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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Recipe Review from 9/21/09

Okay, get your printers and/or pencils ready, this past weeks recipes were AWESOME!

I did Indian this week: Aloo Palak, basmati rice and pineapple lassi's. Heaven, simply heaven. And so simple too! Just two noteable changes to the Aloo Palak: I decreased the spices (which I did note below) because the amounts given just seemed like overkill, especially if you are using Penzey's spices. And I decreased the coconut milk as I didn't want soup. Creamy yes, runny no.

I served this over basmati rice and I winged this part: it was about 1/3 cup rinsed basmati rice to about 1 cups water (these are approximate amts as I really didn't measure). Put rinsed rice in ovenproof baking dish that has been lightly coated with oil; boil the water, add to rice. Cover tightly and bake for 45 mintues along with Aloo Palak. PLEASE NOTE: This only makes about 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice. It was all I had on hand...



Aloo Palak (Vegetarian Times, Sept 09)
2 10-oz. pkgs. frozen spinach, thawed and drained, liquid reserved
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3 cups) (I used 4 small yellow potatoes)
2 Tbs. garlic powder (I used 1 Tbs)
2 Tbs. curry powder (I used 1 Tbs)
1 tsp. ground cumin (I used 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp. salt (I used 1/2 tsp)
3/4 cup light coconut milk (I used 1/2 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Stir together spinach, 3/4 cup spinach liquid, potatoes, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, and salt in 9-inch square baking dish. Cover with foil, and bake 45 minutes.
2. Remove from oven. Stir in coconut milk, and transfer to serving bowl.



And lastly, the Pineapple Lassi. Oh, be still my beating heart! Modifcations here were I didn't used canned crushed pineapple - I had cut up a fresh one for my Green Smoothies so I just tossed in what I thought was comparable. I also cut the ingredients by 1/3 so I made just one serving instead of three.

My first lassi turned out runny, and recipe says it would be, so second lassi I upped the ice and added frozen mango chunks for a nice thick refreshing drink. Play around with this recipe to suit your tastes, it really is good.

Pineapple Lassi (Ckng Lght, Oct 2009)
A frothy South Indian yogurt-based beverage, lassi often contains seasonal fruit and spices. This recipe yields a drink that's a bit thinner than the average smoothie.

Yield: 3 servings (serving size: about 1 1/2 cups)

Ingredients
2 cups vanilla low-fat yogurt
1 cup canned crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
1/4 cup light coconut milk
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon bottled ground fresh ginger (such as Spice World)
6 ice cubes

Preparation
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender; process until well blended. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Superior Hiking Trail, Fall 2009

Saturday I found myself out on the Superior Hiking Trail for another Fall Guided Hike sponsored by the Superior Hiking Trail Association. I went on one last October that was amazing and so I found myself returning this year.

(View North from Bear Lake)

This segment was 11.1 miles (yes, that .1 mile is important!) from Silver Bay, MN, to Hwy 1 just north of Tettagouche St. Park. The first segment takes the hiker past Bean and Bear Lakes, with some truly stunning drop-offs and overlooks. Then the trail meanders its way down into maple/birch forest with a relatively flat stretch. But what goes down on the SHT must come back up again and you find yourself climbing climbing climbing up to Round Mtn and then after a little dip, up to Mt. Trudee with again, some fantastic overlooks.

(View West from Mt. Trudee)

But the trail doesn't end there, and it winds its way through Tettagouche St. Park, down across the Baptism River Gorge and up the opposite side. The trails through the park are wider and less cobbly than the SHT trail...that is until one gets to the that last .1 mile, where you hike straight up this rock knob, admire the amazing view, then follow the trail down to the parking lot at Hwy 1.

Like I mentioned above, this was a "guided hike"; we met at one trail head and half of the group shuttles everyone down to the opposite end. Forty-three people turned out for the hike on Saturday. The sun peeked out briefly, sending temps soaring to a humid 65*, then the clouds slid in and a breeze picked up moderating everything quite nicely. By 3p a front moved through pushing those clouds out and clearing the skys for a splendid late afternoon.

As I was last in line for the biffy at the trail head, I hiked with the "sweep" (the person designated to make sure everyone gets off the trail safely) a lovely gal from Rochester, MN. Because we were following the slowest person on the hike, it took us 8 hours to finish. I have no complaints, it was just simply too nice of a day to rush things. The bulk of the group probably finished in about five to six hours and the slower folks in seven.

I hope to get out on a couple more October hikes, but we will see how the weather cooperates. Next Saturday I will be lending a hand for some trail maintenance so I look forward to reporting back about that. Stay tuned!

(late blooming asters along trail)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Recipe Review 9/14/09

It must be Fall, the cooking is picking up again and I have one notable recipe to share this week and one so-so beverage.

If you recall from last weeks post with the brown and wild rice, I was left with some leftover rice. This next recipe caught my eye and was a great way to use it while it was still fresh.

Autumn Wild Rice Patties (Vegetarian Times, Oct 2009, pg 32) 4.5
The flavor of this was that of my favorite Thanksgiving Day stuffing! Now I will add that they turned out nothing like the picture the recipe gave, I didn't have enough binder to make the little patties work so I just plopped everything in a pan and cooked it up that way. Seemed to work fine - tasted fantastic. I also made my own cranberry sauce. I think there are a lot of things a person could do with these, such as use it as a stuffing for pork chops or stuffed peppers.

Autumn Wild Rice Patties
1 cup cooked wild rice
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup finely chopped small red onion
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup finely chopped, marinated and drained, artichoke hearts
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage (1 tsp dried)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1/4 tsp dried)
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (1/4 tsp dried)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup crushed saltine or rice crackers
1/4 cup chunky cranberry sauce

1) stir together wild rice, brown rice, onion, dried cranberries, artichoke hearts, pecans, oil, and herbs in a large bowl. Fold in eggs and then cracker crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Shape into 12 1/4 cup patties. (At this point, patties can be chilled for up to 24 hours.)

2) Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 4 patties to hot skillet and cook 3-4 minutes, or until browned and crispy. Flip and repeat until browned and crispy on opposite side. Repeat with remaining patties. Serve with chunky cranberry sauce.


This recipe came from a different source, my Yoga Journal magazine. Jury's still out on this beverage. It wasn't bad, but it didn't leap out and say "drink me again!"

Breakfast Tea (Yoga Journal Sept/Oct 09)

1 cup water
1/2 tsp fresh ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch ground cardamom
dash of milk for those of you with a "pitta" constitution (a yogic thing)

Bring water to a boil. Add spices, cover and let stand 5 minutes or so. Drink.


That's it. I didn't think the ginger flavor was all that prevalent, and the Cinnamon smelled fantastic but there again, no taste. It was rather like this fantastic smelling beverage that simple didn't taste like anything. I can get that with warm water and save my spices. I think the preparation for this needs to be a bit more like making homemade chai, where the spices are simmered for a while to release the essential oils and flavors. A 5 min soak just doesn't cut it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Green Smoothies

This one deserved a post all to itself...



The yoga studio I attend (Yoga North) has been raving about these "green smoothies". I've been watching rather dubiously as more and more folks have been running around with mason jars full of what only appeared to be pond water. You know, when it's August and the top of the pond is this vibrant shade of green; sometimes it's algae, sometimes it's duckweed and if you go swimming and you open your eyes under water and you can see the bits and pieces of aquatic vegetation suspended in the dappled sunlight...

Yes, mason jars of what appeared to be just that.

The green smoothie is from a book called Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko. The premise behind this blended green concoction is we don't eat enough veggies, and by making a smoothie out of greens and fruits we not only meet our daily intake of veggies and fruit we can surpass it. Boutenko and her family are raw foodist's and she found for her and her family that even with the amount of fruits and veggies they were eating, they hit a 'health plateau' and this was her answer to moving beyond that.

Now, this is my opinion only, but I found the book to be poorly written and the claims dubious. For example, early on in the book she was explaining why her family went raw-food and ultimately to raw-food and green smoothies: her son had type 2 diabetes, her husband had debilitating arthritis and could barely walk, someone else had severe allergies, and she had a heart arrhythmia. Yet they started the green smoothies and in three months they all ran a 10k. Um, right. I am in pretty decent shape between yoga, bicycling, spin class, gardening, hiking, etc, and I couldn't run a 10k without issues. Walk it - yes. No problemo. Run? No.

However, the premise of a green smoothie makes sense. You are drinking 12-16oz of blended spinach, kale, or Swiss chard with banana's, oranges, pineapple, mango's, cantaloupe, blueberries...pick your fruit, daily in addition to your regular diet. The initial quantities should be 40% leafy green veggie, 60% fruit, and water. Blend together and waa-la! You just drank a goodly portion of your fruits and veggies for the day.

So at the recent studio open house I got to try one. And it was good. Really good. So I went home and combined some Swiss chard leaves, a couple of banana's, part of an orange, water, and because I can't just follow a recipe without changing it, some yogurt. The yogurt is purely optional and not part of Boutenko's recipes. Result? A bit vegetal, but pretty darn good! I think I had too many Swiss chard leaves.

I've been drinking one daily for a week now: alternating between having it with breakfast or as a mid morning snack. I'm still trying to figure out how to transport it as I think it's best cold, plus I'm adding yogurt for the calcium and to make it thicker. My smoothies have to be thick! Frozen banana's are a great thickener as well.

Some folks are using it as a breakfast replacement because they really aren't breakfast people. Others are just noshing on it all day long (I recommend keeping it cold somehow - potentially fermenting fruits and veggies could do some less than interesting things to the digestive tract). I like it as a mid morning pick-me up or as a evening meal for those nights I get home at 8:00p from class.

And here's my basic recipe:

2 big handfuls (about 2 packed cups) spinach, Swiss chard, kale or a combination
2 banana's (can be frozen)
1 orange (or pineapple)
+/- 2/3 cup water
about 6 oz (2/3 cup) vanilla or plain organic yogurt (purely optional)

(I don't have a Vitamix blender - just a Cuisinart - so some extra hand chopping is necessary.)

Chop larger green leaves (Swiss chard) into smaller bits, place in blender with water. Start to puree. Once greens are blending well, add banana chunks and orange (try not to sploot green smoothie on cupboards or ceiling...) and then add yogurt. Makes 2 servings.

The Swiss chard and kale are going to be a bit more 'vegetal' tasting. Spinach is not as strong. Adjust fruit/yogurt to desired taste.


Other variations: pineapple and banana, peach and banana, peach and mango...use your imagination here! I did pick up some frozen peaches, mango, and blueberries to have on hand as they cost $$$ for fresh.

I like to make a batch in the evening so it's ready to go the next morning when I'm trying to get myself out the door and puppies fed and watered. One batch will last me two days. Like I mentioned above, I'm still trying to figure out how best to transport it for consumption later in the day. I'm also going to try experimenting with adding some soy protein powder as I need a bit more than my diet is providing right now.

Truly, this is really good and the fruit combinations are really versatile.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Mote In God's Eye by Niven and Pournelle


This is September's book group selection. I read it years ago and had it on the shelf. In the past, I haven't re-read books, but I've been finding that if I haven't read it in the last year, I don't remember the particulars well enough to participate in a lively discussion.

So I re-read this one. And liked it the second time as well.

Here is the standard published book blurb: In the year 3016, the Second Empire of Man spans hundreds of star systems, thanks to the faster-than-light Alderson Drive. No other intelligent beings have ever been encountered, not until a light sail probe enters a human system carrying a dead alien. The probe is traced to the Mote, an isolated star in a thick dust cloud, and an expedition is dispatched.
In the Mote the humans find an ancient civilization--at least one million years old--that has always been bottled up in their cloistered solar system for lack of a star drive. The Moties are welcoming and kind, yet rather evasive about certain aspects of their society. It seems the Moties have a dark problem, one they've been unable to solve in over a million years.


Captain Rod Blaine has been given his first star fleet command, the ship MacArthur to boldly go where no one has gone before and meet an unidentified object coming from the mysterious Mote. They find a cylinder with an alien. And yea, Capt. Rod Blaine is commanded to further go where no one has gone before (or at least for a very very long time) and find the home world of this mysterious alien. The starship Lenin is to follow, with the strictest command to blow the MacArthur to oblivion if the aliens attempt to learn any star fleet secrets.

Blaine sets forth with a ship full of scientists, a crew eerily similar to that of Captain Kirks, all under the watchful eye of the Lenin. What they learn...well, I leave that part up to you to find out. Aren't I a stinker? ;)

The first half of this book is pretty darn good. The second half drags. I did feel that this book was a flushed out Star Trek episode, complete with Scotty in the engine room. For a first contact, it was decent, each side trying to hide its secrets from the other. Each side dying to dissect a sample of the other. It was an interesting look at humanity (albeit from the 70's) and how we might approach an alien race that wants to know just as much as we do.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Recipe Review 9/7/09

Some awesome recipes this week! The first one I've included some additional recipes for cooking the rice and lentils. This is a great vegan and gluten free dish.

Foolproof Oven Baked Brown Rice (Cooks Illustrated, Issue #68)
1 1/2 cups long-, medium-, or short-grain brown rice
2 1/3 cups water
2 tsp unsalted butter or vegetable oil
salt

1) Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375*. Spread rice in 8" square glass baking dish.

2) Bring water and butter or oil to boil; covered, in medium saucepan over high heat; once boiling stir in salt (optional) and immediately pour over rice. Cover baking dish tightly with double layer of foil. Bake rice 50 minutes to 1 hour.

3) Remove baking dish from oven and uncover. Fluff rice with dinner fork and cover with clean kitchen towel and let stand 5 minutes. Uncover and let stand 5 minutes more. Serve.

My notes:
Skip butter/oil. Just spray or wipe casserole dish with butter or oil.
My oven only takes 50 minutes. I remove and let stand, covered, 5 or 10 minutes; then fluff and use.
Options - boil vegetable broth or chicken broth instead of water; or do 1 cup brown rice and 1/2 wild rice (rinsed).
Leftover rice can be frozen and used later.

Lentils
1/2 cup lentils
1 1/2 cups water

Check lentils for sticks and stones
Combine water and beans.
Bring to a rolling simmer; cook +/- 45 minutes, covered or partially covered (to prevent boil-over. Most of the water will evaporate/be soaked up. I like to cook about 30-40 minutes, then turn off heat and cover. Drain excess water off just before using.

Rice and Lentil Salad (Eating Well, Sept/Oct 09)
Prepare rice and lentils as described above. Start rice, then start lentils. Both will be done about same time. Both can stand and wait if the other isn't quite finished.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp finely chopped shallot
1/2 tsp paprika (smoked paprika if you have it)
1/4 tsp salt and pepper

Whisk together and set aside.

2 cups cooked rice
15 oz can lentils (rinsed and drained) OR cooked lentils from above (all of them)
1 diced carrot
2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley

Combine. Add vinaigrette from above and toss together.

Makes 3-4 servings.

My notes:
Cooked lentils are cheaper and you can make them at the same time as the rice. Can be served warm, room temp; or cold. I used swiss chard instead of carrot, using the whole stem and leaf so you can be creative on what veggie you add. Use what you have on hand: tomato, carrots, celery, spinach, etc.

I made this twice this past week: once for my lunches and again for a yoga studio staff potluck. It was hard to say how it was received as there were SO MANY good dishes. I did bring home a small tub of leftovers. Yay! More for me!




Shrimp Etouffee (Cooking Light, Sept 09)
I've linked to this recipe above. This was just excellent and fairly quick and easy. Make sure everything is "mise en place" so the cooking goes smoothly. This makes a lovely thick seafood stew which was just perfect for these shorter days and cooler evenings. I would recommend the addition of a splash of hot sauce at the end for those of you who like a bit more heat and flavor to your dishes.

My main changes included: I used 1/2 lb wild caught shrimp and a leftover frozen package of scallops. I also used Swiss Chard instead of celery, adding the whole stem and leaf. It added such a pretty color to the rest of the stew. Red bell pepper instead of green - I like the color and taste better. If your leery of the clam juice, don't been. It adds a great seafood background flavor that highlights the rest of the dish.

I served it over the leftover brown and wild rice I had made for the Lentil and Rice Salad.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Recipe Review from 8/31/09

Both the Mother and I receive a variety of cooking magazines. Currently I subscribe to Cooking Light, Eating Well, and Vegetarian Times. I had a long time subscription to Cooks Illustrated, but after 8 years it became a bit to repetitive for me. And I did try out Rachel Ray's magazine for a couple of years, but lost interest and didn't renew.

The Mother currently subscribes to Fine Cooking, Everyday Food, and the Food Network Magazine. It's the Fine Cooking that I find myself either stealing from her or picking up off the newsstand. I think the magazine has an eye catching layout, doesn't come across as pretentious like Bon Appetite or Gourmet, and the articles are well written.

I picked up the Aug/Sept 2009 issue from the newsstands and was drawn to this recipe:

Classic Eggplant Parmigiana (Fine Cooking, Aug/Sept 09, pg 78)

I liked to it as it is rather long to type out and I did do some significant changes:

Recipe calls for frying the eggplant. I just thinly sliced, sprayed with olive oil and baked it. Traditional? Probably not, but a heck of a lot easier in the assembly and time department. Baked @ 450* for about 20 minutes - enough time to assemble and cook the sauce.

I also thinly sliced and baked some zucchini and added it to the layers. To be truthful, my eggplant wasn't big enough after I had to cut out a yucky spot so I needed something extra on the fly. Zucchini was a nice addition.

Recipe states to saute garlic halves in olive oil before adding tomatoes, then remove toward the end of the cooking process. Seems a waste of perfectly good garlic so I diced it, sauteed and added the tomatoes.

I did use canned diced tomatoes. Just as good and 10x easier. Definitely drain. I was concerned there wouldn't be enough liquid and ended up with too much.

Assembly was as called for - layer just like a lasagna - and bake till cheese is golden and bubbly on top. This made a 9x9 dish. I got a good nine servings out of it. I do recommend baking in a glass dish though - tomatoes tend to react in a metal dish and I think it gives a pasta dish a slightly off taste.

I would make this again with the above modifications.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Garden Update

With Summer drawing to it’s languid conclusion, I’ve been busy busy busy trying to wrap up various yard projects and still have a bit of fun. Much to my surprise, despite our very cool summer, my garden has done all right.

I pulled out the peas a couple of weeks ago as powdery mildew was taking over and they were mostly done anyway. My zucchini has been coming on nicely; not so much that I’m overwhelmed, but enough that I can have some and give some away. The corn is ready to eat right now and I grilled a couple cobs on Sunday night when I had the parents out for dinner. Tomatoes are slow to ripen, even with my makeshift green house. The swiss chard is absolutely fantastic and I’m wondering when I should be picking my brussel sprouts and how.





Since the garden can be left alone to do it’s thing these days, I’ve been busy with a couple landscape projects: a retaining/decorative wall along the north side of my garage and a smaller decorative wall along my front lawn.

The Greater Wall, as I am calling it, is basically finished. I’m waiting for the sand to settle behind the blocks before I put down landscape fabric and rocks. The whole wall is about 40 feet long and has little steps on the far end.





The Lesser Wall is completely finished – that was my Labor Day weekend project.
To date, between the two walls, approximately 250 blocks have been moved in this endeavor and probably about 5 yards of sand.



But lest all that seems relatively dull, we had some further excitement:



Yes. A skunk. He showed up one morning and hung around for an hour. Not good when I need to leave for work and the two hounds need to pee before being kenneled. Then he was back the next day. Dogs and skunks are a bad combination; beside the obvious potential for being sprayed, skunks can be a carrier for rabies. The last think I wanted was a dog-skunk encounter. So the not-so-little skunk needed to be removed from the area. Two weeks after our first sighting, he was caught in a live trap and taken away.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Kalahari Typing School for Men (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #4)


The Kalahari Typing School for Men is book #4 in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

Outwardly, Mma Precious Ramotswe is mostly content: her business is established in the community and surrounding area, she has a house, two adopted children, and a fine fiancé. However, under the surface all is not so well. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni has not set the date for their marriage. Her assistant and assistant manager of Tolkwang Speedy Motors, Mma Makutsi, wants a husband. But worst of all, a rival detective agency has opened business on the other side of town!

Book #4 brought back same lighthearted spunk and determined doggedness that drew me to book one (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency)and two (Tears of a Giraffe) but were lost in book three (Morality for Beautiful Women). I liked how we got more than a glimpse into Mma Makutsi's emotions and her continuing frustrations at being the top graduate of the Typing School, but yet unable to find a suitable husband.

My only complaint with this book was the plot was more transparent than usual and I could see the results rolling out in front of me like a carpet. Still, not enough to distract me and I was able to just sit back and enjoy the story. I still recommend this series.