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Archive for the 'Recipes' Category

Dark Days Challenge: Creamy Parsnip Soup

When the Unicyclist and I have special events to celebrate, our restaurant of choice is Tarbell’s here in Phoenix.  The food is superb–the ingredients are painstakingly sourced (mostly organic and local), the dishes prepared with care, and the presentation is beautiful.  Last year, probably around this time, we had an amazing parsnip soup there, which inspired this attempt for the Dark Days Challenge.  Although it wasn’t quite as good as Tarbell’s (I haven’t found any place yet that is, not even my kitchen), it was quite good.  Best of all, it’s simple, with only a few ingredients.  Give this a try before parsnips are out of season!

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The Unicyclist’s Standard Version Guacamole Recipe

If I were to become a hard-core locavore (not likely while my patoot is still parked here in ye arid desert), I suspect that I would bend the rules when it came to avocado.  Avocado and I have had a rocky relationship at times, due to my personal conviction that avocado belongs in the savory camp and not the sweet one, but I am still hopelessly devoted to this alligator-skinned fruit.  Never heard of a sweet avocado dish?  Besides avocado smoothies, custards, breads, and pies, there’s a simple breakfast in some parts of Latin America (such as Ecuador, where I spent about six months) that consists of avocado slices drizzled with honey, a slippery, sticky affair that doesn’t sit well with me.  And if you’ve ventured beyond the familiar, dark-green-to-black Hass avocados in the grocery store, you may have stumbled on a larger, bright-green variety that is naturally sweet, making for an odd sort of guacamole.  While it may just be that I’ve never had a really good avocado pie, I’ll confess: I think I can live without one.  After all, avocado fits so nicely in my salads, sandwiches, and guacamole benders.  Which, Gentle Readers, brings us to today’s recipe:

Guacamole.
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Dark Days Challenge: Perfect Pinto Beans

One of the most essential skills for anyone interested in making a delicious, low-cost meal is knowing how to make a tasty pot of beans.  Since I’ve decided to focus on basics here for a while, that means I’m about to tell you everything I know about them thar legumes.  Pull up a chair, people.  Get comfy.  Grab some guacamole.

This week for the Dark Days of Winter Challenge, the Unicyclist and I decided on tacos.  We’d scored local pinto beans through our CSA as well as at the Guadalupe Farmers’ Market, and we do so love a good taco.  Typically, we build ours with soft corn tortillas, black or pinto beans, salsa, guacamole, and a hearty handful of lettuce or spring greens.  I’ll give you the Unicyclist’s guacamole recipe later this week (your knees will melt), but let’s stick with the beans for now, ¿qué no?

I learned how to make a good pot of beans from one Afra Llamas, a woman with whom I worked for several years.  She was newly a U.S. citizen, originally from Mexico, and, baby, could that woman cook.  Silky arroz con leche, salsa so fresh and delicious that people would smuggle it out of parties in disposable cups, and pinto beans cooked to perfection.  I’d fussed and bothered over making good beans for quite some time, adding and removing onion, peppers, garlic, cumin, and all sorts of other goodies in order to make something drool-worthy.  Finally, in a stroke of inspiration triggered by a morning potluck catered by Afra Llamas, I had the brilliant idea of just asking her.  It turns out that making perfect beans is less about ingredients than it is about technique.  Remember that, people.  Play with the ingredients if you want, but if you fuss with the technique, I make no promises.
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On Peanut Butter Apple Oats, Organics, and the Economy

My scalp cringes whenever I hear a middle-class person opining that organically or sustainably produced food is too expensive to be practical (right before said person biffs to Starbucks to drop $3-6 on a caffeinated beverage) or when I hear any garden-variety personfolk bloviating about how it’s cheaper to eat at a fast food joint than it is to eat at home.

Neither of these assertions is necessarily true.  Can they be?  Certainly.  However, that depends largely on what organics you are buying and what types of dishes you are preparing at home, including how many prepared ingredients you are using.  For whole foods vegetarians, especially whole foods vegans, they’re often false.  I don’t even need to address the “hidden costs” of factory farmed produce, dairy, and meat (through environmental damage, taxpayer-funded subsidies, etc.) to prove that.  Case in point?  How about breakfast?

The Unicyclist has been on breakfast duty for the last couple months, something which has allowed him to develop our favorite everyday oatmeal: Peanut Butter Apple Oats.  Today, out of curiosity, I dug up receipts, a food scale, a calculator, and I crunched the numbers to find out how much this tasty, filling dish was costing us. Are you ready?

3 oz. conventional rolled oats from the bulk section at Whole Foods (for .79/lb) = .15

4 oz organic apple bought in a five-pound bag at Whole Foods for 4.99 = .42

1 c Trader Joe’s organic rice milk, at 2.69 for 8 servings = .34

1 T Trader Joe’s organic peanut butter at 2.99/jar = .11

1 T farmer’s market apple butter at 5.00/jar = .17

Add a cup of water (for those of you keeping score to make this in your kitchen, that’s 1 heaping cup rolled oats and 2 cups liquid, plus a diced apple), combine well, cook until creamy and piping hot, and you have breakfast for two people and one Hippo for the grand total of $1.19, or less than sixty cents.  If we’d gotten the organic oats (at about $1.60 in the bulk section, which we skipped because they were out last time we were at the store), we’d have doubled the cost of our oats, which would have upped our total bill to…$1.34.  Again, we’re feeding two people and a 10-pound dog on that. Go ahead and compare that to a fast food breakfast value menu.  I dare ya.

If you’re on a tight budget, embrace the bulk bins.  No, seriously.  Cozy right on up to them.  Snuggle a little if no grocery store employees are watching.  Then stuff a bag with its contents and cart it to the register because dry beans and grains are some of the most affordable items you can pick up, even when they’re organic.

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Dark Days Challenge: Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Several weeks ago, the Unicyclist and I splurged at the Guadalupe Farmer’s Market.  We decided it was time to decorate our place while stockpiling some good food.  That’s how we wound up with a massive jar of mesquite honey and a cheerful ristra of red peppers, one of those beautiful strings of chiles you often see adorning kitchens or doorways in the Southwest.  Both of them are on display in our kitchen, but the honey has definitely been getting more use than the peppers.  You see, I’ve been something of a pepper collector the last couple years.

The Unicyclist and I both like food with bite.  That’s the first problem.  The second problem is that we live in some pretty good chile country.  The third problem is that I have frequented both Native Seed SEARCH and the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company in the Tucson area a couple times when entertaining out-of-town guests.  Both places have fantastic assortments of chiles, and it’s nigh to impossible to turn any of them down once you give them a whiff.  As a result, I have nearly a dozen unique kinds of chiles commiserating in my cabinets.  There’s morita negro, chiltepín, chile japonés, pasilla Oaxaca, pasilla negra, guajillo, and Santa Cruz hot.  In addition, we have cayenne, paprika, whole mystery ristra chiles, and fresh serranos.  As you might guess, my cupboards smell amazing.

All of which is great.  However, it also means that I’m not giving said enormous ristra as much attention as I ought.  To compound the problem, we’ve received a hearty helping of dried chiles in our CSA share the last two weeks running.  As the chiles piled up on the counter, it became clear that it was time to take action.  It was time to figure out a chile-intensive dish that could help cull some of my burgeoning chile population; thin the herd, as it were.

It was time to make enchilada sauce.

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Reinvented Broccoli Waldorf

I imagine I can’t be the only one of you who looks back on childhood and recalls massive family potlucks at holidays.  These potlucks were a staple in my tender, formative years.  As a matter of course, they involved a mind-boggling array of foods.  You know how when you’re a kid, the family dog seems to be roughly the size of a woolly mammoth, or how the small strip of sand on the lake where you took your swimming lessons seems to rival the shoreline of Mexico in its vastness?  And then, of course, you grow up.  In doing so, you inevitably grow bigger, and you realize neither the dog nor the beach possess quite the massive proportions you had imagined.

When it comes to my family’s potlucks, such is not the case.

The Unicyclist and I attended one just last Thanksgiving, and my 30-year-old eyeballs boggled at what was still an insane amount of food.

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But…but…but…Peanut Butter Cookies!!

Despite all the press about salmonella, I have to say it:

I do love me some peanut butter.

To celebrate my salmonella-free jar of peanut butter bliss, I am posting my all-time favorite peanut butter cookie recipe.  It’s all-natural, but it’s not likely to help you lose weight, if that’s what you’re looking for.  It does, however, make a very delicious cookie.

Eat some cookies.  Move your body doing something you love, like cycling, snowshoeing, visiting a rock gym, sledding with the kids, taking the dog out, or shooting hoops.  Call it even, and love your life.  (Simple, right?)

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Dark Days Challenge: Darn Good Hummus, Grilled Focaccia, and a New Broccoli Waldorf

For several years, I was something of an anomaly in the vegetarian world.

I hated hummus.  For those of you unfamiliar with hummus, it’s a staple in Middle Eastern and Greek restaurants, as well as in many vegetarian kitchens.  A savory spread of garbanzo beans puréed with garlic, lemon, garlic, and tahini (a sesame seed paste), it’s a healthy and convenient dip for vegetables or for use as a protein-rich sandwich spread.  I loved the concept of hummus.  I just hadn’t had the opportunity to understand what all the fuss was about.  Frankly, whenever I tried to make hummus, it just wasn’t…well…good.

I tried to make it at home.  I even stepped out of character and followed several recipes to a T in my attempts to make something palatable.

I failed.

Then one day, I discovered cumin, and the world was reborn.

Now, we almost always have some hummus in the fridge.  As I mentioned, it’s great for both sandwiches and high-protein snacks, it keeps well, and it’s full of garlicky goodness.  This week, I decided it was time to share my love of hummus with you, so that you all can enjoy it as well.

Although I’m posting my basic hummus recipe, I actually switched this one up today and used tepary beans instead of garbanzos to keep it local for the Dark Days Challenge.  I served it with herbed, grilled focaccia (which I made using our CSA wheatberries and garden herbs) based on the recipe in Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible and a fantastic, mostly local, reinvented Waldorf salad.  I’ll be posting the Waldorf recipe later this week.  Lunch was very satisfying: both light and hearty, sweet and salty, chewy and creamy and crunchy.  It was also healthy.

I love when that all comes together.

Enjoy!

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Peanut Butter Gets Uglier

Current stats:  501 reported illnesses and 8 deaths attributed to this outbreak

On Wednesday on up at the capital, senior state and congressional officials called foul on the Peanut Corporation of America, the manufacturer responsible for the recent salmonella debacle.  Specifically, they charge that the PCA knowingly shipped peanut butter contaminated with salmonella multiple times throughout 2007 and 2008.  You can read the FDA report on-line to get all the gritty details about the contaminations, as well as unacceptable plant conditions, but let me hit some highlights for you.

First up is the charge that PCA knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella.  Reading over the report, you’ll find one dozen instances from June 2007 through the end of September 2008 where one strain or another of salmonella was discovered.  Troublingly, the write-ups read almost identically: Peanut product manufactured on x date under batch z tested positive for salmonella by a private laboratory.  After the firm retested the product and received a negative status, the product was shipped in interstate commerce.

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Dark Days Challenge, Starring Orange Cauliflower

The Unicyclist and I didn’t get much in the way of fresh produce last week from our CSA share with Crooked Sky Farms.  The farm is not to blame, however.  The Unicyclist was on veggie pickup duty, and he managed to barter and swap our citrus and one set of greens for an important storage items for us: wheat berries!  The Unicyclist knows what’s up, which is why we now have three small baggies of wheat berries to make into flour and expand our local cooking possibilities.

I love the Unicyclist.  Not just for his bartering skillz, but those don’t hurt.

In any case, since he managed to barter some of our fresher goods for other people’s wheat berries, we decided we’d better make a stop by Crooked Sky’s booth at the Ahwatukee farmers’ market this morning to ensure we’d have enough produce to see us through until the coming Thursday.  I am awfully glad we went, because that’s where we discovered this beauty.

That, gentle readers, is Orange Cauliflower.

(I thought it merited the caps.  Don’t you?)

Isn’t it stunning?  Apparently, commercial Orange Cauliflower is a hybrid between a non-engineered mutant orange cauliflower and the standard whites.  It’s also a bit sweeter, a lot higher in beta carotene, and much more striking than its pallid (but also delicious) cousin.

I had to have it.

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