Pomegranate Party Trick

pomegranate-091021-0001Autumn brings us so many tasty delights, I look forward to it every year. I think Autumn may be my favorite season. In addition to beautiful fall foliage, we get beautiful squashes and pumpkins, gorgeous greens, and of course…pomegranates! I always get so excited when I pick up my first pomegranate of the season, and this year is no exception.

pomegranate-091021-0003Pomegranate seeds are not just pretty to look at and tasty as all get-out, but they are packed with nutrition too. They are high in vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber, and are low in calories.

I love to put pomegranate seeds on just about everything, and they work really well with both savory and sweet dishes. I will sprinkle them on salads, soups, ice cream, overtop of pumpkin bread…anywhere I can think of.

One of my favorite things to do with pomegranate seeds is to float them in a carbonated beverage. Yes, pomegranate seeds can float! So today instead of a recipe, I offer you this formula for an impressive party beverage:pomegranate-091021-0002

  • Carbonated Beverage
  • Slice of lime (optional)
  • Pomegranate seeds

I love to use sparkling water for this, it is an almost-no-calorie treat. The pomegranate seeds sink to the bottom of the glass at first, but then float up onto a wave of carbonation. For a more adult beverage, I like prosecco, or even champagne.

TIP: I promise this trick can make even cheap champagne more impressive!

What other carbonated beverages can you think of to try? (Please don’t say beer!)

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Szechuan Greens

turnip greens-091017-0003One of my husband’s friends gave us some Szechuan peppercorns a while ago as a gift. I was pretty stoked to get them, but didn’t have any immediate plans for them so I stuck them in a cupboard and kind of forgot they were there for a while.

turnip greens-091017-0002I don’t know why I remembered them all of a sudden on the weekend, but I decided to pair them up with some turnip greens that I had left over after making my slaw. Maybe I wanted to go Szechuan because I find turnip greens to be pleasantly bitter and a little bit spicy on their own, or maybe it was because I had just made another asian-inspired dish, I don’t know. But the results were delicious! And the good news is that I think this recipe would work with any kind of greens, not just turnip.

The Szechuan peppercorns really brought a nice flowery note to the dish. They don’t actually have a lot of heat themselves like black or white peppercorns do. If you’re not sure, try eating one whole, I think you will be surprised.

But back to the star of the show: Turnip greens.

One of the nice things about turnip greens is that you don’t have to remove all the stems, like you do with greens like chard and collards and kale; however I do trim away the larger stems closer to the root end if they seem tough. The parts of the stem that are still attached to the leaves are typically nice and tender. You can cook them at the same rate as the leaves, and they add a pleasant crunch to the dish.

Another nice thing about turnip greens is nutrition. Like most greens, they are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, high in fiber, and a great source of vitamins A, C, E, folate, calcium, B6, trace minerals, and chlorophyl, to name a few.

Can you believe that some people throw these delicious and nutritious beautiful babies away?

I like to use a wok for cooking greens, but use any large pot or pan that has a lid. This recipe makes enough for two large servings, or maybe 4 smaller side servings.

Szechuan Greens

Ingredients

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  • 1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
  • 1 tsp chili oil or toasted sesame oil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp crushed chile flakes (optional)
  • 2 bunches turnip greens, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Method

Toast szechuan peppercorns in a dry wok until just fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar & pestle and grind.

To make the dressing, whisk together the ground peppercorns, chili or sesame oil, salt, cayenne (if using), rice wine vinegar, and sugar. Set aside.

Heat the canola oil in the wok until it is shimmering, and add the crushed chile flakes if using. Cook the chili flakes for about a minute. Add the turnip greens and toss to coat with the oil. Cook until they are wilted but still bright green, continuing to stir and toss them frequently. Put the lid on the pot when not stirring.

When the greens are tender and emerald colored, remove from the heat, and pour the dressing over top. Add the sesame seeds, and toss to coat. Serve hot, garnished with some extra sesame seeds if desired. Leftovers will last in the fridge for 2-3 days, and they taste good cold too.

Kohlrabi and Turnip Spicy Asian Slaw

kholrabi slaw-091017-0003One of the cool things about doing a CSA is that from time to time something shows up in your share that you’ve never seen before. This week for me, it was kohlrabi.

If you’ve never tasted it, kohlrabi has a very mild, pleasant flavor. I found it to be kind of cabbagey tasting, in a very good way. It also has a very satisfying crunch which reminds me of broccoli. Apparently when kohlrabi is very young, you can eat it without having to peel it. But the outer layer of the large specimen we got was fibrous and tough, and it definitely needed to be peeled.

Our share this week also contained a bunch of turnips, and I had some left over carrots from the farmers market too. In light of this, I figured it was slaw time.

The dressing on this slaw is one that I use all the time with a shredded cabbage base, so feel free to sub in about a half of a head of cabbage if kohlrabi and turnips aren’t your thing.

This makes about 6-8 cups of slaw. When I’ve made (the cabbage version of) this in the past, I’ve often doubled it because it’s so tasty, and it does not last long in our house!

Kohlrabi and Turnip Spicy Asian Slaw

For the Dressing:

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Ingredients

  • 1.5 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1.5 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1.5 tbsp tamari, soy sauce, or Bragg’s Amino Acids
  • 1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1.5 tsp sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 5 thai chilis, sliced on the bias (or a seeded and chopped seranno  or jalapeno)
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced

Method

Whisk together all ingredients except for the onion (you can also use a blender for this). Pour the dressing over the sliced onion in a large bowl, and set aside for half an hour to let the onions macerate slightly in the liquid. Stir occasionally.

For the salad

Ingredients

  • 1 large kohlrabi
  • 3-4 small turnips
  • 2 small carrots
  • 2 tablespoons black or white sesame seeds
  • 1 handful mint leaves, chopped
  • Other herbs of your choice (optional, but chopepd cilantro or parsley or thai basil would be nice)
  • Veggie “chick’n” strips (optional)

If your turnips still have their green tops attached, cut them off and set them aside for another use. Peel and trim all the veggies.

A food processor with the disk for shredding works best for the veggies. Shred all the veggies, and add them to the bowl with the onions and dressing. Add the sesame seeds, mint leaves, and “chick’n” strips and other herbs (if using). Toss the slaw to coat with dressing. Garnish with extra sesame seeds and herbs.

Serve right away, or tuck it into the fridge until you are ready. This lasts about 4 or 5 days in the fridge, but is best the day it’s made.
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Chestnuts Demystified

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Have you ever tasted a chestnut?

If you buy them pre-cooked in jars at the store, they tend to be pricey. I believe I saw some last year for about $10 at wholefoods, and the contents of the jar was probably only about 2/3 cup. That seems prohibitively expensive to me, and so I had never cooked with them.

But then last week at the farmers market, I saw a pint of fresh chestnuts for $4.00. I snatched them up without a real plan for them.

When I got them home, I was like…how am I going to cook these little buggers? “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire?” That sounds a little dicey to me. So I researched a little and decided to peel and boil them.

And now I know why they are so expensive in the store…it is definitely a manual process but the taste…oh my goodness, chestnuts are SO supple and delicious with an earthy sweetness. And the texture is unexpectedly soft and creamy, they practically melt on your tongue.

If  you have access to reasonably priced chestnuts–at a market, a store, or if you have a neighbor with a chestnut tree–I recommend trying to cook them yourself at least once. After you taste them, you will know it is worth the effort!

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Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 cups fresh, raw, in-shell chestnuts
  • Water
  • Salt

Method

First thing you need to do is get the shell off, and this is a lot easier if you do a quick cook of the nuts first. Put a pot of water on to boil (you only need just enough water to cover your chestnuts by about an inch). Meanwhile, use a paring knife to score the shell with an ‘X.’ Try not to cut too deep into the actual nut when you do this.

Drop scored chestnuts into boiling water, turn the heat down to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off, and use a slotted spoon to remove a few chestnuts at a time from the water. They will be very hot, so let them cool for a minute or two before handling. Using your fingers, remove the shell and the fibrous covering over the chestnut. If any shells seem particularly stubborn, return to the hot water for a few more minutes to help loosen them.

TIP: You may find a worm in one or two of your chestnuts. How do they get there? I don’t know. But throw these chestnuts away. You may also find some chestnuts that look kind of black or otherwise “not quite right.” Don’t waste your time on them, just toss ’em and move on. Out of my pint, I probably had to throw away about 8 to 10 chestnuts. But there were still plenty to work with.

BONUS TIP: Removing the shells is the part that is a little tedious, so stream some Hulu or listen to a podcast while you work. :)

Once all your chestnuts are free from their shells, put a fresh pot of water on to boil, season generously with salt. Turn the heat down to medium, add your chestnuts, and simmer until they can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the nuts.

Drain, and allow to cool. These will keep in the refrigerator for a little over a week.

Stay tuned for ways to use your delicious chestnuts!

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Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

pumpkin-seeds-091011-0004
It’s that time of year…everyone I know is cracking open pumpkins and carving them into spooky visages. This was a favorite ritual of mine as a kid, and one of the best parts about carving a pumpkin is the gorgeous seeds that are harvested from the innards. I remember trying to roast the seeds once or twice as a kid; I didn’t really know the best way to go about it and I ended up with burned, salty, unpleasantly chewy bits. But I didn’t know better so I ate them anyways.pumpkin-seeds-091010-0002

I forgot all about roasted pumpkin seeds until last year when I went to make a vegan pumpkin pie. I got a fresh pie pumpkin from the farmers market, and pulled out the seeds. I hate to throw anything away, so I did a little research on the best way to roast the seeds. Of course I had to give it my own twist and up the ante with a little kick.

These are the perfect pumpkin seeds. They are crisp and crunchy, and the spices really make them something special. My husband actually thinks they taste a little like bacon bits, but neither of us has had bacon in years, so I think he is saying that because of the combination of salt and crunch.

One of my favorite things about this recipe is listening to the crackling of the pumpkin seeds as they’re cooling; for some reason it is a very satisfying sound.

TIP: If you don’t have fresh pumpkin on hand, you can always buy your pumpkin seeds online.

Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients

pumpkin-seeds-091011-0003

  • 4 cups pumpkin seeds, washed and squeaky clean
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • cooking spray
  • spice mixture (see below)

Method

Preheat your oven to 400°F, and adjust your oven racks to accommodate 2 cookie sheets.

Put a large pot of water on to boil (around 4 quarts water). Put the salt into the water.

When the water is at a rolling boil, add pumpkin seeds and boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, brush a tablespoon of oil onto each of your cookie sheets.

When time is up, drain pumpkin seeds and transfer to your lubed cookie sheets. Give them a stir to coat them with some of the oil, then spread them out into a single layer on each sheet. Pop the cookie sheets into your hot oven for 20 minutes. When time is up, pull the cookie sheets out one at a time, stir the seeds, and redistribute into a single layer. Rotate cookie sheets, and cook for another 20 minutes. The seeds will start to crack and pop and jump in the oven. Enjoy the show.

When time is up, remove cookie sheets from oven, turn off the oven heat, but close the door to keep as much heat in the oven as possible. Working quickly, spray each sheet with cooking spray, and then dust generously with the spice mixture. Stir the seeds, repeat one more time with cooking spray and seasoning, and then spread them back out into a single layer on each sheet. Return to the hot oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and let cool completely before eating.

Note: If the oven is still roaring hot, the spices that are left on the pan may produce a little smoke; but if so, don’t worry about it, that will actually add to the flavor.

Spice Mixture

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt (or table salt)

Combine all ingredients in a small jar, an empty spice jar would be ideal. Shake to combine.

Here is where you can really get creative with this. Add some turmeric, play around with the heat by adjusting the cayenne, reduce the cumin, or add some crushed thyme or oregano. It’s up to you! Make it the way you like it.

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Little Tomato, Garlic, and Basil Salad

tomato-091002-0001Tomato season is almost over! We might have one more good week left here on the mid-Atlantic east coast before it’s gone.

This makes me sad. But fortunately for me, it’s been a great season for tomatoes.

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And fortunately for me, I’ve been getting these lovely bags of tomatoes the past few weeks from my CSA. There have been abundant heirlooms, romas, beefsteaks, cherry, and pear tomatoes. They have all been amazing, but it’s these little bitty cherry and pear tomatoes that really inspire me.

They have been showing up in mouth-watering shades of red, yellow, orange, and tiger striped. They are intensely sweet and delicious; I’d have to say that on the Tomato Flavor Scale™ of one to ten, these go to eleven. I love to eat them plain, but mixing them with a few other ingredients out of my CSA delivery really brings up their flavor.

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When I make this little salad, I tend to just leave it out on the counter and snack on on it as the mood strikes. Taking a few minutes to treat your tomatoes this way also makes them great to use for pizza topping or in wraps.

Also, I think it pays to take the time to chop your garlic by hand for this one. The texture and appearance is better than pressing it. It won’t take too much time to do this, I promise…it’s just one clove!

Trust me, your taste buds will thank you…

Tip: If you weren’t already aware, you should store your tomatoes at room temperature whenever possible for best flavor and texture.


Little Tomato, Garlic, and Basil Salad

Ingredients

tomato-091002-0004

  • 1 generous pint cherry, pear, or small roma tomaotes
  • 1 generous handful basil
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil (optional)

Method

Quarter your little tomatoes and put them in a bowl (romas may need to be cut into smaller pieces). Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt to start pulling out some of the juices.

Chop your basil and mince your garlic, and add it to the bowl. Give the whole thing a splash of red wine vinegar, a splash of olive oil (if using), and a grind of pepper. Toss to combine, taste for seasoning and add a little more salt if necessary.

Let the mixture sit in its own juices on the counter for about 30 minutes, if you can wait that long. (I often cannot!)

When ready to use, strain out the juices and set aside. Enjoy your tomatoes at room temperature.

tomato-091002-0001-2Tip: You can also add a few other things to play with the flavors here. I’ve tried this with different combinations of herbs, including parsley and mint. I’ve also tossed in some diced roasted red pepper when I’ve had it on hand, and a little diced jalapeno for some kick.

BONUS TIP: Don’t throw away that liquid once you’ve strained your tomatoes! Everything that has been sitting in the bowl and marinating has given some flavor to that juice. You can use the liquid to replace some or all of the cooking liquid in your pizza dough or a savory bread. Use it to make a light salad dressing. Or add it to your next batch of soup or stock. If you don’t think you’ll use it right away, freeze it and it will be ready when you are.

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Beans

beans-091002-0002Let’s talk beans.

I am a super cheapskate when it comes to some things. For example, I absolutely hate buying bread because basically all it consists of is flour, water, yeast, a tiny amount of sugar and salt, and those things are so cheap to buy! I’d rather make my own for various reasons, but the major problem I run into constantly is that bread takes a lot of time and attention, so sometimes when I am really busy I have to suck it up and just go buy a loaf.

Beans are another category of food where I am super cheap. Canned beans are expensive, tend to be high in sodium, and they are also super heavy to carry home; however, dried beans are $cheap$ and easy to use, take up less room in the cupboard, require less packaging, and buying them in quantity generally doesn’t make your arms feel like they are going to fall off when you are trying to only make just one trip from the car to the front door after grocery shopping. Again, they take time, but unlike bread, they do not have to be watched or pampered.

Cooking Beans

Using dried beans does require a certain amount of calculation though, to make sure that you end up with the amount that you need once they are soaked and cooked. Dried beans tend to plump up by a factor of 3, so as a basic rule of thumb, if you need 3 cups of cooked beans for a recipe, then you need to start with one cup of dried.

I have found that with smaller beans (like navy beans), they cook up to slightly less than 3 times their original size, so I usually add a few extra dry beans to account for that.

Some useful numbers, pulled from http://www.centralbean.com:

  • One 15-ounce can of beans = one and one-half cups cooked beans, drained
  • One pound dry beans = six cups cooked beans, drained.
  • One pound dry beans = two cups dry beans.
  • One cup dry beans = three cups cooked beans, drained.
  • Use 3 cups of water per cup of dry beans for soaking.

YOU MUST SOAK YOUR BEANS BEFORE COOKING!

The longer you soak, the less cooking time they will need, and the less potentially gassy you will be upon eating them. Soaking overnight generally means about an hour of cooking time.

You can also do the quicker method, which is to boil the beans for one minute, soak for one hour, then cook for an hour.

Always discard the soaking water, rinse the beans, and cook with fresh water.

When cooking beans, do not leave the water at a rolling boil or your beans will bash into each other in the pot, their skins will come off, and they will not look as pretty. The way to do it is to initially bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer.

Add about a teaspoon or more of salt to the cooking water, and also a tiny bit of oil. You can also tuck a bay leaf or two into the water.

beans-091002-0001Useful Tools

A pressure cooker is a great tool to have if you cook a lot of beans. I use mine almost exclusively for beans because it is so quick. Once the pot comes up to pressure, I can cook a load of pre-soaked garbonzo beans in about 10-13 minutes; smaller beans can take as short as 7 minutes. If you have a pressure cooker, check your manual for instructions.

A slow cooker is also really great and produces beans with superior flavor and almost zero fuss. Slow cookers vary widely so definitely read your manual.

Storing Cooked Beans

If you are going to go to the trouble to soak and cook beans, why not make a big batch and stash some away for future use? If you know you are going to use your beans in about a week or so, you can store them right in the fridge. But for longer-term storage, cover them with water and freeze them in small batches so that you can pull out and thaw just the right amount when you are ready to use them.

Nutrition

Beans are high in protein and fiber, have zero cholesterol, and provide essential vitamins and minerals. They are also relatively low in fat and calories.

Really, when you think about it…beans are great! And there are so many varieties to choose from. What’s not to love!