Heaven forbid cooks pass up this rice

Superfoods mentioned in this week’s A la Carte story are just a few examples in a veritable pharmacopeia of ingredients, according to naturopathic physician Lissa McNiel.

Highlighting just a few in an upcoming class for Ashland Food Co-op, McNiel noted several others while chatting about the menu. Black rice was among those mentioned for its antioxidant content — as high as blueberries — and protein.

With all the good fiber of brown rice, black rice is much more striking on the plate. And it takes about half the time of brown rice to cook.  

The nutritional benefits of black rice are so great that, centuries ago, only Chinese emperors were allowed to eat it, according to legend, which gave the grain its other name: forbidden rice. If not forbidden, it’s still not exactly easy to find. I buy it at Shop’n Kart in Ashland or the local food co-ops.      

Try it in this recipe from The Washington Post, adapted from “Cooking With an Asian Accent,” by Ying Chang Compestine. One serving has 350 calories, 14 grams of protein, 43 grams of carbohydrates, 16 grams of fat, 2 saturated and 5 grams of dietary fiber.

The Washington Post photo

Forbidden Rice With Eggs, Tofu and Mushrooms

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce, plus more to taste

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces firm tofu, drained, pressed and cut into 1/4-inch cubes (may substitute cooked ham)

4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch slices

1/4 cup fresh or frozen/defrosted green peas

2 cups cooked, cooled black rice (see NOTE a)

1/4 cup raw, unsalted almonds, toasted and crushed (see NOTE b)

1/4 cup dried cranberries

In a small bowl, beat the eggs, soy sauce and sesame oil. Stir in half of the scallions.

Pour the oil into a large, well-seasoned, cast-iron skillet or wok over medium heat. Pour in egg mixture and swirl pan so it’s coated with mixture. Cook without stirring until egg is softly set, for a few minutes. Break up egg mixture with a spatula. Add the tofu, shiitakes, peas and cooked rice. Stir-fry until rice is heated through and mushrooms have collapsed, for 5 minutes.

Taste and stir in a little more soy sauce as desired.

Sprinkle with the almonds, cranberries and remaining scallions; serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

NOTE (a): For 2 cups black rice, first rinse 1 cup uncooked rice 2 or 3 times in a strainer. Then combine it with 1 3/4 cups water and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let rice sit, covered, for a few minutes, then fluff. Cool completely before using in a stir-fry, or serve immediately if using as a side dish.

NOTE (b): Toast almonds in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant, shaking pan to avoid scorching. Cool completely before using.

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Root for these local, seasonal vegetables

Sometimes all it takes is a few new suggestions to encourage people to eat their veggies, even the most familiar.

Carrots of all things brought customers out in droves Tuesday to Ashland’s Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market. Applegate farmer Josh Cohen, who kindly shared the story of his carrots, for last week’s A la Carte, encountered a number of farmers market first-timers who were “intrigued” by the sound his organic produce. That translated to 400 pounds of carrots sold, a bit higher than normal, Cohen said.

Carrot recipes with last week’s story included soup, pilaf and root-vegetable ragout. Then columnist Jan Roberts-Dominguez added to the bounty with a slate of salad recipes that accompanied this week’s A Fresh Approach.

If all that wasn’t enough rooting for root vegetables, this week’s A la Carte edition of Since You Asked played up parsnips, often touted as carrots’ ideal companion. Parsnips help round out the ragout. And because parsnips deserve their own follow-up, here are a few more tips with a short, simple recipe courtesy of McClatchy News Service:

Keep parsnips unwashed (moisture speeds decay) in a ventilated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Small, tender parsnips may be peeled and grated raw into salads.

Peel parsnips just before cooking just like you would carrots. If you find a bitter woody core in a large parsnip, remove it with a paring knife.

Parsnip Puree

6 to 8 medium-size parsnips

Whole milk, enough to cover

Salt and pepper, to taste

Peel the parsnips like carrots and trim away tips. Cut into equal-size pieces. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with the milk. Add a pinch or two of the salt.

Simmer (don’t boil) until parsnips are soft and tender. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer solids to a blender jar and blend until smooth, using a little cooking liquid at a time — just enough to allow some movement in blender.

Blend some more. Adjust seasoning and enjoy. Makes 4 servings.

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Beverage pairings enhance Girl Scout cookies

Speaking of cookies, it’s hard to ignore signs that we’re knee-deep in the season for Girl Scout sales.

Between the card tables piled with cookies in front of local grocery stores and the order forms circulating among office cubicles, a box of Thin Mints of Trefoils is almost sure to find its way home into the pantry. I’m even guilty of raiding the Thin Mint stash to complement my morning coffee.

In that same vein, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently suggested more pairings, namely of “adult” beverages, with the pantheon of Girl Scout cookies. The commonly held notion, of course, is that sweet wines, as well as rich, malty beers, generally go best with sweets. Otherwise, you run the risk of the food making the beverage taste too sour or bitter.

Here are more of the Post-Gazette’s suggestions.

Thin Mints — These all-time faves are among the strongest-tasting Girl Scout cookies, so you need a beverage that can stand up to the mint. Wine: a sparklingShiraz. Beer: a hoppy, chocolatey American porter.

Tagalongs — It can be difficult to balance beer with a heavier peanut-butter cookie, but a raspberry lambic does just that with its lightness and sweetness with a tart finish. Or consider a nutty port to complement the smoothness of the peanut butter and chocolate flavors.

Samoas with Irish stout beer (MCT photo)

Samoas — This cookie’s three predominant tastes — caramel, chocolate and coconut — require an equally complex wine. Think a fortified vintage with notes of orange and “spice on the nose,” followed by the rich flavors of toffee, caramel and spiced fruitcake. For beer, a dry, Irish stout fills the bill.  

Savannah Smiles — These lemony, sugary treats pair wonderfully with a Belgium-style saison, For spirit lovers, the bright-yellow, Italian liqueur limoncello echoes the flavor profile.

Do-si-Dos — Sherry is known for nut flavors, so choosing a medium-dry variety (which actually is somewhat sweet) is a natural for this crunchy peanut butter-filled oatmeal cookie. On the beer front, look for a medium- to full-bodied foreign stout with notes of chocolate and coffee, such as Guinness Foreign Extra Stout.

Trefoils — Shortbread cookies go a long way when you taste them with a doppelbock, a creamy, full-bodied caramel lager with a relatively sweet but dry finish. Champagne is a good bet for wine lovers because it provides finesse and nuance to complement the buttery notes of the shortbread

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Weekend of chocolate indulgence kicks off

A weekend of indulgence kicks off this evening with the chocolate-makers’ dinner at Ashland Springs Hotel.

Once again serving as a judge for the Oregon Chocolate Festival, I’m anticipating a marathon of tasting tomorrow to determine the best chocolate products in a variety of categories. But first check Facebook and Twitter this evening for photos of and comments on the multicourse meal highlighting chocolate.  

Last year’s festival highlight was chocolate in a baked good, specifically chocolate-filled pretzel bread by SunStone Artisan Bakery of Ashland. A previous post to this blog swooned over that sweet-salty treat that I could happily eat every morning with a good cup of coffee. Nutella on a baguette has nothing on these babies.

SunStone chocolate-filled pretzel bread (Sarah Lemon photo)

But sometimes you can’t beat a classic chocolate-chip cookie. Here’s a recipe from Oven Spoonful in Port Angeles,Wash.Devotees say they are big (about a quarter-pound), goopy on the inside, crunchy-chewy on the outside and taste of vanilla, salt and caramelized sugar. The recipe recently was reprinted by the Los Angeles Times.

Oven Spoonful’s Chocolate-Chip Cookies

¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 heaping cups (11¾ ounces) unbleached flour

2 cups chocolate chips 

Heat oven to 325 F. Line cookie sheets with parchment.

In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, add the butter. With mixer running, slowly beat in the sugars a little at a time until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. 

With mixer running, beat in the egg until fully incorporated, then beat in the egg yolk. Beat in the salt and baking soda, scraping down sides of bowl to make sure everything is evenly incorporated.

Slowly beat in the flour, mixing just to incorporate. Be careful not to overmix, or cookies will toughen. Gently mix or fold in the chocolate chips by hand.

Scoop about ½-cup portions of dough onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. This should make about 10 cookies; you can make smaller ones if you prefer. Space cookies evenly on sheets (only 3 cookies will fit on each sheet if making larger, quarter-pound cookies). Press cookies slightly to flatten once they are on sheet.

Bake cookies in preheated oven, 1 sheet at a time, until set and lightly golden, for 20 to 22 minutes for quarter-pound cookies; smaller cookies will bake in less time. Rotate cookies halfway through baking for even coloring.

Makes about 10 quarter-pound cookies.

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Click on cookbook this week for Big Library Read

As compensation for crashing his first cooking class last night, my 11-month-old son purchased his first cookbook.

Hopefully, “The Burma Cookbook” will inspire him and the whole family to travel and experience food as one of life’s great adventures. Regardless, the volume by Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne is a keepsake, both for its quality and our face-to-face meeting with the authors.

But lest my kitchen bookshelf collapse under the weight of copious cookbooks, I try to keep my collection to a minimum. There are those how-to books (Betty Crocker’s big red book, anyone?) that I keep on hand for quick glances at proportions, temperatures and times. At this stage in my cooking life, however, I try to keep paper references to a minimum.

Sure, there are plenty of downloadable cookbooks for purchase. Sometimes it’s nice to just get a taste of a particular cuisine, author or his or her recipes without committing to the purchase price. That’s why library-card holders should check out Library2Go, a service of the Oregon Digital Library Consortium.

Featured in February and March is “Keys to the Kitchen,” by Aida Mollenkamp. This reference “for becoming a more accomplished, adventurous cook” was tapped for the worldwide Big Library Read event. To encourage library users to participate, Jackson County Library Services makes the book available for download to any and all library-card holders. Usually titles are limited for download by the number of digital licenses the library owns.

There are just two more days left to download “Keys to the Kitchen.” So click on it, try it and tell us about your favorite dishes on the library’s and my Facebook pages.

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A weekend of culinary adventure awaits

After a lull of too many months, my culinary calling card finally is filling up.

At today’s Greatest of the Grape, I’ll be one of three judges to rank 28 appetizers from 14 participating restaurants and caterers. With 28 wineries on tap, that’s two dishes from each food producer. Check Twitter and Facebook later today for tidbits and photos from this event at Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville.

Fresh off that tasting marathon, I’m headed Sunday to a Burmese cooking class at The Willows Cooking School in Central Point. A few spots remained for Robert Carmack’s and Morrison Polkinghorne’s colonial installment from their new Burma cookbook, featured in the Feb. 19 edition of A la Carte.

Luckily for me, I’m most intrigued by that fusion concept and keen to share some tips for kedgeree with a friend who discovered the dish of rice and smoked fish in London and became a devotee. Carmack’s version also is among the 3,900 available in our online Recipe Box. Here’s kedgeree photographed by Polkinghorne for “The Burma Cookbook.” 

A native Oregonian, Carmack has written several cookbooks based on his experiences living abroad. But he’s also eager to check out Southern Oregon’s culinary landscape, including my native South Coast. Maybe I’ll be able to suggest some highlights for him at the class and hopefully continue my role as culinary tour guide for all of you armchair travelers checking social media.

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Duo of fennel flavors pasta with sardines

When I’m in the Willamette Valley, Marche Restaurant in Eugene’s Fifth Street Public Market is usually on the itinerary. Although the French bistro-inspired menu changes seasonally, some of the items, such as the wood-oven roasted mussels, are mainstays.

The supremely simple dish can handle numerous variations, most recently with fennel and Pernod, one of my favorites to date. A very similar way with mussels was offered with the Since You Asked column in this week’s A la Carte. Here’s the photo of Mussels in Sambuca.

MCT photo

Fennel seems to be enjoying something of a darling moment, as numerous publications around the country feature recipes using it in salads, soups and with seafood.

This pasta with fennel seeds and fronds comes from the Los Angeles Times. Sardines are another chef darling, owing to their status as sustainable seafood.

The Times vetted some brands of canned sardines to use. They include Crown Prince Skinless Boneless Sardines, Cole’s Portuguese Sardines in Olive Oil, Matiz Gallego Sardines in Olive Oil, Albo Sardines, Connetable Sardines a l’Ancienne and Les Mouettes D’Arvor “Ville Bleue.” While the first in that list is stocked in many grocery stores, the rest can be purchased online. Prices range from $2.69 to $9.50 for a little over 100 grams.

Pasta Chi Sardi a Mari

¼ cup golden raisins

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs

1 (80-gram) can sardines in olive oil

1 pound spaghetti

Salt, as needed

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes

¼ cup chopped fennel fronds

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Cover the raisins with hot water and set aside to soften. Place the breadcrumbs in a small skillet, add just enough oil from the sardines to moisten; toast over medium heat until bread crumbs are golden and fragrant, for about 5 minutes. Transfer to small bowl to stop cooking.

In a large pot of rapidly boiling, heavily salted water, cook the spaghetti until it is al dente, for about 12 minutes.

While spaghetti is cooking, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet large enough to hold all spaghetti. Add the garlic clove, fennel seeds and red-pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally until garlic has begun to turn golden, for about 5 minutes. Discard garlic.

Remove sardines from oil in which they’re packed, retaining oil. Add sardines to skillet and cook, breaking fish into bite-sized pieces with a spatula.

When pasta is done, drain it, reserving ½ cup cooking water. Add pasta to skillet, along with reserved cooking water. Drain raisins and add them. Add the fennel fronds and parsley, increase heat to high and cook, stirring continuously, until water has evaporated. Taste and add some reserved sardine oil if a stronger flavor is desired.

Scatter toasted breadcrumbs on top and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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Follow food editor at wine, chocolate festivals

Speaking of the Umpqua Valley, I’m headed to Canyonville Saturday for Greatest of the Grape.

This wine-pairing gala is billed as the state’s longest-running such event. While I’ve read plenty about Greatest of the Grape over the years, including editing wine columns that review it, I’ve never had occasion to attend until I was asked to serve as a food judge. Tough job!

If you didn’t manage to score a ticket to the Umpqua Valley Winegrowers‘ 44th annual fete at Seven Feathers Casino Resort, get an insider’s view from my posts to Facebook and Twitter throughout the evening. I’ll dish on what I loved most and, lighting permitted, pull off some photos that hopefully do the food justice.   

I’ll do it all over again the following weekend as a judge for the Oregon Chocolate Festival in Ashland. My chocolate festival posts got a fair number of “likes” last year, so keep em coming, food fans.

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Locally raised lamb is peerless in spring

Driving up Interstate 5 through the Umpqua and Willamette valleys this past weekend, I had to smile at the sight of lambs frolicking in adjacent pastures.

My smile grew to a veritable grin today at news that my lamb, the one I’d ordered last December, finally was ready — for the freezer, that is. Late to lay claim to a lamb in 2012, I had to go without through all of last year.

This tender, mild meat raised just down the road from my house is peerless, I’ve found, to anything in supermarkets or from other local ranchers. Thanks to Pam and Charlie Boyer for keeping me on their mailing list. Look for local lamb at independent markets, such as The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point and Rogue Meats in Sams Valley.

To celebrate, I’ll likely sear some chops to serve with a barely braised vegetable or crisp salad. But variations on stew won’t be far behind. I always request that the shoulders come broken down as stew meat, which makes this type of dish even easier. When stew weather is behind us, I can use the cubes for gyros or even coarsely chop it for burgers or meatballs.

The following recipe from McClatchy News Service is a prime example of the sort of dishes I love with lamb. Instead of squash, I may choose from the pantheon of seasonal root vegetables — sweet parsnips, slightly bitter turnips and earthy celery root — balancing the flavors with a variety.

Polenta is one of my favorite wintertime serving vehicles for this type of dish, one my husband and I also love with vinegary, braised greens and sausages.

MCT photo

Lamb Stew With Butternut Squash

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 1⁄2 pound lamb shoulder, in 1-inch cubes

Salt, to taste

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

3⁄4 cup carrot coins, thickly sliced

2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 cup chicken stock, plus extra if needed

1 cup red wine

2 sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish

1 sprig fresh rosemary

2 cups cubed butternut squash (3⁄4-inch)

Polenta (recipe follows)

Fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 325 F. In a heavy, ovenproof Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. With a paper towel, blot the lamb pieces dry and sprinkle with some of the salt. When oil is hot, brown half of lamb cubes on all sides, for about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove lamb to a plate and add more oil to Dutch oven if necessary. Brown remaining lamb and remove it from pot as well.

Turn heat to medium low and add the onion, carrots and garlic to pot. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until vegetables begin to soften. Make sure not to let garlic color too much.

Add the diced tomatoes, stock, wine, herbs and browned lamb, along with any juices that have accumulated. Bring stew just to a boil over high heat, stirring gently with a wooden spoon to release all brown bits from bottom of pot. Cover pot and transfer to preheated oven. Cook until lamb is just tender, for 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours.

When lamb goes into the oven, prepare the squash. Toss pieces with remaining oil and transfer to a small baking tray. Roast them (alongside Dutch oven) until they are just cooked through. Test pieces with tip of a knife or a cake tester. When they are done, remove from oven and set aside.

Before serving, stir squash pieces into hot stew. Thicken juices, if you like, with cornstarch slurry. To serve, spoon the hot polenta into deep soup plates and ladle stew over it. Garnish dishes with a thyme sprig and a good sprinkle of the freshly cracked black pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

POLENTA: To top of a double boiler, add 1 cup cold chicken broth and 1 cup quick-cooking cornmeal; stir well. Add 3 cups hot chicken broth and about 1⁄2 teaspoon salt (or to taste) and place over direct heat for about 5 minutes, stirring until cornmeal bubbles and thickens. Add a big lump of butter and stir. Place top of pan over simmering water in bottom half. Top with a lid and hold until serving time. Pour leftover polenta into a loaf pan and fry slices the following day.

— Adapted by McClatchy News Service from a recipe by Merrill Stubbs on the Food 52 blog.


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Classic Tex-Mex chili brings on the beans

Most of us have heard that beans aren’t among the ingredients in truly traditional chili. But that doesn’t keep most of us from including them anyway.

Inexpensive, high-protein beans, the subject of a story in this week’s food section, help stretch a little bit of meat. Plus a meal that includes beans with all their fiber and heart-healthy properties is more healthful than large portions of meat.

So here’s a classic chili recipe courtesy of The Washington Post to round out the ones for beans that ran in A la Carte. Put a few portions away in the freezer, so dinner is already made on one of these winter evenings. 

Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

Tex-Mex Chili

1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided

1 pound beef stew meat, cubed or cut into 1-inch chunks

1 pound lean ground pork or lean ground beef

Kosher salt or sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 medium white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded then coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno (seeding optional)

4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon mild or hot paprika

1 teaspoon ancho chili powder or chipotle chili powder

1 tablespoon sauce from canned chipotles in adobo, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 (28-ounce) can crushed, no-salt-added tomatoes

1 tablespoon dark-brown sugar

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

4 cups no-salt-added beef broth

30 ounces no-salt-added, homemade or canned pinto beans (drained and rinsed, if using canned; about 4 cups)

Sour cream, for garnish

Chopped, fresh cilantro, for garnish

Shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish

Crushed tortilla chips, for garnish

Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

In a large Dutch oven or wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil. Once oil shimmers, add the chunks of beef. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until meat releases from surface. Stir so meat begins to brown on all sides, then add the ground pork or ground beef. Season lightly with the salt and black pepper; cook for 5 or 6 minutes, stirring, so ground meat browns, loses its raw look and its juices evaporate.

Clear a space at center of pot; add remaining tablespoon of oil, then the onion, red bell pepper and jalapeno, stirring to coat. Cook for 5 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften, stirring frequently to keep them from scorching.

Clear a space at pot’s center again; add the garlic, crushed red-pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, paprika, chili powder, adobo, cumin and oregano, stirring to incorporate. Stir in the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, brown sugar and vinegar; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring a few times, to form a thickened mixture.

Stir in the broth; once mixture starts to bubble vigorously, reduce heat to medium. Stir in the beans. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a low boil; cook, uncovered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally; for a thicker chili, add up to 15 minutes to cooking time. Taste, and add adobo, salt and pepper as needed. Chili may be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up 6 months.

Divide among individual bowls. Serve the sour cream, cilantro, shredded cheddar cheese, tortilla chips and scallions at the table, so guests can garnish their own portions.

Makes 8 to 10 servings (makes a generous 11 cups).

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  • Blog Author

    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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