made some pretty stellar pork chops the other night. I cobbled together a preparation of sorts that I remembered from a cookbook my host family had in France using the ingredients that I had lying around, including a bottle of mediocre homebrewed beer and a jar of lingonberry preserves from Ikea. (Cooking is an excellent use for rejected spirits, by the by. As for dejected spirits, liquor can work, but it’s usually just a temporary fix.) The chops came out smashingly well – tart, savory, perfectly cooked – and I was proud to present them to DG at the dinner table accompanied by a lovely bottle of Washington Riesling and a couple of different vegetable preparations alongside. A little smug, even. As he tasted each dish, I watched his eyebrows rise in approval, and the reaction to the pork chops was sufficiently enthusiastic. Unexpected, however, was the groan of delight upon tasting the creamy cauliflower side dish. This coming from someone who claims he does not care for cauliflower. read more »
Let’s face it, we’re all spoiled by grab-and-go convenience foods. When the hunger beast rears its angry head, we walk into the kitchen, stare blankly into the brimming refrigerator, and, seeing only ingredients, conclude that there’s nothing to eat. Au contraire, my friends! There is just nothing ready to eat. I know what you’re thinking. “What am I supposed to do? Gnaw on a leaf of Swiss chard?” Well, yes and no. See, when we’re faced with a barrage of ingredients, its often hard to envision what the end product is, so our brain overloads with either the excess or absence of options, and we give up and either go hungry, eat something convenient and pre-made, or go buy something prepared. However, with some practice, we can start to see those items filling the corners of our fridges and pantries as vibrant parts of a delicious whole. The best place to start is to find some foundation on which to build a dish, and then go from there.
Today’s blank canvas is quinoa (KEEN-wah), a magical little grain in a tiny snail-shaped dot. (Actually, it’s technically a seed because it’s not from a grass, but rather from a plant closely related to beets, spinach, and tumbleweeds. Really, tumbleweeds! Just another reason to love quinoa. However, we treat it as a grain in cooking.) For those of you unfamiliar with quinoa or previously tentative about trying it, welcome to a new taste sensation. It has a nutty flavor and toothsome mouth-feel, and can be used a lot like rice or small pasta (think orzo or couscous), but it’s incredibly good for you (high in protein and gluten free) and simple to prepare. You can find it in packages near the rice and pasta in your market, or in the bulk section, which is the more economical option. I buy it in bulk and store it in a big glass jar. The easiest way to prepare it is to boil it in water or broth (2 parts liquid, 1 part quinoa) until the water is absorbed (about 12-14 minutes), fluff and serve. Instant side dish. From there you can get more sophisticated and make pilafs, salads, stuffings, etc. It’s also really tasty added to soup or hot breakfast cereal. (Fun fact: quinoa is currently being considered a possible crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights because of all its nifty convenient and nutritious characteristics. Space grain! Definitely ups its cool factor.) read more »
Spring has officially sprung out here in the Pacific Northwest, and our farmers markets, gardens, grocery stores, and crisper drawers are overflowing with the new bounty that the seemingly endless months of drizzle bestow on us once the sun decides to stay out for a few moments strung together. Among the first to pop out of our rich soil are the leafy, multicolored baby salad greens that I’ve started to crave on a daily basis. Another side effect of the grey winter is that, come spring, all the citizenry burst forth into the outdoors in droves, and people can be found strolling, draped on stoops, lolling in grassy parks, and zipping around town on bikes.
Last weekend, my fun friends hosted their annual Bike Maintenance Day BBQ, for which they invite any and all to come over, throw something tasty on the grill, contribute a communal dish, and make use of the hosts’ tools, stands, and expertise to tune up their bicycles for the coming months of riding. As anyone who knows me can attest, after Christmas and my birthday, this is my favorite day of the year, and definitely my bike’s numero uno holiday.
This year, I was a little torn on what to contribute as a communal dish. I found myself wandering aimlessly through the produce section of Whole Foods pondering what would be tasty, fresh, and portable enough to toss in my bike’s pannier and pedal over to the Q, when, out of the piles of dwindling citrus and greenhouse tomatoes, a pile of tiny mixed lettuces sang to me like an angel choir from the heavens, and inspiration struck. I found the biggest container of greens they had – only $6! – gave a little fist-pump, and humped it home to my kitchen, where I whipped up a batch of my favorite Dijon Vinaigrette in a spare jar. Container of greens and jar of dressing tossed in my sack, along with some sausages for the grill, I biked forth, knowing I had a hit item to share. Sure enough, the big bowl of dressed greens on the picnic table kept dwindling, and I kept filling it up. There’s nothing like a bowl of zesty freshness to perk up some grilled food. read more »