Something from Nothing: Ramiro’s Beef Stew

As a long time fan of both a) learning and b) free things, the relatively recent surge in available MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) has me enraptured. Thanks to Coursera and EdX, as well as the many institutions they partner with, I’m on my eighth free, online course. While many study at their own pace, I tend towards the deadline-driven approach, keeping up with course material as it’s posted each week and trying my best to complete the occasionally rigorous, occasionally token assignments. The courses, while not worth any so-called credit, are my way of preventing a lapse in productivity and abundance of unallocated free time, which my anal retentive nature prefers to avoid at all costs (read: my sanity).

Whether or not the unnecessary rigidity is healthy or not, I’m certainly learning a lot of really fascinating things. I’m currently deep in focus on international development, exploring topics in subsistence marketplaces, forest livelihoods, and sustainable agriculture. One class has been providing a particularly rich experience through short videos of and interviews with people living in both rural and urban subsistence, with a focus on India.

As a relatively rich westerner with little exposure to poverty in day to day life, it can be hard to grasp what a simple, average life would look like isolated from the abundant, unappreciated wealth of the first world. Movies, television, and your average travel experience may offer glimpses of this reality, but generally fail to depict the mundane aspects of life that inform the human experience. Call me an anthropologist (which actually, I am), but to me the mundane holds the most meaning, value, and insight. Which is why I’m so excited that these straightforward videos answer simple questions like, “Where do you sleep?,” “Do you buy soap?,” “How do your children get to school?,” “When do you eat dinner,” and so on, providing an incredibly rich window into the daily life of billions.

 

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Why do I mention it?

Well, it just keeps making me think back to this past spring and the magical month I spent working on a small, off-the-grid ranch in Mexico, Rancho La Venta. The ranch was staffed by a small crew: the owners (a hard-working, dedicated ex-pat couple), one or two temporary helpers, and Ramiro, a Baja native and long-time ranch hand.

 

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And that’s why I mention it.

Largely isolated on the ranch, Ramiro was my window into life in La Sierra de la Laguna. His English was limited to a handful of words. My Spanish, a cruel amalgamation of Italian and Spanish unintelligible to either speaker, was a mess. But we worked with each other every day, and soon enough we were bantering – albeit disjointedly – comfortably enough that I became translator between him and my hopelessly Spanish-less (but expertly Australian) roommate.

Over the course of the month I got to know, piece by piece, a bit of his story. But the funny thing is that the most powerful exchange we had was not with words or pictures or even a shared wheelbarrow full of horse manure. It was a meal.

 

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Ramiro was – by his own reckoning – the best cook in his family. He was the requested chef for family events of all sizes, and never failed to bring a homemade lunch – albeit always the same one – to work. He had long promised to demonstrate his culinary prowess and one day finally showed up with a package of beef, a stack of handmade tortillas, and a fixin’ on makin’ good.

I watched him in action. Stern as a soap opera surgeon he requested: “Tomate.” “Patata.” “Poblano.” When what we had didn’t align with expectations, he made it work. To offers of assistance he merely raised a hand in silent dismissal. Taking a break only to march into the garden for a handful of scallions, Ramiro put on a nonstop show worthy of the finest in culinary entertainment. Finally, he turned and declared, “Finito.”

 

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Somehow that handful of incredibly simple – yes even boring – ingredients came together to make something not necessarily grander, but a whole lot more flavorful, than the sum of its parts. Hearty, yet somehow perfect even after a 95 degree day, this water-based stew had taken on new life in the 10 minutes it simmered together. Perhaps it was the beef, which likely came from a cow down the road, or the lovingly flowered cherry tomatoes, or the brave scallions just picked from our desert garden. I don’t know. However it happened, it did, and it will forever serve in my memory as a reminder that just because you have more shit doesn’t mean it smells any better. Not sure why it had to be a poop related adage, but there it is.

So if you use Ramiro’s lovely, simple, rustic, ranch stew as inspiration for your next meal, I hope you remember to keep it simple, and perhaps give a nod to others in the world making amazing things with what some might see as nothing.

 

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Ramiro's Beef Stew

  • Servings: Oh, plenty
  • Difficulty: fácil
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Ramiro used what we happened to have in our sparse pantry for this spur of the moment stew. I have listed those ingredients as best I can here, but in no way mean for them to be rigid instructions. You can adapt this very forgiving, incredibly simple recipe to your pantry as well, using whatever you happen to have, in almost whatever quantity.

Ingredients

  • Oil
  • Garlic, a few cloves, minced
  • Poblano, one or two, large diced
  • Scallion, two or three, chopped
  • Potato, a handful of small white potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • Cherry tomatoes, a handful, with two incisions made in the shape of a cross on one end so each tomato sort of opens up like a flower (this was Ramiro’s real showstopper move)
  • 7 oz. can of Herdez salsa casera
  • A few thin slices of beef, cut into bite-sizes pieces
  • Oregano
  • Black pepper
  • Handmade corn tortillas

Directions

  1. Add a swirl of cooking oil to a large pot over medium/high heat (we couldn’t really control the burner anyways). Then add the garlic, poblano, scallions, and chopped potatoes. Stir.
  2. Add the cherry tomatoes and can of salsa. Stir.
  3. Add the beef, and a generous pinch of oregano and black pepper. Cook until the beef is no longer pink.
  4. Add water. Maybe 1-2 quarts. Basically until it looks on the slightly watery side of “stewy.”
  5. Cook until the potatoes are tender.
  6. Eat with handmade corn tortillas.

Plug: If you’re ever in Baja Sur make sure to check out my friends at Rancho La Venta for a horseback ride through the beautiful mountains and a glass of mango wine! Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll get a handshake from Ramiro too!

 

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The Best Ever Super Simple No Bake Cherry Chia Almond Granola Bars

Yet again, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a post together. The months since I returned from my summer working/traveling in Mexico and California have been confusing, to say the least. It’s been tough to translate the otherworldly-ness of the experience to so called “reality.” There have been many big, life-related, distinctly millennial challenges. Decisions beg for the making. Time flies. Clocks tick. Cars go by. God damn analysis paralysis.

 

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The kitchen has been my solace during this mentally crippling phase in life. So much so that sharing my personal and intimate escapades with new ingredients, old favorites, and casual canning here has seemed imprudent. Despite that, I’ve received more requests than ever for recipes, links, and opinions. Perhaps this emotionally-charged silence has laced my menus with a hint of seduction. Who knows.

 

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In an effort to return from my blogging hiatus with a bang, I’d like to share the recipe I have been asked for most since going underground. The best ever super simple no bake granola bars.

 

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I’ve been sending my boyfriend to work with these bad boys for breakfast on and off for a few months now, and word’s gotten around: they’re GOOD. In addition to being perfectly portable and disarmingly tasty, these bars are super simple to make and contain only seven ingredients – all of which are seriously wholesome. No refined sugar to speak of in these bars. Only *cue buzzwords* whole grains, healthy fats, real fruit, and a touch of honey.

I know Clif bars are cheap at Whole Foods, but these are worth the extra effort, I promise. They pack a lasting energy punch thanks to the dates and oats, but don’t flood your body with a barrage of readily-accessible sugar like most store bought granola bars do. They’re the best of both worlds: road ready and cubicle friendly.

And maybe they’ll get you through some tough times too.

 

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Super Simple No Bake Cherry Chia Almond Granola Bars

  • Servings: 14-18 bars
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Adapted from Minimalist Baker

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pitted dates (loose – not packed tight)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 heaping cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 2 tbs. chia seeds

Directions

  1. Optional (technically interferes with the bars’ no-bake status, as pointed out by discerning reader Rose Winter): Toast the oats at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until just beginning to change color. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Using a food processor (or blender on low to medium speed), blend the dates until they form a sticky ball of “dough.” There will be chunks, but ensure the paste is at least somewhat uniform.
  3. Add the date “dough” to the oats, along with the chopped almonds, dried cherries and chia seeds. Mix until combined.
  4. In a small sauce pan, combine honey and peanut butter. Heat on low until the mixture begins to loosen.
  5. Add the honey/pb mixture to the oat mixture and stir until combined.
  6. Line a 9×13 inch baking dish with parchment paper. Pour the mixture into the lining and spread until evenly distributed in the pan. Cover the mixture with another layer of parchment paper, and using another smaller flat-bottomed dish, a hardback book, or some other solid, flat surface, press the mixture down into the pan. I am small, so I will actually stand on it!
  7. Put the pan into the freezer to “set” for 15-30 minutes.
  8. Remove, cut into bars, wrap in foil, parchment paper, or wax paper (if desired), and re-freeze in a freezer bag or otherwise freezer-proof container until the morning you plan on eating them. They can also be refrigerated, but keep better in the freezer.

These bars keep as good as new for up to one, maybe even two or three, months in the freezer.

Okinawa-nt! I love Bitter Melon and Goya Chanpuru

As I head off for a long weekend of uber-indulgence in Colorado (think Freshcraft to Strange Brewing to Great Divide to Falling Rock to Oskar Blues to Lefthand to New Belgium to Odell’s to Funkwerks to…liver failure and a broken home?) I wanted to leave you with the recipe for my last supper before the storm.

In an attempt to set my body so straight that it can only get so out of whack, I “traveled” to Okinawa, Japan’s island prefecture famous for its inhabitants’ long lives and excellent health. I figured taking some cues from their kitchens might just lend me some of their resilience.

And this means I get to use one of my favorite funny looking produce items: bitter melon!  This bumpy fruit is prized among Okinawans and is often credited with, well, just about everything. Seriously this thing had been used by populations all over the world for centuries to treat ailments ranging from stomach pains to nema toads to measles to diabetes to dysentery to scabies to cancer to malaria to — get this — HIV. And there’s actually science behind it. Like whoa.

The one catch is, well, it’s bitter. Certainly an acquired taste. There are things you can do to reduce the astringency, but its got a bite no matter what. Me? I love it. My boyfriend? Not so much. But considering that its basically a miracle in a melon, don’t you think you should like it no matter what?

To really get at the heart of this amazing community of folks, I sprung for a foundational Okinawan dish: Goya Chanpuru. It’s basically the Okinawan version of bi bim bap or donburi — a meal in a bowl — but features traditional Okinawan ingredients. To go the extra mile, I served mine with boiled satsuma-imo, the purple-skinned Japanese sweet potato cultivar. It is often said that Okinawans love this yammy bugger so much that it is often eaten boiled and cubed in the place of rice — perhaps contributing to their overall health and well being. Doesn’t much matter though, because they’re delicious anyway!

To sum up how I feel about this dish, I was absolutely unable to follow the traditional Okinawan rule hara hachi bu. Putting down the chop sticks at 80% full? There was no way. I stuffed my face. Addictive.

Goya Chanpuru with Boiled Satsuma-Imo

Serves 2-3 (can be vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten free)

  • 1 small bitter melon (select firm, yellow-green melons, about 5-6″ long)
  • 1/2 small yellow or white onion
  • 1/2 block of extra firm tofu
  • 1/2 can of tuna (for vegans use 1/2 cup cubed ham substitute or seitan)
  • 1 egg (for vegans use your favorite vegan egg scrambler substitute)
  • 1 large or 2 small Japanese sweet potatoes
Condiment Sauce
  • 2 tbs white miso (rice, buckwheat, or millet based if gluten free)
  • 2 tbs sake
  • 1/2 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp tamari

Boil scrubbed potatoes in water until easily pierce-able with a fork (and then once cooled slightly have someone else cut them into cubes while you cook the chanpuru 🙂).

Meanwhile, whisk condiment ingredients together and set aside.

Also, crack the egg into a bowl, beat well and set aside.

Then, slice the bitter melon down the middle. Scoop out the seeds and most of the white innards. Slice into half moons about 1/8-1/4″ thick. Place the slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 10 minutes (this will remove some of the bitterness).

Meanwhile, wrap tofu in a paper towel and press the water out. Wrap in a new sheet and place in microwave for 20-30 seconds. Press more water out. Wrap in new sheet and press one more time. Then cube!  About 1/2″ square.

Cut the onion into half moons.

Once 10 minutes has passed, pat the bitter melon dry with a paper towel.

Then start cookin’!

Coat the bottom of your saute pan or wok with non-stick spray, heat over medium and add egg. Let spread and cook until just firm, but still runny, and then set remove from pan and set aside – like a loose-y goose-y omelet.

Add 1-2 tsp of sesame oil to the same pan, let heat up and then add the bitter melon. Saute for a minute or two, then add onion. Saute for another minute or two, until just lightly softened and starting to brown. Add tofu cubes, continuing to move the whole mixture around your pan. Let saute for a few minutes, then add tuna (or vegan meat), incorporating well. Mix the egg back in, not being afraid to jostle tofu cubes. You don’t have to be gentle with this!

Lastly, slowly pour the condiment sauce around the rim of the pan and mix in.

Serve with the steamed satsuma-imo cubes your friend so nicely cut up for you.

Then, LIVE LONG AND PROSPER.

In Colorado.

The Scandinavian Cobb

This fun, made-up salad pretty quickly established itself as one of my favorite weeknight go-tos.  Super easy.  Super quick.  Super adaptable.  Delicious.  Refreshing.  Perfect for spring.

While I usually like to use slivered raw chard or beet greens and endive as the base for this lighthearted salad, this time around it features the first crop of mesclun from my rooftop garden.

Yay May!

Scandinavian Cobb Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette

Serves 2

  • Greens of choice (slivered chard or beet greens, or a baby lettuce mix with a backbone)
  • Smoked salmon (I use TJs smoked salmon pieces, which are super cheap and do the job)
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 1/4 of a grapefruit (could also be orange or any other citrus fruit)
  • An avocado
  • One egg per salad
  • Dill springs
  • Horseradish vinaigrette (see below)

Prepare your toppings: chop the salmon into bite size pieces, very thinly slice the red onion, segment the grapefruit (please watch this amazing video on how if you don’t know), and cube or slice the avocado.

Poach the eggs (I’m still not very good at this, but the general idea is that you break your room temperature eggs into separate small bowls, gently boil 1-2 inches of water in a nonstick skillet, add 1 tbs vinegar, drop each egg into the water very gently, use a spoon to fold the white in on itself if necessary, turn off the heat, cover, let sit for 4-5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon) and while you wait for the eggs to be finished dress the lettuce with your vinaigrette.

Plate your dressed lettuce, add prepared toppings and finish with a poached egg, dill sprig and nice crusty bread.

Horseradish Vinaigrette

  • 1-2 tbs minced shallot
  • 1 tsp honey
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1-2 tbs white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1-3 tbs horseradish
  • 1-3 tbs plain yogurt or mayo
  • 1 tsp truffle oil (and optionally another 2-3 tsp of walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil)
  • salt & pepper

Combine the ingredients, blend or whisk well together, taste, adjust, use 🙂

Grow Your Own Sprouts, Dummy

I want to dedicate this post to a one-time co-worker from back in my Whole Foods days. Through his willingness to overstep boundaries, call me names and tell me like it was I learned never to buy those wickedly overpriced prepackaged sprouts again.

Because growing your own sprouts is as easy as (if not actually easier than) 1-2-3.

Not to mention it’s cheaper than a crocus in March.

All you’ll need is:

  • Seeds — Alfalfa or bean (such as mung and garbanzo) are perfect for first-timers. The latter choice will yield “crunchy” sprouts and the former those delightful long strands you may know so well. Your best bet is to pick these up from bulk bins at your local natural foods store. For alfalfa you’ll only need about 1/4 cup for 1 batch. For the others, about 1/2 cup. It’ll likely set you back about $2.
  • Mason jar or comparable container
  • Cheesecloth or mesh
  • Rubber band

This time around I kept it at alfalfa.

The first step is to soak your seeds. Place 2-4 tbs of the alfalfa seeds (1/2 cup for beans) in the bottom of your jar and cover with cool water. Soak for roughly 6 hours (beans can sit for 8-10):

The second step is to drain your seeds. Place two layers of cheesecloth over the jar and secure with a rubber band (you’ll only need one layer for larger seeds). Find a place where you can keep the jars upside-down to allow the seeds to drain. If they’re on a solid surface, be sure to remember to lift them to remove excess drippage when you can:

The third step is to rinse your sprouts twice a day. Just fill the jar with water, drain and replace.

The final step is to watch them grow. Seriously. That’s it.

DAY 1:

DAY 2:

DAY 3:

There is one optional step — place your sprout-packed jar by a window for a few hours and BAM:

Chlorophyll is a wondrous thing. This is a great way not only to beautify your sprouts, but also to enliven them. Exposure to sunlight increases their level of chlorophyll, and while claims are contested, many agree that this life-giving molecule may offer fauna some of the same power it lends to basically 99% of the floral world. So why not. Use your window.

As if this whole process wasn’t already the simplest and most amazing thing ever, just wait until you unload your jar. With just $1-2 in the game, you’ll come out with about $25 worth of prepackaged alfalfa sprouts:

They don’t last too long in the fridge, so definitely plan on a few days of sprout-related meals in a row, but really – who’s complaining?

So next time I see you at the Whole Foods checkout line trying to hide your $10 plastic container of sprouts in shame, I’ll be the one calling you out. GROW YOUR OWN SPROUTS, DUMMY!

Go Cephalo with Squid Adobo

I love squid.  If you think you don’t like squid, I hope you’ll try it again.  I love cooking squid.  If you’re afraid to cook (or eat) squid, I hope you’ll do it anyway.

Because it is super easy.  And super delicious.  And (high cholesterol aside) super healthy.  Think low calorie; high protein; and copper, riboflavin (which can ease migraine headaches) and selenium (a powerful anti-inflammatory mineral that provides immune support and may reduce the risk of cancer) rich.

My favorite quick and easy squid preparation comes from the Philippines, a place where squid is abundant and home cooks rule.  It’s a style known as Adobong (or Adobo), which involves cooking your protein in a wonderfully tangy mix of vinegar and soy sauce, seasoned with peppercorn and bay leaves.  While it’s often used for preparing pork or chicken, I prefer to use Pusit (or squid).  Hence: Adobong Pusit, or Squid Adobo.

Boasting 30 minutes max from start to table, there’s no reason not to go-cephalo tonight!

Adobong Pusit (Squid Adobo)

Serves 2

  • About 1/2 lb. baby squid (buying pre-cleaned is easier, but if you want an adventure and something much cheaper, go for the whole baby squid — there’s a wonderful video on how to clean and break them down here)
  • 1 mid-size tomato
  • 1 small yellow or sweet onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 dried hot pepper and/or 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. Prep your squid — IF PRE-CLEANED: rinse the squid well under cold water and cut the bodies into rings about 1/4-1/2 inch wide — IF WHOLE: watch the video, clean your squid, and cut your bodies into rings.
  2. Chop your tomato and onion into half-moons about 1/4 inch thick, and dice your garlic.
  3. Heat a dutch oven or wide pot at least a few inches deep and coat with non-stick spray.
  4. Add onion and saute until soft and brown (5-10 minutes).
  5. Add garlic and saute until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  6. Add tomato and saute until tomato is broken down (5-10 minutes).
  7. Add vinegar, soy sauce, water, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaf and pepper (if using).
  8. Let simmer for about 10 minutes until slightly thickened (as you like it).
  9. Incorporate squid and cook for 3-5 minutes ONLY until just cooked through (feel free to pick one up and poke it — it’s done when opaque and just firm).
  10. CLICK THE PHOTO TO SEE ADOBO IN ACTION:
  11. Serve on brown rice!

PS – I served my Adobo with a variation on Ginisang Ampalaya, or sauteed bitter melon, another quick and easy traditional Filipino dish made with onion, bitter melon and scrambled egg!  And just because my boyfriend accidentally bought them instead of normal chives I also added garlic chives (aka chinese chives or nira grass), which ended up serving as a delicious — and green — addition to the dish!  Recipe forthcoming.

Vegetables Make a Great Breakfast Too

The key to a great day is a great breakfast.  Seriously, what better time to make sure you’re well on your way to a satisfied daily quota of fruits, vegetables and fiber than first thing in the morning?

Here’s how I get an easy, vegan and (almost) raw start that makes me feel great no matter what the rest of the day brings:

Grab a pint-sized ball jar (or comparable reused jar). Best way to transport food hands down.

Assemble the mixable components:

  • Something green (e.g. kale, collards, spinach, beet greens, etc)
  • Something sweet (e.g. 1/2 an apple, pear, or orange, etc)
  • Something smooth (e.g. 1/2 a banana, a scoop of nonfat yogurt, etc)
  • Something spicy (e.g. cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, a pitted date, etc)
  • Something serous (e.g. a heavy splash of almond or soy milk, orange juice, water, etc)
  • Something berry unexpected (I always try to throw something of color into the mix, be it 1/2 a carrot, a handful of frozen blueberries, and/or a couple grapes — whatever is on hand!)
  • Optionally, something strapping (basically protein powder, if you so wish)

Next, summon the high-power blender gods by lighting incense and chanting “Vitaman” while spinning three times in front of your refrigerator.

Keep that going for a minute or two, and assemble the dry:

  • 1 tbs psyllium husks (an amazing supplement that packs a huge insoluble fiber punch, lowers bad cholesterol levels and sops up liquid, making your smoothie into a yummy porridge :))
  • 1/2 tbs oat bran
  • sprinkle of flax seed
  • 1/2 cup high-fiber, low-sugar dry cereal (I prefer a combo of puffed kamut and Kashi Go Lean)

Add the psyllium husks, oat bran and flax seed to the bottom of your jar.  Package the dry cereal in a separate small container or baggie to maintain the crunch-factor for assembly time.

Pour the veggie mixture over the psyllium in your jar and make sure to give ‘er a good shake to get those psyllium husks mixed in and absorbin’!

Pour that sucker out into a bowl, top with the crunchy dry cereal and damn will you be power-packed to take on the rest of your day.  Guaranteed to keep you greened and regular – just the way I like it.

Not to mention, it turns out to be a different color very time!  Make it a game and have your co-workers guess what each day will bring: Green?!  Red?!  Putrid brown?!  What fun!

Celebrate Often, and with Cheese

I was torn about the paltry and primarily symbolic raise I received last week.  The weekend was largely spend navigating extremes, oscillating from pangs of bitter entitlement to moments of humble appreciation.  Emerging now from the emotional turmoil into a week dedicated to raw food and yoga, I realize how gosh darn dumb I really am.  THE ANSWER IS THAT YOU SHOULD BE THANKFUL AND GLAD, EMILY.

Darn.  The belated epiphany totally took a dump on my chance to celebrate what I should have (at least with the promptness that gives a celebration that gutsy gusto).  Luckily – memories of the past’s more successful celebrations live on.

So in an attempt to recreate that feeling of exuberance, I’m going to revisit a ridiculously decadent celebratory cheese spread that John and I enjoyed last fall.

And I hope to at least leave someone with a lesson from the errors of my waffling ways: celebrate what you can while you can, be it the laughter of children or the smell of Pillsbury crescent rolls, because, well, duh.

Before I get into the chees-ifics, I should mention that despite how amazing each and every cheese we savored that day was, the winner of the night was hands down the jar of Dilly Beans I myself had made the summer prior with fresh-picked green and wax beans.

That said, there was nothing even remotely close to a loser on the table that night.  We started off with a real stunner: Jasper Hill‘s Moses Sleeper.  This Vermont-made bloomy rind cheese is perhaps the best American made brie-style wheel you can get.  Pillowy, gooey and smooth, the pasty center is at once buttery, citrusy and freshly earthen.  If you’re looking to convert a “non-brieliever” (yes, I went there) this is the cheese to do it with.

Next up was Valley Shepherd Creamery‘s Oldwick Shepherd, a classic favorite from the Garden State.  Fresh raw sheep’s milk is pressed into these firm wheels and cave-aged for at least 3 months to produce this wonderfully nutty Pyrenees-style cheese.  The earthen qualities of the lightly molded rind and the rich fatty sheep’s milk make for a slightly salty bite that would please even the most discerning Basque.

Crossing the world and going back in time to a provincial French monastery, we sample Abondance.  This alpine-style cheese produced exclusively in the Abondance valley is made from the milk of their prized Abondance cows (or occasionally the Montbéliard and Tarine breeds).  This ancient farm cheese touts a firm, smooth and supple body with fruity overtones and a lovely hint of hazelnut.  No wonder this is one of France’s most popular cheeses!

Like that all wasn’t enough, we really hit it big time with Cardo, an incredible washed rind goat cheese made by Mary Holbrook (yes, one lady and one lady only) at Sleight’s Farm in Somerset, England.  Don’t be deceived by it’s innocent creamy appearance — this stunner reeks of meaty pungency.  And yet while its full bodied texture coats your tongue with a savory, earthen, tingly funk, it still manages to deliver the fresh dry delicate floral tones one would expect from a goat’s milk cheese.

Mary has spent years perfecting her technique, which actually incorporates some inconsistency by rule.  For instance, she cuts the curds of the set milk with only her arms, leaving the curds free to maintain some irregularity.  Also setting this magical wheel apart, Mary uses cardoon (aka artichoke thistle) stamen instead of animal-based rennet to start her cheese, a Portuguese tradition.  After an aging process facilitated by Neal’s Yard Dairy (as she has no caves of her own, poor woman), a few lucky folks get their hands on this very limited production treat.

I rounded out this wildly decadent spread with a classic: Colston Bassett Stilton.  This creamy crumbly blue produced with all the pomp and circumstance of English tradition is the best way to finish out a night (especially when paired with a link of the Northeast’s own Rieker’s Landjaeger Sausage and some homemade black raspberry jam).

Take it from me — if you really want to celebrate (be it a baby or a finished book), $50 and a trip to Di Bruno Bros. can take you there.

Do it.

Improvising with Inspiration: Ash-e Anar or Persian Pomegranate Soup

Sometimes when your largely raw diet catches up with you right in the middle of the worst week ever, you just need to do something crazy in the kitchen.

So that’s what I did last week.

I’ve long been intrigued by the cuisine of the Middle East.  It’s one of the most foreign styles of cuisine to me personally and incorporates some unique flavor profiles that I could never cook up on my own.  One particularly alluring dish had long been calling my name, and it features the one ingredient, pomegranate seeds, that I intended to use up in my stress-busting kitchen rampage.  That is, Ash-e Anar, or Pomegranate (anar) Soup (ash), a traditional Persian dish featuring sweet and sour flavors mingling amidst a rich depth of complex aromatics.

I had read up on the history and tradition of the dish, primarily via the wonderful ethnic food blogs Habeas Brulee and Tigers & Strawberries (which I would highly recommend reading before trying to understand my botch of the dish below), and unfortunately while the soup did promised to highlight the intended star of the night, it also called for several ingredients that I never have around the house.  But that was part of the fun.  Improvising with inspiration, I’ll call it.

With inspiration in heart, I set off to improvise with what I had on hand.  Of course meaning it would be a health-conscious vegan version of the dish, but, you know.  Funny enough, though, the soup turned out absolutely delicious, if not “accurate,” and it was certainly unlike anything else I’ve ever prepared at home.  So read on for a chronicle of this stress-busting, not to mention heart-healing (ever read about the health benefits of pomegranate and/or turmeric?!), Persian culinary adventure:

The Ash-e Anar Experiment

Serves 2

SOUP

  • Non-stick spray
  • 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1 medium beet, small cubes
  • Lotsa (1 tbs?) turmeric
  • Some paprika (2 tsp) and a dash of cayenne (in an attempt to replicate the flavor/color of Aleppo Pepper)
  • Contents of 1 cardamom pod
  • Several dashes of fennel seed
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 cups stock (I used beef – shh don’t tell the real vegans) or water
  • Squeeze of agave nectar
  • About 1/2 cup pomegranate juice (made from pulverizing about 3/4 cup seeds in food processor and straining)
  • Large handful of chopped red chard
  • Chopped cilantro and parsley to taste
  • Cooked white rice (optional)

“MEAT” BALLS

  • 3/4 tube of sausage-flavored Gimme Lean
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, scallions and chives (the last living scallions and chives from my garden) to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

TO SERVE

  • Clove of crushed garlic sauteed with turmeric until golden
  • Pomegranate seeds
  1. Saute onion in large soup pot until soft and golden brown.  Add garlic cloves and saute until fragrant.  Add lentils and continue to saute until they take on some color (a few minutes max).
  2. Add 2-3 cups stock or water (NOTE: you may have to add water/stock later as the soup thickens.  Do as looks right to you at the time).  As you bring to a boil, add turmeric, paprika, cayenne, cardamom, fennel seeds, S&P, and cinnamon stick.  As you reduce from boil to nice simmer, add beet.  Let simmer.
  3. Prepare “meat” balls!  With whatever meat or meat substitute you have on hand, prepare balls by mushing together with chopped herbs and garlic.  Make them about the size of a chestnut or walnut.
  4. NOTE: When finished with “meat” balls, I popped them right into the simmering soup.  In retrospect I should have browned them first, then popped into soup, as the vegan sausage does not cook through properly when simmered like lamb (which is traditionally used).
  5. Once “meat” balls are added to soup (whether browned first or not, your choice!), continue to simmer for another 20 minutes or so.  Most important thing here is that the lentils and the “meat” balls cook through, so play it by ear/taste/touch!
  6. When you’re getting close and your lentils are soft, add a nice squeeze of agave nectar (or honey or sugar or whatever), the pomegranate juice, the chopped chard (or kale or spinach or whatever), and the chopped herbs (really almost any herbs will do).
  7. Simmer until chard wilts and fish out cinnamon stick.  If you would like to have rice in your soup, you can add at this time.  I had no rice, but mixed about 3/4 cup into my boyfriend’s portion.
  8. Serve with a golden-yellow garlic clove and pomegranate seeds.  Voila!  Vegan “Fauxash-e Anar!”  Yum!!

Goodbye New Mexico, Hello Raw Beet Soup

Hello again, blog.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been away for a while.  It’s true.  I left you.

For this (green chili cheeseburger at Perea’s):

And this (chile rellenos and enchiladas at Padilla’s):

And this (green chili stew at Maria’s):

And a WHOLE lot of this (IPAs at La Cumbre Brewing):

But I’m back now.

Needless to say, New Mexico was quite a marathon.  ABQ eats are certainly friendly going down, but they’re not so friendly afterwards.  After 14 straight days of drinking and irregular eating habits, it’s time to normalize.  Back to a world where people don’t consider melted cheese a food group and tortillas a vegetable.

Luckily today I came across this little bugger to the right from Harvard (a non-bureaucratic smart person attempt at the food pyramid known as the Healthy Eating Plate) to remind me that even through there’s still a whole basket full of Christmas candy and a dump trucks worth of nuts n’ bolts at home, it’s time to start actually using my brain when it comes to what I’m putting in my body.

To kick things off strong, I started with a meal that could cleanse the bowels of a two ton rhino — Raw Beet Soup with Sauerkraut Shitake Seitan Hash:

Raw Beet Soup with Sauerkraut Shitake Seitan Hash

Serves 2

FOR SOUP:

  • 2 whole red beets, unpeeled
  • 1 carrot, unpeeled
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1/4 white or yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (with seeds)
  • vegetable stock/broth as needed
  • dill (fresh, preferably, or dried) to taste
  • fennel seeds to taste
  • agave nectar (or honey) to taste
  • dash apple cider vinegar
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • VITAMIX, BLENDTEC, OR OTHER HIGHPOWER BLENDER ESSENTIAL!

FOR HASH:

  • lacto-fermented sauerkraut (good, simple recipe here – my recipe will follow, sometime)
  • handful of mushrooms
  • seitan (omit for gluten free version)
  1. To make soup, put everything in the blender and BLEND. Seriously. That’s it.  But blend for long time.  Like 4 minutes. Adjust seasonings/add stock/broth as needed to achieve desired texture.
  2. To make hash, chop all ingredients thinly and mix.
  3. Pile hash, pour soup, serve with water-thinned greek yogurt (if not vegan), cashew cream (if vegan), or nothing (if lazy).
  4. CLEANSE AWAY!