Friday, October 14, 2011

Persimmons - a True Seasonal Fruit

My Aunt Donna grew persimmons in the orchard on her farm. Growing up, I remember my cousins picking buckets of the warm orange fruit and making moist, spicy persimmon pudding. We ate it on cold weekend afternoons with a glass of milk, staring out the window at the Fall leaves and kicking our thick-stockinged feet beneath the wooden table.

I grabbed six or seven persimmons at the farmer's market last weekend, thinking I'd re-create the pudding I enjoyed as a kid on my Aunt Donna's farm. But when I researched persimmons online, I found there were two different types. Hachiya persimmons are oblong and soft; these are used for pudding. Fuyu persimmons are round, like a tomato, and hard. These are for eating. I had bought the Fuyu persimmons. I was disappointed until I bit into one.

It's like the whole season of Autumn became a fruit on a tree. A Fuyu Persimmon tastes like a combination of pumpkin and pear, with the texture of a new plum. Highly recommended.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Quick Breakfast Option

I am not a morning person. Nor am I a "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" type. As a scrappy sleeper, I need quick and healthy breakfast options. The other day I encountered my old friend dried oatmeal packets, but found the one I was eating had a litany of suspicious ingredients. I decided to try making my own.

The basic idea of dried instant oatmeal: buy instant oats, then add whatever seasonings suit your fancy.

The nice thing was, most of the ingredients I needed were lying around my kitchen.

I dried my own fruit in a food dehydrator, but packaged fruit works easily as well.

Step 1: Make the oatmeal thickener. Add 1 cup oats, 1T wheat germ, and 2 tsp. flaxseed to a blender and pulsate until powdery.

Step Two: Stir powder into 5 cups of dried instant oats. (Since I was making three kinds of oatmeal at 5 cups each, I made three batches of the thickener.)

Step Three: Add whatever flavorings you choose! I added the following ingredients to three separate batches of five cups of oats:

Apple-Date Oatmeal
Stir in 2T cinnamon, 3T brown sugar, and 1 tsp. salt.
Then mix in 1.5 cups dried apples, 1 cup chopped walnuts, 1 cup chopped dried dates.

Lovely Blueberry Oatmeal:
Stir in 2T cinnamon, 3T brown sugar, and 1 tsp. salt.
Then mix in: 1 cup dried blueberries and 1 cup chopped pumpkin seeds.

Almond Peach Lavender Oatmeal
Stir in 2T vanilla powder (optional), 3T brown sugar, 1T chopped lavender, and 1 tsp salt.
Then mix in: 2 cups dried peaches and 1 cup chopped almonds.

Store oatmeal as desired - in one large or many serving-size Ziploc bags. Prepare as you would any packet of instant oatmeal.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What you pay for is...what you get?

Two high school students in New York used DNA barcoding to test the genetics of local food products, and came up with some surprising results.

"The new barcoding study by Tan and Cost uncovered additional examples and types of “mislabeled” food products:

An expensive specialty “sheep’s milk” cheese made in fact from cow’s milk;
“Venison” dog treats made of beef;
“Sturgeon caviar” that was really Mississippi paddlefish;
A delicacy called “dried shark,” which proved to be freshwater Nile perch from Africa;
A label of “frozen Yellow catfish” on Walking catfish, an invasive species;
“Dried olidus” (smelt) that proved to be Japanese anchovy, an unrelated fish;
“Caribbean red snapper” that turned out to be Malabar blood snapper, a fish from Southeast Asia" (1).

Read the article.
Watch the video.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Red Bell Pepper Sauce

Red pepper season! I picked up these beauties for 97 cents each. Quite a steal, considering they can be upwards of three dollars each. Red peppers are great sources of fiber and Vitamins A and C. A cup of red pepper has three times your daily requirement of Vitamin C. (1)

I turned to the Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook for a red pepper recipe, and found one for a red pepper sauce.

It involved sauteeing and simmering a mixture of red peppers, onions, brown sugar, garlic, fresh sage and salt until the veggies were very soft...

Uh-oh. This recipe involved pureeing the softened vegetables. My ACE housemates might remember how poorly this went - twice - when I tried to make tortilla soup. The blender disaster of 2007. Not sure the cupboards ever recovered. Thankfully it went better this time.

Meanwhile, my ground turkey, ziti noodles and mozzarella cubes waited in the wings.

Voila! The finished product. it might not look that great. But it was delicious. The peppers made a very sweet sauce and the mozzarella softened nicely. I'd make it again. You should make it, too.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

School District Cooking from Scratch

"...Already, the number of ingredients in an average meal — not to mention the ones that sound like they came from chemistry class — is plummeting."

Check out this New York Times article about a Colorado school district's overhaul of their cafeteria cooking. They are attempting to cook from scratch, which is cutting costs and eliminating many artificial ingredients in student lunches.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Home is where the Herb is

Ok everybody, squish together for a photo.

Back Row (L to R): Lavender, Basil, Rosemary
Front Row (L to R): Tarragon, Sage

These herbs live on my back porch. I have never grown lavender, tarragon or sage, but I've had great experience with rosemary, which is a hardy plant that lasts through the winter.

Having fresh herbs on hand enables you to add depth to any dish.

Basil recently made a guest appearance on my bruschetta:

How to cut basil:
1. Stack 4-6 leaves on top of one another.
2. Roll the leaves into a tube vertically.
3. Slice perpindicular to the stem to create thin strips.
4. Drizzle over pasta, bruschetta, garlic bread, or other foods.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

This Looks Fun

Check out's The Science of Cooking, a friendly and inquisitive website that reveals what's really going on when you bake bread, cook meat, and season foods. Recipes, activities, and visual aids help readers go to a level of cooking investigation that might actually make Nietzsche smile (see right).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Soft Pretzels

In honor of this:

I made these:

Yes, the soft pretzels were a big hit at our Sound of Music party. I served the pretzels with Plochman's mustard and they were all gone by the end of the night!

The recipe came from Daniel Leader's Local Breads book. I knew the twisty part would take all my cooking cunning, but the recipe was more involved than I expected. I cut butter into the flour with my fingers, like in a pastry recipe, and the formed pretzels had to be simmered in a mixture of water and baking soda for about 30 seconds just before baking.

In spite of the complicated steps, this recipe is a keeper.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cracker Face-Off

Snack Time. Which family favorite do I reach for?

You can eat almost twice as many Wheat Thins per Triscuit for the same kcal count, and Triscuits have slightly more fat. But check out the ingredients. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

Wheat Thins: Whole grain wheat flour, unbleached enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate {vitamin B1}, Riboflavin {vitamin B2}, folic acid), sugar, soybean oil, cornstarch, malt syrup (from barley and corn), salt, invert sugar, leavening (calcium phosphate and/or baking soda), whole grain barley flakes, triticale, vegetable color (annatto extract, turmeric, oleoresin). BHT added to packaging material to preserve freshness.

Triscuit: Whole grain soft white winter wheat, soybean oil, salt.

My guess is I'd feel fuller, longer, with half as many Triscuits, and without all the extraterrestrial ingredients.

Stay tuned for a cracker recipe I learned while baking with Mother Dorcas!

Banana Bread

I am making banana bread today and free-styling a bit off the recipe in Joy of Cooking.

1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup wheat flour
2-3 bananas, mashed (about 1-1 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter (the real stuff), softened to room temperature
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts
2 eggs

1. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Stir together butter and sugar in large bowl. Whisk in the mashed bananas and eggs.
3. Gradually add dry ingredients to the liquid mixture.
4. Fold in the walnuts.
5. Pour into one large loaf pan or several smaller loaf pans. Top with crumbled nuts.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Serve with tea and a good story.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

They Draw & Cook

Check out this fantastically fun website, where artists submit drawn recipes:

Hope you see me up there one day!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Variations on a Ciabatta

What a gift! January 9, 2011--Atlanta gets dumped on. There were at least 5 inches of snow on my car. I got the calling post from school on Sunday evening. Snow day Monday! I scuttled out to my porch to take in the wintry scene. My rosemary plant was giving me that look. Can we bake tomorrow?

Of course; what better to do with a day off? Thus begins the adventure of two fresh rosemary ciabatta loaves. I worked from baker Daniel Leader's ciabatta recipe in Local Breads. One turned into a pizza along the way. Who knew?

We'll start this recipe using a month-old starter that has been hanging out happily in my fridge, cultivating wild yeast particular to the Atlanta region.

Mix some of the starter, unbleached all-purpose flour, and lukewarm water. Leave overnight to talk amongst itself.

In the morning, make the dough! A note on flour: I mixed two types of flour for the ciabatta: unbleached, all-purpose flour and bread flour. Bread flour contains more protein than all-purpose, and that means it forms a better gluten structure.

Add flour and salt to the starter gradually until a very moist dough forms. Knead the dough until it is smooth and stretchy. You should be able to stretch a small piece so thin that you can see through it before it breaks. If you can't do this, keep kneading. Then, place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and leave it to rise, about 3-4 hours.

While you're waiting, set up your workspace. Put baker's parchment on two cookie sheets. Drizzle with ample amounts of flour. Flour a kitchen surface, like a breadboard or countertop. Then, take a romp in the snow. Wear those fancy boots you haven't worn yet this year and enjoy a cinnamon roll with the neighbors.

Done! Elapsed time: four hours.

In one fell swoop, separate the dough from the edge of the bowl with a rubber spatula or baker's helper and pour it onto your well-floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.

Stretch the dough across the well-floured baking sheet. Dimple the surface of the dough with your fingertips.

Set the dough aside for about 40 minutes to rise again. Bubbles should appear beneath the surface. Meanwhile, prep your ciabatta base. I blended fresh rosemary, olive oil, melted butter, garlic, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. We'll brush this over the top of the bread before baking.

Then, slice your toppings. I chose red pepper, green pepper, onion, tomato, and sausage. Hm...this is beginning to resemble a pizza. (A side note: the sausage I am using is an all-natural chicken sausage that contains no artificial preservatives and meat from chickens that were raised without hormones. These can be some expensive packages of sausage, so I grabbed a couple during a bogo sale and froze them.)

Brush rosemary mixture over ciabatta. Then, strew ingredients evenly over dough and press down with fingers to secure.

Bake at 475 for about 25 minutes, or until the ciabatta turns golden brown. (Hint: for a crispier crust, place a pan of ice cubes on the bottom rack of the oven while preheating. This creates steam and mimicks a bakery oven.)

Meanwhile, crumble about 3/4c goat cheese or a similar cheese of your choice.

Watch as the crust turns golden brown. About five minutes before removing from the oven, drizzle the goat cheese over the ciabatta. (Note:In retrospect, I think I would've added the goat cheese about 10 minutes earlier. It doesn't look quite cooked.)

Take this baby out of the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and let cool before cutting.

Done! Enjoy with a glass of red zinfandel and a side of snowed in.

As for the other ciabatta, I thought I oughta keep this one simple. I brushed the top with the rosemary mixture and baked it for about 22 minutes at 450.

Yum, check out that crumb structure! This is made possible by keeping the dough very wet (I think). Ciabatta keeps for about two days and should be reheated gently before serving. It'd go great with a minestrone soup, marinara, or dipped in some olive oil and spices.

Pomegranates: Worth Your Time

This is a pomegranate. Pomegranates are delicious.

A few years ago, a pomegranate juice craze began. You may have tasted the sweet, spunky dark red liquid, which is rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and K, potassium, iron, and folate. The juice is nutritious, but sugar-and calorie-dense.

Eating a pomegranate in its natural state--that is, crunching on the seeds encased by juice--offers some benefits beyond the nutrients in the juice. One pomegranate contains about 230 calories, 11g fiber, and 5g protein. It also contains 40g sugar, which is why pomegranate seeds are great to sweeten and season, but might make you crash when eaten in large quantities.

Pomegranates are a wintertime fruit, and I always associate their presence in grocery stores with Christmas. Now is a great time to buy the last batch of pomegranates because they are probably on sale. The best price I've found for pomegranates around Atlanta is 3 for $5. When you see pomegranates on sale, stock up--they last up to two months in the fridge.

Today we are going to cut into a pomegranate and harvest the seeds.

See that goofy top part? The part that looks like it belongs on the mouth of a muppet? That's called the "crown." You'll want to cut off the top of the pomegranate about half an inch below the crown.

Pomegranate murder! Just kidding. But the bright red juices of these ruby bombshells stain everything, so be careful! Cutting into the pomegranate reveals the juicy seeds, called arils.

Gently work the rind and membrane away from the fruit. You'll discover the pomegranate is separated into sections, kind of like a citrus fruit. If you're having trouble, you could try cutting along the membrane.

The arils are loose and will separate from the membrane with gentle prodding.

Gently "thumb" arils into a tupperware container. If you're having a hard time keeping the membrane from falling into the container too, you can put the arils in a deep bowl, then fill it with water and shake gently. The membrane will rise to the top and you can skim it off, then drain the arils.

Keep should have a nice-sized pile of rinds by now.

It should be easier to separate the pomegranate as you near the end...

Done! Refrigerate arils in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

A serving suggestion: Drizzle pomegranate seeds over leafy greens and goat cheese.

A note on the arils: some people enjoy pomegranate juice but don't like eating the arils because of the crunchy seeds. I'd encourage you to give the seeds a shot. Their crunch is satisfying. I eat them out of the bowl like cereal. They're also great stirred into yogurt. Pomegranates are often paired with meat for an exotic dinner dish. Click here for a recipe from Rachel Ray.

Think I'm an amateur when it comes to pomegranates? You're right. Check out the experts at for nutritional information, handling tips, and recipes. You can watch a video of someone opening a pomegranate at

Wonderful Inside. POM Wonderful. 2010.