Bourbon-bacon pie crust perfect with pumpkin

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a lucky 30 participants will learn the “Lost Art of Pie Making” today at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center.

This class with a professional baker of 45 years is so popular that it sells out months in advance, before it was on my radar as a feature for the newspaper’s weekly food section. A bit of advice to all you pie enthusiasts: Look for it on the Extension’s new Master Food Preservers class schedule after the first of the year and sign up early.

Making pie crust from scratch is the main lesson in today’s class, which promised students an apple pie to take home and bake and an empty pie shell to fill with cream filling. I’ve always theorized that I make pie crust so rarely that the holidays are not the time to perfect it. So I keep reaching for the refrigerated, roll-out crust year after year. So does my mom for her pecan and pumpkin pie.

But the following recipe from the Los Angeles Times could convince me to try homemade pie crust this year. I’ve heard time and again how easy it is in a food processor. In fact, the Times’ recent article even recommended using the food processor for whipped cream.

My family likely would be won over by the subtle bacon flavor (who wouldn’t?), which has been getting plenty of play with Bourbon in the foodie world. It also helps that my parents’ preference for breakfast tends to yield bacon grease, certainly enough for this recipe.

With all that richness, whipped cream could put this dessert over the top. But it is traditional, after all. Just make sure it’s the real stuff, not “whipped topping.” Here are the Times’ tips for perfect whipped cream:

Start with cold ingredients and utensils: cold cream, cold whisk, cold mixing bowl (store your bowl and whisk or beaters in the freezer for several minutes before getting started, if possible). Your cream will whip faster if everything is chilled.

Add the sweeteners or flavorings just as the cream begins to thicken and gain volume. Taste and adjust

If you over-whip the cream and it begins to lose that smooth texture and become stiff and coarse, and you see it separate and begin to curdle, you may be able to fix it. Gently whisk in (by hand) a little more cream until you regain the proper texture. Of course, whip long enough and you may happily find you’re on your way to homemade butter.

Food processor method: Place the cold ingredients in the bowl (the bowl and blade do not have to be chilled) and process until you get the consistency you want, barely a minute or two. The texture is rich and superior to any others that Times recipe testers have tasted.

Tribune News Service photo

Pumpkin Pie With Bourbon and Bacon Crust

Pie Shell:

1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons cold bacon grease or shortening, cut into 3 pieces

5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons cold bourbon

2 tablespoons ice water, more as needed

Filling:

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups half-and-half

4 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons butter, melted

To make dough using a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt and sugar until thoroughly combined. Add the bacon grease and pulse until incorporated (dough will look like moist sand). If using shortening instead of the bacon grease, increase the salt by 1/4 teaspoon (to 3/4 teaspoon). Add the butter and pulse just until butter is reduced to small, pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle the bourbon and water over mixture, and pulse once or twice until incorporated. Remove crumbly mixture to a large bowl and gently press mixture together with a large spoon, rubber spatula or palm of your hand just until it comes together to form a dough. Mold dough into a disc roughly 6 inches in diameter. Cover disc tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

To make dough by hand, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and sugar. Add the bacon grease and incorporate using a pastry cutter or fork (dough will look like moist sand). If using shortening instead of the bacon grease, increase the salt by 1/4 teaspoon (to 3/4 teaspoon). Cut in the butter just until it is reduced to small, pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle the bourbon and water over mixture; stir together just until incorporated. Gently press crumbly mixture together with a large spoon, rubber spatula or palm of your hand just until it comes together to form a dough. Mold dough into a disc roughly 6 inches in diameter. Cover disc tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into a round roughly 13 inches in diameter. Place in a 9-inch baking dish, crimping edges as desired. Freeze formed shell for 20 to 30 minutes before filling and baking. For a nice sheen, brush the crust with egg white before baking.

For filling, in mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, brown and granulated sugars, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Beat until well-blended. Add the half-and-half, eggs and butter; stir to combine. Pour filling into prepared pie shell. Bake at 425 F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F and bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature or chill before serving.

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie.

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Pumpkin, salted caramel pair tradition, trendiness

Just as foods that evoke pumpkin pie are riding a wave of popularity, salted caramel has been a food darling for some time now. Salted-caramel lattes can be found on coffee-shop menus along with pumpkin ones, mentioned in a recent food-section story. And salted-caramel stouts have even cropped up to complement the pumpkin beer craze of the past few years.

So it’s only natural to combine trendy salted caramel with traditional pumpkin throughout this month and through the cold season when warming spices and decadent desserts are most welcome. Try this recipe, one of several featuring pumpkin that I’ll share in the next couple of weeks, courtesy of Tribune News Service. The salted caramel sauce could be drizzled over your pumpkin ice cream, too, or swirled into your latte.

Tribune News Service photo

Salted Caramel-Swirled Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup light-brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Pinch salt, optional

1 egg

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature and very soft

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 heaping cup pumpkin purée

2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup thick salted caramel sauce (reipce follows; or use store-bought, but not use ice cream or sundae sauce made with corn syrup listed as the first ingredient; it will be too thin)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on 2 sides, and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

For crust: In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power. Add the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cornstarch and salt, if using. Mix well with a fork to combine. Pour crumbs into prepared pan and use a spatula to pack mixture firmly into pan in an even, flat layer. Set aside.

For filling: In a medium bowl (you can use same, unwashed bowl), combine the egg, cream cheese, sugar, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla, and whisk (or use a mixer) until smooth and combined. Softer cream cheese makes it easier for mixture to come together. Add the flour and mix just to incorporate. Do not overmix.

Pour filling into crust. Top with the caramel sauce, swirled in a fanciful design.

Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes or until center is set with very little jiggle; some looseness is OK, but there should be no sloshing in center. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out mostly clean or with just a few moist crumbs. Cool bars in pan for 1 hour before lifting out, using the foil overhang, and slicing. They are best when served chilled: Cover pan with foil and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight before slicing and serving. Bars will keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Makes 12 servings.

SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water. Heat over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a boil without stirring. Carefully use a wet pastry brush or damp paper towel to wipe down any crystals that cling to sides of saucepan. Failure to remove them could result in a grainy sauce. Boil until mixture is a deep amber color, for about 5 to 6 minutes; it will turn color fairly quickly. Remove pan from heat and carefully whisk in 3/4 cup heavy cream; mixture will bubble up vigorously. Add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract; it will bubble up again. Stir in 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste (if using table salt, use less — perhaps 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon). Transfer caramel to a glass or heatproof jar with a lid. Caramel sauce will keep airtight for months in refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup.

Recipe from “Cooking With Pumpkin” by Averie Sunshine.

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Egg-rich flan is a stunner for holiday spreads

Pecan pie prominently featured on the front of Wednesday’s food section probably evokes holiday decadence more than health.

And with two types of nuts and dark chocolate, the dessert has its decadent elements while also promoting a dietary regimen that eliminates refined sugars and most grains, in particular. Healthful fats actually are a cornerstone of eating well, according to nutritional therapist Summer Waters, who is hosting a Thursday demonstration of healthful holiday desserts with a related lecture. See more details about the “Nourishing Foods” class in a recent story in the newspaper’s food section.

Waters shared recipes for the pecan pie and a coconut candy to accompany the story, but she mentioned several other ideas, namely egg-rich custards with naturally sweet coconut milk. That concept certainly would fill the bill for a “stunning” holiday dessert touted in the story.

Here’s a contender for your holiday table later this month. Although Waters would not approve of its sugar and sweetened milk, this recipe, courtesy of Tribune New Service, delivers on the eggy, creamy front. The chocolate graham crackers likely could be replaced with a mixture of nuts and dark chocolate or cocoa powder, as directed in Waters’ pie recipe. Or the cracker crumbs could be omitted entirely without affecting the flan.

I’ll share more pumpkin dessert recipes here in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Flan With Chocolate Crust

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup half-and-half

1/2 cup or 4 ounces cream cheese

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

5 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or canela

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Pinch kosher or coarse sea salt

1 1/2 cups coarsely crushed chocolate graham crackers

In a medium saucepan, set over medium-low heat, heat the sugar, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 6 to 8 minutes, or until fully dissolved and caramel-colored. Quickly pour caramel into bottoms of 10 individual ramekins, swirling around to coat bottom of each. Work swiftly as caramel hardens fast.

Heat oven to 350 F.

In a food processor or blender, combine the half-and-half, cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, pumpkin puree, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and salt; puree until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into prepared ramekins, filling to ¼ inch below rims. Top each ramekin with 2 generous tablespoons of the crushed crackers; don’t press them down. Place flans in a large baking dish or roasting pan; fill pan with hot water halfway up height of ramekins.

Cover pan lightly with aluminum foil. Carefully place in preheated oven and bake for 50 minutes; flans should look completely set.

Remove from oven, remove aluminum foil and remove each ramekin from water bath. Let flans cool completely before covering with plastic wrap and placing in refrigerator. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. When ready to eat, run a small knife around edge of each flan all the way to its bottom. Invert dessert plate over ramekin, flip over and shake slightly to release. Leave ramekin on top of flan for a minute or so, so all caramel sauce can run over flan.

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Squash-a-thon brings food, volunteers together

Area food pantries will have plenty of locally grown winter squash this season after Saturday’s squash-a-thon.

More than 1,000 pounds of squash from Wandering Fields Farm in the Little Applegate Valley will be processed from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at the ACCESS kitchens in Medford. For gardeners and anyone interested in seed-saving, there’s the added component of saving seeds for the farm to replant next spring.

Interested in helping? Contact Philip Yates at pyates@accesshelps.org and make sure to bring an apron and knife.

This event would be good networking to get involved in the ACCESS Cooking Skills Education program. Free training is coming up for would-be Cooking Skills Educators who, since February, have hosted 89 cooking demonstrations around the valley featuring simple recipes with seasonally fresh ingredients.

More than 2,500 people have sampled the dishes prepared by 60 CSEs, observed the cooking process and received answers to their food-related questions. Demos have been held at food pantries, farmers markets, grocers, other businesses, apartment complexes and various community events. The program was created in partnership with Oregon State University Extension, THRIVE and Ashland Food Co-op.

The next two-part training for CSEs will be in early December. Proficient home cooks who can volunteer their time hosting one demo per month can apply by contacting Robin Carnahan at rcarnahan@accesshelps.org, or call 541-690-3989 and leave a message including a full name and email address.

Most home cooks worth their salt know how to tackle a hard-shelled squash. But if you need a crash course before the squash-a-thon or bringing one into your kitchen, The Washington Post recently produced a short , step-by-step video that can help.

And with the wide variety of winter squash available this time of year, it also helps to be familiar with some of the types you’re likely to encounter. Here’s a guide that also ran in the Post.

PUMPKINS

Jarrahdale: This blue pumpkin has golden-orange flesh that is fine-textured and sweet. Good in pies, it is also versatile in soups and stews.

Lakota: It’s a pear-shaped pumpkin with crimson-orange flesh that is delicious when raw — grated in salads or slaw — but also good in chili.

Sugar: Sweetness, texture and flavor make this small pumpkin great for pies.

Peanut: Named for its peanut-shell exterior, this pink-skinned pumpkin is lighter in density than most other pumpkins and is mild and fluffy when baked. It can be eaten straight out of the oven and is also good for soups and stews and baked with a pot roast.

Cow: One of the creamiest pumpkins, with excellent flavor, this large variety works well in pies, puddings and soups.

Caribbean: Its firm yellowish-orange flesh is mild and sweet. Saute it with scallops in a white-wine sauce and serve over buttered noodles.

Delicata squash (Washington Post photo)

OTHER SQUASH

Delicata: Fans love the sweetness of this squash, which is delicious filled with a savory stuffing.

Red Kuri: Raw or baked, this rich-flavored, fine-textured squash can be added to soups and stews, or eaten plain.

Buttercup: Enjoy this smooth-textured squash baked and eaten plain.

Pink Lady: Similar to the Red Kuri and Buttercup varieties, this yellow-orange squash has a smooth texture. Use it as an alternative to butternut squash in pureed soups. Flavorful and light when baked, it’s also good in pies, bread and muffins.

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Quick pickling yields fast fall flavors

In preparation for one of the latest’s frosts in the valley’s history (which has yet to materialize), gleaning from my garden became a priority.

All the peppers that have clung to their plants through several downpours would be wasted if they didn’t come inside. Ditto for the eggplants weighing down their tired bushes, yet so small they wouldn’t make one more dish of eggplant Parmesan.

Both of those are likely candidates for oven-roasting, the eggplant to puree into baba ghanoush and the peppers to blacken, peel and freeze for chilies and curries and other stewlike dishes that won’t suffer from their inevitable lack of texture when pulled from the freezer.

But with quart bags of last year’s roasted peppers still reposing in the freezer, I’m more inclined toward quick-pickling as many as I can fit, particularly the jalapenos, in a few pint jars. After reading a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, I realized I could quick-pickle other bits of produce to enjoy a few months down the road but not in such large quantities that they’ll consume undue time and effort on my part.

This method could be warranted for the few Gravenstein-type apples on a tree in the yard. While they have impeccable flavor and texture, the trick is picking one that hasn’t suffered some type of bug damage amid our neglect. The prospect of paring away so many bad spots discourages me from simmering the apples into sauce. But I certainly could prepare a few for packing into canning jars and quick-pickling.

Ditto goes for cranberries. I almost always stash an extra bag away this time of year in the freezer. But why not pickle them, as well? I fell in love with this flavor a few years ago after receiving a jar of pickled cranberries from fermentista Kirsten Shockey, author of the new book, Pickled Vegetables. Thanksgiving guests just may prefer them to sugary sauce.

Los Angeles Times photo

Quick Pickled Apples

1 cup white-wine vinegar

1 cup honey

2 sticks cinnamon

1 tablespoon whole allspice berries

1 teaspoon salt

1 whole nutmeg, cracked

1 vanilla bean, split

1 1/2 pounds sweet/tart apples such as Braeburn or Gala

In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar and honey with 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the cinnamon, allspice, salt, nutmeg and split vanilla bean. Cover and simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes to marry flavors.

While liquid is simmering, core and quarter the apples (they do not have to be peeled). Slice each quarter lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place in a nonreactive bowl.

After liquid has simmered, remove it from heat and pour liquid and spices over apples. Weight apples down using a heavy plate so they stay submerged in liquid.

Refrigerate apples for at least a day to give flavors time to develop. Pickles will last, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks. Makes a generous quart.

Los Angeles Times photo

Quick Pickled Cranberries

2 cups cider vinegar

2 cups water

2 cups maple syrup

3 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon whole cloves

4 whole star anise

Zest of 2 oranges (zest cut into long strips using a vegetable peeler or knife)

About 1 tablespoon very thinly sliced fresh ginger rounds

2 (10-ounce) bags fresh cranberries (or frozen, thawed)

In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar and maple syrup with 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the cinnamon, cloves, star anise, orange zest and ginger. Cover and simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes to marry flavors. Add the cranberries to liquid. As soon as liquid comes to a simmer once again, remove from heat.

Pour cranberries, liquid and spices into a nonreactive bowl. Weight cranberries down using a heavy plate so they stay submerged in liquid.

Refrigerate cranberries for at least a day to give flavors time to develop. Pickles will last, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.

Makes a generous quart.

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Seven spooky snacks are savory Halloween fare

We’ve already road-tested at least one festive recipe for the coming holidays. My husband conjured a turkey meatball with dried cranberries, doused in a spicy, fruity, vinegary sauce for a recent pumpkin-carving party. It was only after he recited the ingredients a few times that he took to calling them Thanksgiving meatballs, albeit a month early.

But they went over remarkably well on a buffet that skewed more toward sweet than I expected. Because on top of all that Halloween candy that’s soon to haunt the house, I want to whet my appetite on something besides sugar cookies, crisped-rice treats, caramel corn, even comparatively wholesome caramel apples.

Instead of serving the fruit with a side of sugar, the Los Angeles Times suggested simply carving apples and oranges (veggies, too) into simple jack-o’-lanterns before packing into lunch bags or serving as snacks. If preparing ahead of time, dab the carved areas with a little lemon juice to prevent the fruit from browning.

Here are seven more spooky but savory suggestions, courtesy of the Times, that will fill the little ones up before trick-or-treating.

Tomato soup with ghost toasts: Cheesy ghost-shaped toasts are a perfect garnish for creamy tomato soup. Layer a thin slice of cheese over sliced bread, using a cookie cutter to cut out the ghost. Toast the bread in the oven or toaster until the cheese is melted, and use peppercorns to make the eyes.

Witches’ fingers breadsticks: Cut premade breadstick dough into finger lengths. Place the fingers on a baking sheet, pinching the dough together in places to form knuckles. Top with egg wash and sliced almonds to make the finger nails. Serve alongside the tomato soup or a pesto or marinara dipping sauce.

Los Angeles Times photo

Ghost-shaped pizza: Form your pie into the shape of a ghost using homemade or store-bought pizza dough. Use traditional pizza toppings to form the eyes and mouth before baking.

Scary guacamole: Spread out your guacamole in a large shallow bowl, using cut olives, peppers, onions, cilantro and more to create bugs and other ghoulish decorations.

Los Angeles Times photo

Pumpkin-faced quesadillas: Use a large cookie cutter to make pumpkin-shaped tortillas, and top with thin layers of refried black beans and grated cheddar cheese. Top the cheese with more pumpkin-shaped tortillas, but cut out a jack-o’-lantern face before heating to melt the cheese. Delicious with the scary guacamole.

Witches brew burritos: Use green tortillas to wrap up a tasty chicken filling with a smear of scary guacamole. Or serve the avocado dip on the side.

Spiced popcorn: Come home from canvassing the neighborhood to this wickedly spicy snack blend. Toss freshly popped corn with melted butter and ground chipotle, chili powder, garlic powder and cumin. But don’t just save this one for Halloween. It’s a delicious alternative any time to plain, salted popcorn, particularly with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

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Quick breads take well to gluten-free ingredients

Quick breads and muffins often are the most forgiving introduction to gluten-free baking. These also are some of the most popular items, along with cakes, cookies and brownies, produced by Ashland-based Sterling Silver Food Company, which supplies about a dozen coffee shops and grocers locally.

Featured in this week’s A la Carte, “The Sterling Silver Food Company Gluten Free Guide and Cookbook” has no recipes for yeast breads but plenty to set mouths watering. Recipes are accessible to anyone, says author and baker Nancy Shulenberger.

Indeed, she simplifies the tedious and sometimes messy task of blending several types of gluten-free flours by using Tom Sawyer brand (www.glutenfreeflour.com), which she says is a reliable, cup-for-cup substitute for wheat flour in any recipe. Her recipes even could be reversed and made with wheat flour without any other adjustments, she says.

Some purists take issue with Tom Sawyer’s use of gelatin as a texturizer. And there are plenty of cookbooks out there that combine several alternative flours in items that are not only gluten-free but boast an improved nutritional profile from ancient “grains” such as quinoa, millet and amaranth (all botanically seeds), covered in this blog’s previous post. But as Shulenberger points out, gluten-free sweets are hardly health foods when they contain butter, eggs and dairy, as hers do.

Here’s a banana bread recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, that draws on the popularity of coconut oil and agave, although the eggs and buttermilk mean it’s not vegan. It combines quinoa and amaranth flours, along with almond meal, also sometimes labeled as “flour.”

Banana Bread

2 medium bananas, peeled and mashed

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup agave syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 eggs

1 cup quinoa flour

1/4 cup almond flour

1/4 cup amaranth flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 5-by-7-inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, Mix together the bananas, coconut oil, honey, vanilla and eggs until completely combined. Add in all the flours, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and stir until all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Pour mixture, which should be quite wet, into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle chopped almonds evenly over top. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until bread is golden-brown and a knife comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Keep tightly wrapped for up to 3 days.

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There’s a method to mix, match alternative grains

Gluten-free grains, from left: amaranth, chia, millet, quinoa, and teff. MCT photo

Gluten-free flour, specifically Tom Sawyer brand, is the basis for many recipes by a popular local food company.

There’s more than baking, though, in “The Sterling Silver Food Company Gluten Free Guide and Cookbook,” featured this week in A la Carte. Author Nancy Shulenberger appropriately is known for her baked goods, but she has years of experience devising gluten-free menus for her family. The book’s section on alternative grains is a nice primer for anyone embarking on this lifestyle.

Whole grains, gluten-free and otherwise, also are the focus of the new book “Amazing Grains: From Classic to Contemporary, Wholesome Recipes for Every Day,” by Ghillie James (Kyle Books, $29.95).

Tackling more than a dozen grains, James also includes amaranth, buckwheat, chia and quinoa, often called “pseudograins,” for their similar nutrient profile but also because they can be used in ways similar to cereals.

For whole-foods cooks, much of this is old hat. But I found a recent Chicago Tribune article on James’ book interesting for its explanation of how to combine more than one grain in a variety of dishes.

Turns out, there is a method to mixing and matching grains. Using a mix of whole and pearled grains or pseudograins makes a recipe lighter, delivers more flavor and maximizes nutrients, says James. She also likes to combine grains and legumes.

For example, James likes to mix mild, crunchy quinoa with the nutty, slightly malty amaranth in a salad with roasted pumpkin wedges and macadamia nuts. In another salad, she mixes nutty, earthy buckwheat with mild quinoa before adding green beans, arugula, peaches, mozzarella and prosciutto.

There are a few caveats. Follow grain-cooking instructions for precise results. If a number of grains are boiled together, you can risk a “stodgy mess!” This is why some recipes cook different grains separately before combining them, although quick-cooking grains can be added later to a pot of slow-cooking grains.

And pay attention to proportions of ingredients. “People often cook way too much grain and not enough added extras,” says James. “Think of the grains as the canvas and add a colorful variety of things to it.”

Here are a few more tips:

Make sure grains are not stale or rancid

Cooking times can vary from 10 minutes (buckwheat) to 60 minutes (rye berries).

Whole grains generally require longer cooking times than pearled (refined or processed) grains.

If you like grains with bite, keep testing so you don’t overcook them.

Toast grains for extra flavor: Place grains in a dry skillet; heat gently, stirring, until evenly toasted. Cook as usual.

Then combine grains in James’ five-step salad:

To cooked grains, add some fruit/vegetables (cucumber, scallions, radish, celery, peppers, tomato, corn, asparagus, apple, avocado, grapes, grated carrot, dried apricots, green beans, snow peas).

Throw in some crumbled feta, drained canned tuna, cold crispy bacon, leftover roasted meat or sausages, shrimp, goat cheese, white beans or chickpeas.

Sprinkle with some nuts and seeds (pumpkin, chia seeds, toasted almonds, pine nuts).

Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Season well.

Here is a more in-depth guide to several gluten-free grains mentioned in both James’ and Shulenberger’s books:

AMARANTH

Color: Sand-colored seeds.

Taste: Mild, nutty, slightly malty.

Texture: Some crunch, slight oatmeal-like consistency. Can get gluey, so mix with a drier grain such as oats.

Use: Boil whole for salads or sides. Or toast in a dry skillet.

MILLET

Color: Cream to black.

Taste: Creamy; nutty if toasted.

Texture: Creamy when cooked longer.

Add: Cook whole for stews or salads. Add to breads or toast in a skillet.

QUINOA

Color: Usually white; also black or red.

Taste: Mild, slightly grassy flavor.

Texture: Slightly crunchy.

Use: In soups and stews. Works in salads. Add to fritters and burgers.

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Eggs make for economical, unconventional curry

The simplicity of Burmese cuisine, mentioned in a previous post, extends to its sparse use of protein.

Eggs are more commonly consumed in Burma than meat, according to a recent story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That works just fine for adapting this dish to my kitchen, where eggs are cooked almost every day.

As I noted before, Burmese food combines the culinary influences of all its neighbors. That’s particularly evident in this dish’s tamarind paste and fish sauce, often seen in Thai food, abutting Indian chili powder and turmeric.

There also are tomatoes, so liberally used in Burma that it can bring to mind Mediterranean fare, said an Oregon chef for my February story on the subject. Aside from a few specialty ingredients, which can be omitted, this dish is an economical meal for four and requires little hands-on time.

Tribune News Service photo

Burmese Egg Curry

1 small bunch cilantro

3 medium onions, peeled

1 tablespoon peanut oil or other vegetable oil

1 (14.5-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon tamarind paste, 1-inch cube of tamarind block or 1 teaspoon lemon juice (see note A)

6 curry leaves (optional)

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon Indian chili powder or cayenne (see note B)

1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

8 large eggs

Cucumber slices for garnish

Radishes, for garnish

Cut stems off the cilantro and mince them, reserving leaves for later. Dice the onions finely.

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil; add minced cilantro stems and finely diced onions. Saute until onions become tender, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tamarind paste, optional curry leaves, paprika, turmeric, chili powder and optional fish sauce.

Simmer lightly for 2 hours, until mixture reduces. Use a hand blender or potato masher to get rid of any lumps.

While curry simmers, place the eggs in a saucepan and cover by an inch or 2 of water. Bring to a boil, lower temperature to a hard simmer and cook 4 minutes. Run eggs under cold water to stop cooking. Peel eggs and slice in half; yolks should be creamy, somewhere between hard-boiled and soft-boiled.

Add egg halves to simmering sauce and stir until coated. Serve immediately over hot rice. Sprinkle some reserved cilantro leaves on top and serve the cucumbers and radishes as a garnish.

Makes 4 servings.

NOTE (a): If using a tamarind block, available at Asian markets, soak the cube overnight in 1/2 cup boiling water until it breaks down into a thick paste; remove stones and fibrous bits.

NOTE (b): Indian chili powder, which is always spelled “chilli,” can be found in international stores; do not use Mexican chili powder, which is not the same thing. Both Indian chili powder and the suggested substitution of cayenne are very hot; use less, or even much less, if desired.

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Green beans go global from gleaning garden

Returning home after a week away puts me in the mood for home cooking, despite the near-empty refrigerator.

In fall, of course, it isn’t such a hardship. Not when the garden is still producing enough kale, squash, tomatoes, even green beans to compose a meal. Foraging last night for pizza toppings, I managed to scavenge enough beans hidden among the vines to inspire the next evening’s dinner.

They could be the canvas for Salade Nicoise, a toothsome addition to Thai- or Indian-style curry, a study in green with pesto-tossed pasta, or sautéed for a simple side dish. This way with green beans is inspired by Burmese cuisine, the subject of a February story in A la Carte.

Simpler combinations of spices distinguish Burmese food from that of its more high-profile neighbor, Thailand. Combining Thai influences with Chinese, Indian, even Laotian and Bangladeshi, Burmese food recently captivated food writer Daniel Neman, who didn’t even have to leave St. Louis to try it.  This recipe accompanied Neman’s story for Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Fried Green Beans

3/4 pound (12 ounces) green beans

1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

1/2 tablespoon oil (not olive oil)

2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce

2 teaspoons oyster sauce

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

Rinse and trim the green beans. Place paper towels on a plate and set aside.

Put a small skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and toast until golden-brown, stirring and tossing seeds frequently to keep them from burning. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the chili-garlic sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce. Set aside.

In a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add green beans and saute for 5 minutes until done. Remove beans to prepared plate to drain on paper towels.

Return beans to wok or skillet on medium-high heat. Add chili-garlic sauce mixture and stir or toss to coat well. Add sesame oil for fragrance and immediately remove to serving platter. Sprinkle liberally with toasted sesame seeds.

Makes 4 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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