Out of the Jar

 
 

Cinnamon has really been on my mind lately.  I know, I know, it's such a common little spice, and most of us know precisely what to do with it.  Toss it with sugar on buttered toast or shake it onto a bowl of oatmeal.  But listen, it is not what you think.  First, I like its ubiquitous quality and I like the idea that we all think we know how to use it.  But I've been adding cinnamon to so many unusual dishes lately and with much success.  Let's think outside the jar for a minute and talk about new uses for that perfect, accessible spice you've been taking for granted.

Few folks would think of adding cinnamon to their tuna and tomato salad but not me. Cinnamon pairs well with tomatoes and you can feel free to throw a half-stick of it into a tomato sauce when you're feeling clever and strange.  (And don't forget to add a whole, peeled carrot to the sauce for added sweetness.)  Cinnamon doesn't strike the sauce as you might think but is subtle and smoky.  Think of that traditional combination of nutmeg and red meat and tomatoes in a ragu sauce.  It's not too far fetched to consider using cinnamon in the same way.  Throw a cinnamon stick into your next pot of beef stew and see if you can pick up that wonderful flavor.  What else?  Cinnamon loves lemon and you could make a smooth lemony, cinnamon sauce and toss with fresh pasta noodles.  Think of the Moroccan tagine and find the scent of cinnamon, along with many other aromatic spices, accompanying things like chicken and chickpeas.

Best of all is that cinnamon is considered one of the most healing of spices.  It can relieve diarrhea and nausea, counteract congestion and aid circulation.  It warms the body and enhances digestion, especially the metabolism of fats, among other uses. 

You can see now why I've had cinnamon on the mind.  You read a lot about unusual, exotic spices like saffron and cardamom, but we all know cinnamon and have a bit of it on the shelf.  It's important now more than ever to take a look at some of the most common foods that sit patiently in your fridge door or in the pantry and consider them in new ways.  Start with that jar of cinnamon by adding it to a tomato-based sauce or to a chicken and lemon dish.  Here's a recipe get started:

Pasta w/ Tuna and Tomatoes

Serves 4-6

MARKET/PANTRY LIST

1 small fennel bulb
1 small red onion
Extra virgin olive oil
Ground cinnamon
Fresh thyme leaves (or dried)
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and black pepper
1 pound favorite pasta
1 X 28 oz can chopped tomatoes
2 cans oil-packed tuna
1 lemon (optional)
Refer to notes and variations

Look closely for a sustainable canned tuna at your grocer; it has a massive impact on your health and that of our oceans. Although it’s not in the recipe, I often will add a can of white beans to this dish, to give it even more texture and substance; play around and make it your own.

Flavorful Sauce

Put a large pot of water on the boil, and cover. First, chop off the long stalks from 1 small fennel bulb, and set aside. Wash the bulb itself under cool water, then halve it lengthwise on a cutting board. Slice it as thinly as you can, into half-moons, or chop it as you would an onion. Chop 1 small red onion, then put your widest and sturdiest skillet over medium heat on the stovetop. Once it’s hot, add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and then your fennel and onion. Add 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or ½ teaspoon dried), and a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional), and a good pinch of kosher or sea salt; stir and partially cover.

Is your pasta water ready? If so, add 1 pound favorite pasta, and cook according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, once your onion mixture is tender, add 1 X 28 oz can chopped tomatoes and 2 cans of oil-packed tuna (drained); break up and stir. Add another good pinch of kosher or sea salt and a twist of black pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, uncovered.

Coming Together

Combine your pasta and sauce together, either in the large skillet (if it will comfortably fit) or back into the empty soup pot. Add the zest and juice of 1 lemon (optional), a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and another pinch of kosher or sea salt and black pepper. Stir gently again, and check for seasoning. (If you did have fennel stalks set aside with fresh fronds on their ends, you can fold in some fronds to your dish too.)

NOTES & VARIATIONS

  • In the summer use fresh basil in this dish, rather than or alongside the thyme.
  • If you cannot source oil-packed tuna try using the best quality, firmest canned tuna you can find. It will work of course, but won’t give the sauce the richness it has otherwise.
  • This can be a tangy sauce/dish, with the amount of tomato and lemon; add as much or little lemon as you and your eaters may appreciate.
  • Rather than combining the sauce and pasta, you can serve them separately, especially if you’ve picky eaters at the table!
  • Add some shredded Parmesan cheese to each bowl of pasta before serving.

Cupboard-Inspired

 
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A strong pantry is a sexy thing. Really, it says I’m ready to go and want for nothing. It says give me a few minutes, maybe a half hour, and I’ll make you something delicious. It says listen: I’m organized, resourceful, potentially frugal (if that sort of thing turns you on), and probably improvisational, which speaks to creativity and flexibility.

Maybe. At least that’s what I vibe when I see a well-armed cupboard, but that’s me. I believe that a strong pantry (and by pantry I mean something bigger such as cupboard, fridge, and freezer), with its ground cumin and smoked paprika, canned beans and bulk grains, and eggs and lemon for example, has the potential to see you through many scrappy (but satisfying) meals on its own. 

But there’s more. Not only is a strong pantry a self-sufficient thing, it allows us to enhance what else we bring into the house. A rotisserie chicken, for instance. Using our staples, let’s pair it with some rice. Or shred it into a chicken salad with olive oil, herbs and lemon. The carcass, along with stock vegetables, can gift us a pot of broth. Further, our pantry can extend what we already have, such as dull-looking leftovers reinvented with an over-easy egg on top and a drizzle of good olive oil. (We do this often enough in our house.)

With further zeal I'll say this: a strong pantry offers us a foundation. And foundation is what we need with any practice; we can always refer to it and use it to step forward. I have a built an entire page on the Basic Pantry and still believe in its magical powers. Visit that list, and see how your kitchen stacks up. Be imperfect about acquiring these things at first. Do what you can, gather some of them on sale, and others from a little spice shop you just happened into.

Want more? Register for my Cupboard-Inspired class at the Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op in St. Paul. We'll discuss the build of a strong pantry, how to make the most of it, and chatter about all its benefits.

Meal Planning with Chef Kristin: Cupboard-Inspired

$18-22
Tue, May 22, 2018
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM CDT

Mississippi Market- East 7th
740 East 7th
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55106

REGISTER HERE

Recipe: Citrus Fruit Salad, Two Ways

 
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We’re still in the heart of citrus season, and there are many delicious options to choose from. Make a habit of asking your grower or market’s produce manager which is best at the moment. I’ve given you an instruction on properly peeling and segmenting citrus fruits at the front of this recipe; remember to have fun and keep practicing. Two very different salad ideas here; serve the simple salad any time of the day, and serve the elevated salad as an impressive side dish for supper.

MARKET LIST

For Simple Citrus Salad:
2 oranges
2 grapefruit
Fine sugar or honey
Fresh mint
For Elevated Citrus Salad:
3 oranges
1 small shallot (optional)
Balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
Honey
Sea salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
2 grapefruits
1 avocado (ripe, but firm)
Fresh mint
Other optional additions: green grapes, fennel, beet, carrot, lettuce greens or arugula, and/or smoked salmon

Serves 4

Instruction: Learn to Peel and Segment Citrus

Using a small sharp or serrated knife, cut a slice off the top and bottom of the fruit through to the flesh. Now, working from top to bottom, following the curve of the fruit, cut away a strip of skin and the white pith beneath it; continue this around the entire fruit. Now, hold the fruit firmly in your hand over a bowl, noticing the white edges of the membranes separating the sections. Slide your knife down one side of a segment, as close to the membrane as you can, cutting it from the skin, and then do the same on the opposite side the section, meeting at the bottom. Pull, or slide out the section into your bowl and repeat with the other segments. Set aside the membranes of your fruit; you’ll be using them soon.

Way 1: Simple Citrus Salad

Following the instructions for peeling and segmenting above, do so with 2 oranges and 2 grapefruit, reserving the membranes of the fruit. Squeeze the membranes with their juice over the segmented fruit in your bowl. Gently stir in 1 tablespoon of fine sugar or honey and 1-2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint. Voila!

Way 2: Elevated Citrus Salad

This salad entails an orange vinaigrette, and so let’s make that first. In a small bowl, or jam jar (where you can simple shake the ingredients together), mix 1 teaspoon zest and the juice of 1 orange, 1 minced small shallot (optional), 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar),1 teaspoon of honey, a good pinch of sea salt and twist of black pepper, and 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Set aside. Taste for seasoning.

Following the instructions for peeling and segmenting in the instruction, and do so with 2 oranges and 2 grapefruit; simply drink the squeezed juice from the reserved membranes. Slice 1 avocado (ripe, but firm) into the bowl with the citrus segments and add 1-2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh mint. At this point you can include other additions, such as: green grapes, sliced fennel (plus fronds), beet and/or carrot (matchsticks), if you like. And you can also serve this salad on crunchy lettuce greens or arugula; in any case, drizzle the orange vinaigrette over it all. One unexpected, but fitting, addition to this salad is smoked salmon; that addition would certainly make for a more interesting and substantial salad.  

 

Cut Above

 
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With the exception of your hands a good knife is the most important tool you can have in the kitchen. Honest. How is your knife? If it doesn't cut the mustard, so to speak, then consider an immediate replacement. If you love your knife not, you just won't get very far in the kitchen.

I use, for almost everything, that one in the middle, a sturdy 8-inch chef's knife (mine happens to be Wusthof). I've had it for as long as I can remember. We've shared some intense moments together. In Ireland, many years ago, upon heading to culinary school there, my elbow was lifted into a back room at the airport when I refused to check my knives in with the other luggage. Like checking in a pet, I simply couldn't understand why I wasn't allowed to keep them by my side. (In hindsight, I see how I was a little crazy.)

Oh, and that's the same knife I sliced well into my thumb knuckle while working as a sous chef in a Japanese kitchen. It's not what you think, I was simply washing the knife in a sink of soapy bubbles, when it neatly slipped out and carved smoothly into bone. To the ER I went.

Anyhow, the cleaver, on the left, came from Gus Janeway. A long ago friend who welcomed my husband and I when we moved to southern Oregon in 2002. We'd literally shoved all of all of our belongings into our Hyundai sedan and drove off from St Paul, MN to Ashland, OR without a job or place to live awaiting us; our dreams and naivete in tact. Gus, and his wife Julia, put us up for a few nights, made us the most delicious Americanos, and gave us this precious tool to begin our kitchen adventures with. I use it when I'm feeling tough, or when I'm working with something tough, like a heavy, seemingly impenetrable winter squash.

The white knife is our young daughter's. Quite a harmless, sturdy little thing, and I don't have to nervously bend over her while she cuts something. Highly recommended; it's advertised for children aged 4+. Let's keep giving our children more tools, more opportunities to work with us in the kitchen. 

Now, consider your own knives. Are they the tools you need them to be? If not, head to a cooking shop in your area and ask their advice; it's a uniquely important investment. And keep them sharpened, using a honing steel, and/or get your knives professionally sharpened 1-2 times per year. 

Instant Love

 
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Well, not exactly instant love. I stared at or just walked past this contraption the first week after untangling it from its box. That was a year ago. And now there are days when I've used it three times. Steelcut oats for breakfast (3 minutes), chickpeas mid-day (33 minutes), and overnight chicken stock (60 minutes, but it will hold for 10 hours without flinching). 

The Instant Pot. A multicooker. Pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, and on. This thing is quite a sore thumb in my kitchen, since there are so few gadgets otherwise. I'm the sort to discourage anyone from buying kitchen tools unnecessarily. Use your hands, I am always uttering. But, I'll confess it right here: I couldn't resist. 

I use the Instant Pot almost exclusively for cooking dried beans (navy beans, pinto, black, chickpeas). Pour in beans, water, maybe a bay leaf, a dash of salt, cover, and get on with the day. I always make a big batch and then freeze leftovers in single-size containers. Then I have them for upcoming dishes. And in the heart of soup season, the pot gets a lot of exercise making stocks and chili and embarrassingly simple and delicious bolognese. 

Right now I can't evangelize anymore about it. For any level of cook, it rocks! It gets us to the table more easily and more quickly, and it produces such healthy and frugal fare in the midst. What more can you ask for? A perfect present for anyone with some counter space and a scrappy spirit. 

Look for more Instant Pot love letters here, accounts of experiments gone well and awry, and recipes.

Hodgepodge

 
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Last night I was plain tuckered out, and found myself in a moment familiar, where I stood astonished as to all the colors, jars, and mystery saucepans filling up our fridge. In this week’s case, leftover green lentils, a serving of brown rice, ends of a half dozen eggs, tuna salad, bacon, a head of fresh broccoli, the constant bin of cheeses, the constant container of fruit cut up for lunches.

To some that sounds like there’s nothing for dinner. But just think if there was a head of lettuce in there somewhere? You could throw all of those things on top, and call it a meal. No lettuce in our case, and so our plates do as they do on hodgepodge nights, and become strange patchworks of odds and ends. Yes, I am a meal planner, which seems to suggest that every meal we sit down to is carefully orchestrated and picture perfect. But really, hodgepodge is my favorite. It has a bit of the primitive to it.

Plus, it really is the most delicious way to clean out the fridge each week, and to protest food waste.

Okay, but as a meal planner, I encourage you always to make more of things. Lentils, they were delicious with the leftover brown rice and bacon. Tuna melts with steamed broccoli; that was fast. And the ubiquitous egg, what would we do without you? Making more servings of rice and grains, vegetables and sauces, you’ll always be oddly prepared for your own moment of hodgepodge.

To Peel or Not to Peel

 
 
 
 

Take carrots, for instance. But you might also wonder about beets, potatoes, squash. I get asked this question from time to time, from students and friends. My first response is usually to pooh-pooh the peeler, and that instinct is religious and comes from my indoctrination in the church of organic vegetables. With those teachings I have learned to praise the skin, since it is known to be a great keeper of vitamins. Roll up your sleeves, scrub ecstatically the dirt from the vegetable, and eat. But, as I learned in a bit research, to peel or not to peel is not as simple as the gospel dictates.

First, you should know that I rarely, if ever, peel a carrot, but this is because I grow my own or buy organic. In St. Paul, where I live, we are fortunate enough to have access to local, organic carrots most of the year, and I seek them out. Conventionally grown carrots have, more-than-likely, been treated with pesticides during their growth period, and the peel is where those chemicals concentrate. In that case I would peel, and with that knowledge I would do the same to any conventionally grown fruit or vegetable.

But let’s consider another subject altogether, and that is palate. Some eaters find the peel of a carrot, or a beet or potato, too bitter to tolerate. I don’t, but if I did, I would have to weigh whether or not it was worth scrapping those extra nutrients, and taking the extra time to peel. And then there is texture. I love a bit of potato skin in my mashed potatoes, but my young daughter wouldn’t put up with such a thing. And on the flip side, she loves roasted beets with their skin (drizzled with honey), but I can’t get past the flaky skin of a beet to enjoy it.

No easy answer here, but this reminds me of a general rule I usually adhere to: eat whole. That means— and there are a few exceptions to this rule--eating food that is unadulterated and pure and intact. For me, that means organically and sustainably grown and raised foods, with their skin and bones. There is respect and integrity with this approach, two qualities that are integral to healthy eating.

Rice

 
 
 
 

Rice is not one thing, but many. It comes in a rainbow of colors, varieties and sizes, and varies considerably from country to country, region to region, and well, house to house. But in the everyday kitchen we mostly keep the company of white and brown. Short-grain rice of any color will be creamy and starchy, perfect for absorbing a sauce, and long-grain will be toothsome and tender in comparison, a fluffier disposition.

Give a bowl of rice to a man and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to grow his own rice and you will save his life.
— Confucius

You’ve read that brown rice is a more nutritious option, and this is because it is considerably less processed than white, and is considered a whole grain, which means it has retained its bran and fiber, and valuable B vitamins, which is a real gift for those who eat mostly plant-based diets. But because brown rice is a rather intact food it takes longer to break down, and therefore twice as long to cook than white rice. 

Rice

If you don’t have a rice-cooker here is a really simple recipe for boiled, stovetop rice. It serves any amount, but keep in mind that 1 cup dried rice is 3-4 servings. Consider doubling your amount, since rice freezes so well (look below for instructions).

Humble Pot

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stovetop. Rinse your amount of rice thoroughly with fresh, cool water. Add your rice to your boiling pot, like you would for pasta, stirring gently from time to time. For white rice, check after 10, minutes; you are looking for the grains to still have just a bit of bite, a bit of chalkiness. If they are still quite tough, check in another minute or two. For brown rice, check after 25-30 minutes; again, you are looking for the grains to still have just a bit of bite. If your brown rice is still quite tough, check again in another 5 minutes.

Nearly There

Once your rice is al dente, as described above, drain and add your rice back into your dry pot. At this point, you can choose to add a tablespoon or two of butter or oil to offer character. Fork gently, cover tightly, and finish cooking (it’s steaming, really) over the very lowest heat your stovetop has. For white rice, check after 10 minutes to see if it is tender and fluffy, and if not, check again in another couple minutes and for brown rice, check after 15-20 minutes. Fluff with a fork!

 

To freeze rice: Spoon a serving into a wide square of plastic wrap, and wrap up into a parcel. Do the same for any other remaining servings. Put them into a Ziplock-style bag, label, and freeze. They will keep for a couple months. Thaw your rice parcels in the fridge for a day or two before using.

ARSENIC IN RICE: Rice has been the subject of some recent, distressing research. Increasing levels of the chemical, arsenic, have been found in rice around the world. Arsenic seeps in from the ground and into the water in which rice is grown, and can have adverse health effects. Its contamination is a result of wide-spread coal-burning, mining, and arsenic-containing pesticides that make their way into our waters. Data collection is still young on this matter, but in the meantime, you should rinse your raw rice thoroughly under the tap, and enjoy it conservatively in your diet.