Friday, April 28, 2006

A Nourishing Lunch

Today I made a very quick and easy lunch for myself to help cure the effects of my allergies which include feeling as if my brain has turned to cotton. To counteract that I included leeks, garlic, ginger, and greens in my standard pressure cooked braised tofu dish. What makes this dish standard is that it has tofu in it, otherwise all the other ingredients are flexible.

I put the pressure cooker over medium heat and added a teaspoon of canola, grapeseed or other neutral oil (or not if I am teaching McDougall) and added onion or leek, garlic, ginger, tofu and saute. Today I added diagonally cut carrots and sliced fresh shiitake mushroom caps to this, stirring for a bit. I added a tablespoon or so of tamari and a few tablespoons of water. I cooked this for another minute, then added 8 spears of asparagus that had been cut into 1/2 to 1-inch pieces. They lay on top of the mixture. I locked the lid in place and brought the cooker to high pressure. Once at high pressure, I turned down the heat and let it stay there for 2 minutes.

I quick-released the pressure and added 2 cups of chopped baby red Russian kale leaves and stirred them in until they were cooked. When I served it, I added a sprinkling of nori with cayenne (from Maine Coast Sea Vegatbles) and also gomasio (from Eden foods), a grind of flax seeds and some chopped cilantro. This could have been served over black, brown or red rice or quinoa, if I had any cooked. Or I could have put the mixture into a sprouted grain or whole wheat tortilla to make a wrap. Today I ate it as is.

It was tasty and while I don't feel all better, I do feel like I took good care of myself. I was nourished. I encourage you to do the same.

Spring is Here - And all that comes with it

After one of the rainiest and longest Sonoma County winters on record, we finally have spring here. It went from rainy and in the 50s to sunny and close to 80, with very little transition. I personally like transitions a lot. I wouldn't, for instance, like to be able to travel from here to San Diego (where I am headed early next week, and that's just 3 days away) in a split second like on Star Trek.

I could live without driving an hour and a half to the airport, parking and that transitional time but the time on the plane serves me well with the physicality of getting to a new place. I can reflect on where I've been and where I am going.

And back to that physical part and how it relates to spring -- allergies. It seems like every plant that has ever existed in this county has now sprung to life, creating an unbelievably high level of stuff in the air. It often takes me a few days of trying to figure out why I just can't think straight before the sneezing starts and then I realize that I have been attacked by allergies.

Now this is a bad thing when one (especially a woman with closet issues) is packing to leave town for almost a week. My usual indecision in what to bring with me is made worse by the fog in my head, the fact that I will be presenting at a professional conference and how I hauled way too much to Seattle just a few weeks ago when I was traveling. I told myself that I would, and could, pack less.

Instead of putting The Veggie Queen books that I will sell in my suitcase I am going to ship them to a friend. She has most likely already received a few boxes of items which I will hand out at the Vegetarian Dietitians booth at the conference, as well as the spice samples that I will provide at my Spice it Up talk.

I will be repeating that talk at Vegetarian Summerfest in Johnstown, PA in July. And hope to find many other venues. And don't worry, I will be well dressed as I am sure that I still packed too many clothes. But at least for now I can blame it on my allergies.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

My Favorite Spring Risotto in the Pressure Cooker

There is nothing like making risotto quickly in the pressure cooker to assure that it gets on the table really hot and in a timely manner. It takes only 5 minutes on the heat and with minimal stirring. Sure, it's not a whole grain but it is creamy and delicious, and comforting. And it's simple to adjust the veggies in it according to what you find at the farmer's market or store. I like to use saffron in mine and then add what's fresh - aspargus, green garlic, peas, or anything else (traditionally it would have cheese, cream or butter). Follow the tips that I give you for making it, the most important is that the quick cooking veggies get added after the risottto has been cooked and you remove the pressure cooker lid.

Here's the recipe:
Saffron Risotto with Peas and Asparagus
Use the vegetables that look the best to you.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 stalks green garlic, sliced well
1 leek, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 ½ cups arborio rice
½ teaspoon saffron dissolved in hot water
3 ½-4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup frozen peas, thawed or 1 cup sugar snap or snow peas, cut in half
1 cup asparagus stalks and tips
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, chives or garlic chives
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in the pressure cooker. Add the garlic and leek and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the rice, stirring well to coat the rice with oil. Add the saffron and the water and then add 3 ½ cups of the broth. Stir well and lock the lid on the cooker. Turn the heat to high and bring to high pressure. Lower the heat and maintain high pressure for 5 minutes. Reduce the pressure using a quick release method. Remove the lid, tilting it away from you.
If the risotto isn’t creamy enough, add the remaining stock and cook on the stove top, stirring until you get the desired consistency. Stir in the salt, peas, asparagus and herbs. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve right away.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bread Reflections -- TOAST

As long as I can remember I have had a thing for toast. There's something about its crunchy texture and the browning from the Maillard reaction (a term that I learned in graduate school that I can finally use somewhere) that makes it so much better than just bread. I knew that my son inherited the toast gene from me when he was little and one of his favorite foods was toast, except he liked his very dark.

Yesterday the bread fairy entered my life again at Community Market in Santa Rosa. I saw Mario of Grindstone Bakery and he handed me two loaves of bread. I must say that in my effort to give as well as receive I handed one to a friend, Page, who was one of 4 people that I encountered there at the store. But the Sprouted Seed Spelt made it to my toaster today. And I am still swooning. I had to stop myself from eatng a third piece (at least right now) since it tasted so delicious. This hearty, naturally leavened bread is one of my favorite types to eat versus something light and airy. But I must admit that I am not able to resist other delicious bread and my bread box (yes, I do have one) often has a few different loaves lurking inside waiting to become toast.

Each year I go to camp in Mendocino at the Mendocino Woodlands in Jackson State Forest and my biggest complaint until last year was that I couldn't have toast. Last year there was a toaster there and my life felt very full and complete. A life in the woods with great food that includes toast. Ahh, just a small slice of heaven.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Rainy Sonoma County

While spring has arrived in many other parts of the country, we are still deep in winter here in Sonoma County. I feel incredibly privileged that my April birthday brought sun and balmy weather but that was short-lived.

The most distressing part of all the rain is that the farmers have either lost part of their crops, the plants are growing very slowly and they cannot get into the fields to plant. Hopefully we will have local food in the summer when our crops start appearing. In a usual year, we would have the first zucchini and other squash as early as May. We can only wait to see what occurs. We cannot change or control the weather - not as far as I can tell.

I hope that more sun is on the horizon. We'll all feel better, especially the farmers and the plants.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Seattle Sun - Not Impossible

I was in Seattle for 5 days at the very end of March and into the beginning of April. I started out teaching at my friend Carol Dearth's Rain City Cooking School . The class was small but attentive and the meal they produced was as good as what you would find in any upscale vegetarian restaurant. The menu included Potato & Watercress Soup with Sorrel Cream, Roasted Asparagus and Beet Salad with Herbed Citrus Dressing, Caramelized Onions, Leeks and Vegetables Wrapped in Phyllo Pastry, Braised Baby Artichokes with Dried Tomatoes, White Wine, Shallots and Garlic and for dessert -- Marinated Spring Strawberries . The rainy weather here in California made baby artichokes unavailable so I substituted water packed canned hearts and the dish was wonderful. The strawberries needed a bit of sugar but all was delicious. The class had the most fun with the phyllo dough which is one of my favorite ingredients to use in teaching since so many people are intimidated by the thought of using it, and then find it it's really not very difficult to use.

I went to Seattle to attend a conference of The International Associaton of Culinary Professionals. Many high profile chefs were in attendance including Jacques Pepin, Rick Bayless, Charlie Trotter, Roland Messier and more. I go for the education. Mostly what I learned is that I know a bit more than I sometimes think that I do. Charlie Trotter commented that seaweed is going to become more common place. You heard it here first.

As I got up from a talk at breakfast to use the rest room I ran into my friend Ken from Lotus Foods who carries the Bhutanese red rice. He was going to be doing a presentation that day. It was great to chat with him.

As I skipped out of another session with a well known Indian chef, I ran into a friend who works for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. She followed me out of the room so that we could set up a dinner meeting. And we did.

Since the weather was almost balmy we walked to the Elysian Brewery to possibly have dinner but the atmosphere didn't seem right. So we got directions to Lark, a 50 seat restaurant just 2 blocks away where they don't take reservations for small parties.
Laura and I didn't have to wait long for a table. The stafff made us feel very welcome and cared for. It was like eating in someone's home but they really knew how to cook. There wer no incredibly memorable small plates but the pasta with nettles was yummy. We were treated to a wonderful frozen Meyer lemon mousse, which was an extremely tasting end to the meal. Kelly, the hostess, called a cab for us and we left for our respective hotels.

The conference was interesting while somewhat exhausting. I was happy to arrive home except that I left the Seattle sun for the Sonoma County rain. Funny, isn't it?