Post #654 Market Day

June 30, 2019 at 1:31 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the U.S., people tend to think that the way they do things is the way things are done always and everywhere.  Because of the traveling I’ve done for work around the globe, I’ve learned differently, and in my ideal world I embrace the European method of markets and food purchases.  Has anyone reading this blog ever seen a show on HGTV called House Hunter International?  We like to watch it for the scenery and the day dream of living in Ireland, or Italy, or France, or somewhere else.

Buying and selling food in most other places in the world is nothing like it is here in the U.S.  Here, we can buy food for as long as a month, as long as we have a place to store it.  With the invention of metal cans, chest freezers, and aluminum foil, we can stock up for as long as we please, as long as we do it right.  And in that spirit, the things we use for food storage and prep are necessarily bigger.  Our fridges are floor to ceiling and sometimes as wide as three people.  They contain freezer section large enough to hold a small cow, or pig, or goat, and several chickens tucked into the extra spaces.  Our kitchens have enough cabinets above and below to hold case after case of goods both canned and dry.  And many kitchens come with the pantry, a walk in closet affair usually outfitted with shelves to store still more items.

In most other parts of the world, food is purchased mostly on a daily basis.  Sometimes two or three days in advance, but typically not much more than that.  Part of it is that it’s the way it’s always been done; but another part is storage space.  Refrigerators that I’ve run into tend to be about the size of a dorm room fridge and sit under a counter.  Where we buy eggs by the dozen or dozen-and-a-half, most other places they are bought by the half-dozen.  When you need more, you go buy more.   Food tends to be fresher, not nearly so chemically treated as ours, and far better tasting in the long run since veggies and fruits, in particular, are sold much closer to their ripest stage.  Even bread is better since you’re buying bread that was baked that morning.  When I was in Paris, I used to buy hot fresh croissants on my way to work every morning and have them for breakfast.  Yes, I put on some pounds, despite the amount of walking I did.  And I did do some walking there.

So, in our household, we blend the two.  We tend to stock up on things that aren’t perishable so we can take advantage of sales.  We have a chest freezer so we can freeze meats that we’ve portioned into meals for two off of larger cuts that were economically a good buy.  Then, we buy vegetables and fruit once a week or so at farmers markets when they’re around; and in grocery stores when the outdoor markets no longer supply what we want to eat.  So we’re able to save money by buying in bulk, but support the local economy at the same time.

So, we were excited to hear that the first of the summer vegetable and fruits were ripening and the farmers markets would now have cherry tomatoes and strawberries!  Well, not the strawberries, so much, cuz we just don’t like them.  But the tomatoes were definitely a draw.  The closest large market is only about ten minutes away, but we opted to go to the biggest in the state, about 45 minutes away.  Boy, was it worth it.

This place sat on about twelve acres and was chock full.  There were only a few craft booths.  Everything else was product or food goods from local vendors.  The distilleries were there, as well as one mead maker, a meadery maybe?  And a couple of local wines, but I didn’t look too closely.  I had my eyes open for tomatoes.

The market opened at 9, but because of one thing or another and due to parking several blocks away and walking, we arrived about 9:30.  We found one booth with tomatoes, but I only was able to snag two small ones before they were gone.  We did get some wonderful baby carrots, a whole pound for $1.50.  And a bunch of radishes the size of ping pong balls.  We also got a container of jalapenos and one of shitake mushroom (which I’m eating with my lunch right now) and a small bunch of broccolini.

We made friends with several dogs; we scored two free bags from a giveaway the local radio station was having; and picked up some CBD oil to ease our aches and pains.  Getting old is not for the faint of heart.  We wandered for quite a while, dodging in and out of the crowds.  I found another booth with tomatoes, but they were picked too early and were still ripening.  I wanted vine ripened cuz there’s just no beating that flavor.  It’s better than candy.

The best part of the market is it’s located right next to our favorite antique place.  We went there and there was a new shop opened up that sells fresh baked goods, bagels mostly.  And they’re baked in a wood fired oven.  However, the big draw for that area is the book store.  It’s the one that has free books in front, and a huge barn/warehouse of books inside.  I went to the bookstore while Partner/Spouse went to find a restroom and score some bagels.  And I found this:

This sucker is huge and cost $7.  That’s roughly $.50 a pound.  Bought it yesterday, and all I’ve been able to do is read the table of contents.  I glanced through the opening chapters and this tome tells you exactly how to run your restaurant successfully.  I can’t wait to get through the first perusal later this afternoon.  It’s THE textbook for a professional chef.  Or so I’m told.  By the book itself.  So take it with a grain of salt.

This morning, Partner/Spouse made a raspberry cake from Mary Berry’s recipe on The Great British Bake Off so he can take it work tomorrow.  He used berries he bought yesterday.  Later on, after front porch sitting time, I’m going to make the cheesecake dessert I posted about last time also to take to work.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

So, that’s our fun weekend and scores and finds.  How was yours?  Let me know if there’s anything I can help with.  Feel free to share this post anytime you wish.

As always,

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Post #653 Everything’s Coming Up Tomatoes

June 27, 2019 at 6:51 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apologies to Ethel Merman, but it’s so great to see this.  I brought the dog in from his morning walk on Monday around 6am-ish, and glanced at the tomato plants as I always do.  This is what I saw!

I was so excited!  I wasn’t certain I was going to get any given the strange weather we’ve been having, but it hasn’t seemed to hurt the plants at all.  Just put the growing season back a little.  I guess.  I’m not from around here, and any memories I have of this area are over half a century old.

From age 5 to age 11, we lived in upstate New York, and the town is only about 5 hours from where I’m at now.  We lived in an apartment that was the top floor of a large house.  It had a big front porch, and a good sized screened in back porch.  Must be where I developed my love for front porches.

All the neighbors loved the neighborhood kids.  We were a large group and wandered around in a pack of varying sizes depending on who wanted to do what at any moment.  One lady had a vegetable garden and it was from that garden that I learned to recognize the various growing stages of many vegetables.  For instance, I learned that new peas were sweet and could be eaten in the pod.  As they grew, the pods toughened up but the peas were still tender and sweet.  Eventually, they were totally inedible in the raw state and had to be cooked.

String bean, aka green beans, were edible in the pod at any stage.  I still eat them raw once in a while when I wander through the grocery store.  People give me odd looks, but they taste good.  Raw potato tastes good, too, but I don’t recommend eating a lot of it unless you’re used to eating raw veggies.

It was the tomatoes that it was hardest to keep me out of.  She had several varieties and took time to explain what each one was for.  Cherry tomatoes were for salads to dress them up.  They could be eaten in one bite.  Roma, or plum tomatoes were best for sauces, like spaghetti, and soups.  Beefsteaks were the big ones that were sliced onto sandwiches, or diced into sauces when you wanted chunks of tomato floating around.  She showed me how to prep them (never letting me get my hands on a knife), and how to preserve them.

I learned that green tomatoes taste terrible.  Unless you sliced them, dunked them in batter, and fried them in lard.  Sprinkle with salt, or parmesan cheese, or layered between slices of bread, and fried green tomatoes become a rustic delicacy.  I also learned (not from her but later on) that green tomatoes can add a tartness to jams, salsas, curries, and other relishes for a different impact.

So, when I saw my first little bundle of cherry tomatoes, I started my own celebration.

I love tomatoes in nearly every form but one.  I cannot abide tomato soup.  I don’t know what it is, but I haven’t willingly eaten a bowl of that since I was around 6.  A friend who shares my passion for tomatoes and I were sitting at work discussing tomatoes and he conjectured there was not a single sandwich that was not enhanced by the addition of tomatoes.

Then he looked at me and said, “Oh, there’s one.”

I looked at him for a minute and said, “Well?”

“Peanut butter and jelly.”  We both laughed for a while and I thought that was it.

Until a few months ago, when I discovered tomato jelly.  Haven’t tried it yet, but I’m told it’s jelly like any other and would be great on a PBJ.  Not gonna try it any time soon.

So, now that I have tons of tomatoes on my little plant, I have to wait for the greenies to ripen.  And hope the squirrels don’t get them.  Oh, and I checked the San Marzano when I got home tonight.  I got some!!

************

So, recently a Facebook friend (well, actual friend since we worked together for several months) posted a pic that she got from somewhere:

It’s a hand written recipe card retrieved from someone’s mom or grandmom and it’s a no-cook cheesecake.  You know how much I love those forgotten recipes buried in someone else’s archives, so it’s no surprise that I grabbed this one quick.

Cheesecake is another thing I like a lot.  My preference is for the dense, cooked, New York City style cheesecake, preferably with a thin layer of sour cream on top, and blueberry sauce, or cherry sauce.  Or chocolate but that’s pushing things a little with the sour cream and all.

The recipe is simple and involves lemon jello as the stabilizing agent.  Cream cheese is whipped with sugar; evaporated milk is whipped till fluffy.  Everything is combined gently and poured into a 13×9 inch pan, or barring that, two 9 inch pie plates.  Both of these have a graham cracker crust, so if you wanted to skip that step and just buy the graham cracker crust in the pie tin, it might be a little easier.  Then it just sits in the fridge for hours until it’s firm.  It sounds like it should be good.  And I can see where changing up the flavor of jello could make this a different flavored dessert.  I’ll be making it this weekend so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Feel free to share this post far and wide as you choose, and send any questions my way that you like.  Oh, one update.  When I posted that series of questions from my friend, she found finally found jicama in the store and got some.  She likes it!

And as always,

Post #652 Tomatoes and Bread

June 23, 2019 at 1:52 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

So who doesn’t like a good tomato sandwich?  My favorite way to eat them is sliced tomato and cheese on bread.  But I learned this week they must be eaten fresh made.  Do NOT wrap them in aluminum foil at 6am and save them for lunch at 1:30pm.  Ripe tomato juiciness gets absorbed by the bread and the whole thing turns slimy.  Tastes good, but can’t be eaten as a sandwich.  Of course, I was using store bought pre-fab bread and not my own, but still.

So, no surprise I’m anxiously waiting for any vine ripened tomatoes to appear, either on my tomato plants, or in a any farmer’s market anywhere in the state.  I’m getting loads of blossoms, but no fruit yet.  And I look every day, several times.  The farmers are caught in the same loop I am.  Late winter, late soil prep, late harvest.  And I’m used to living in warmer climates where crops go in earlier and early tomatoes are abundant.

Because my mind has been on tomatoes a lot recently, I recalled a tomato occurrence from years ago that still makes me giggle.

I had moved to the DC area and was dating the woman who would become my wife, but we were still in the new, getting to know you, phase.  She invited me to a Friday night gathering with her brother and sister and their significant others.  We were joining them for drinks and nibbles.

This was the first time I had met any of these people although I’d talked with her older sister on the phone a couple of times.  So as we were climbing the steps of the stoop to the front door where her brother and his wife lived, I was casting in my mind for a list of topics for conversation.

I noticed a pot with a healthy tomato plant basking in the setting sun next to the door, and thought, “Aha!  Ice breaker!”

At some point during the evening, while talking with the wife, I said, “I noticed the tomato plant by the door.  Do you expect to get a lot?  I’ve never grown one in a pot before.”

She gave a small chuckle.  “It’s an experiment for me, too.  It’s just the one plant, but I’m hoping a get a few.  If it works out, next year there will be as many pots as I can fit there.”

I asked her to let me know how it went, because I thought it was something I could do at my own apartment.

As the weeks passed, and we saw more of the family, the tomato plant became a standard talking point for the two of us.  She regretfully informed me that there was only one tomato growing, but it was a nice healthy one and she was babying it along.

Several weeks passed by when we didn’t see or talk to each other, so when we did, I asked about the tomato.

“Let me tell you about that.  It grew so big and so red.”  She held her hand out cupped like she was holding it.  My mouth watered thinking about it.  “I left for work one morning and it was perfect.  I said ‘I’m picking that thing tonight and having a tomato sandwich, just me, all by myself.'”

“That sounds so good.  I’m jealous.”  I said.

“Yeah, I got home and it was gone.”

I was puzzled.  “Did a neighbor take, do you think?  Or someone walking by?”

“Nope, the damned squirrels got it.  All I found was a couple of small pieces of skin on the steps!”

So the squirrels knew just when to pick them too.

We’re lucky around here.  Not too many squirrels and they’re all over in the yards across the street where there’s real food to eat.  When they can steal it from the bird feeders.

But I am still waiting anxiously for tomatoes.

And I tried a new bread recipe this week.  It’s claim is fresh bread in forty minutes.  Only a ten minute rising time.  And I wanted to try it.  So, the day I chose to make it was one of the rainiest this month, and if you haven’t been looking at the weather up here in New England, let me tell you, it’s been an incredibly wet Spring.  Way over the norm.

So, the bread is actually to be made in sandwich bun style.  The recipe calls for 2 TABLESPOONS of yeast.  My guess (and that of the friend who first brought this recipe to my attention) is that the excess yeast is to make up for the rising time.  So you dissolve the yeast into one cup and 2 tablespoons of warm water.  Then add a quarter cup of sugar and a third cup of vegetable oil.  Again, it’s a yeast booster.  Let it sit for five minutes while the yeast activates, then add three and a half cups of flour, one large egg, and one teaspoon of salt, and mix it all together.

I use the Paul Hollywood method for mixing dough.  I turn my right hand into a claw and mix it all up that way, turning the bowl with my left hand slowly.  It all comes together much quicker than using a machine.  But this dough was a sticky mess that clung to my fingers and got worse the longer I mixed.  It was like wallpaper paste.  Using a bowl scraper, I managed to get the mess onto a floured counter, but according to the instructions, you are only supposed to work this dough for about five minutes.  I worked it longer than that simply because it was far too wet and sticky to do anything else with it.  I added another cup and a half of flour to get it manageable.  I cut it into twelve “equal” balls and placed them on baking sheets that had been sprayed with vegetable oil.  You’re supposed to let them sit for ten minutes, then put them into a 425 degree oven to bake for 10-12 minutes.

Those steps went fairly well, except for a tendency for the dough to get wet and sticky the longer it sat.  But I did get twelve rolls of a sort out of it.  It looked nothing like the pictures.  I’d used the last three packages of yeast I had on hand to make these things so I couldn’t try again.  The counter was a mess, much messier than I’d ever seen with any other bread recipe I’ve made.  I’ve seen on television where a wet sticky dough will come together after it’s been worked for a while, but not just five minutes.

While they were baking, there was no aroma of baking bread in the house.  And when they were cool enough to sample, they tasted very bland, like a saltless cracker.  So one teaspoon of salt was not enough.

So, looking forward to a 40 minute bread roll was a non-starter in our house.  I’ll keep looking because that’s a great plan, but I’m not certain it will ever come to realization.

Today, though, I made a banana bread.  If the flavor of the batter is any indication, it’s going to be great once it’s cooled.  As usual, I played with the recipe while I was making it.  It called for a quarter cup of butter, but I turned that into a half cup cuz we like butter.  It called for one large banana mashed up, but I had two so . . .  And it never called for vanilla, so I added a half teaspoon.  Here’s what I got:

The recipe was pretty simple, but had items I’d never used before in a banana bread.

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • Additional walnuts, semisweet chocolate chips or coarse sugar, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugar until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in banana and sour cream. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Add to butter mixture, stirring just until moistened. Fold in 1/2 cup walnuts.
  2. Transfer to a greased 9×5-in. loaf pan. If desired, sprinkle with additional walnuts.
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

Of course, as I said, I played with the recipe while I was making it.  I put in twice the butter, and twice the banana which made it a fairly wet batter, so it stayed in the oven for an extra ten minutes before the skewer came out clean.  And I used coconut and sunflower seeds instead of walnuts.  I used mini chocolate chips to spread the chocolate flavor throughout.  And I topped it with sesame seeds to get that toasty flavor.  As can be seen from the pic, the top cracked really well to let the steam escape, and looks really attractive.  Once it’s cooled completely, I’ll be diving into it.

So, there’s the stories of tomatoes and breads.  What cooking adventures did everyone get up to this weekend?  Feel free to share the post anyway you like.  Holler at me with questions if you got ’em.

As always,

 

 

Post #651 Keto and What the Heck Is It?

June 16, 2019 at 11:50 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

So, we’re all growing older every day and as much as I’d like to believe I’m Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, once in a while my body reminds me that I’m not a teenager anymore.  Of course, I also have many helpful friends (they know who they are!) who persistently remind me of my advanced years, as well.  I’m so lucky.  The other day, while at a bookstore, a small locally owned business that we’ve been to before, Partner/Spouse brought up a book he was interested in called Keto Lunches.  His boss who is also a larger man, but much younger than we are, is heavy into Keto and has lost weight at a reasonable rate, and kept it off.  So we got the book with the vague idea of doing keto lunches.

Being me, I can’t let it sit there.  I have to know about what I’m doing so I can make informed decisions.  So, once we got home, I read through the introduction which was very helpful and told me a lot.  The I went to the internet to verify what I’d learned from the book because a book can say anything.  So can the internet, but the various sites all cited the same sources and said the same thing so it all seems reliable.

So, the first thing I discovered is the keto diet, or ketogenic diet, is not a fad diet.  It’s been around for over a century and was first designed to help epileptics.  Since it’s inception, though, it’s slowly and quietly (till recently) gained in popularity due to its effectiveness and results.

The second thing I learned is that keto is not the same thing as paleo.  Briefly, the paleo diet is eating like the cavemen ate in the paleolithic era.  Humans at that time were wanderers, and had to eat pretty much what came along.  Their digestive systems were adapted to that style of diet and could be anything from meats, to nuts, to grass or any other thing they found that didn’t eat them first.  Including bugs.  The modern paleo limits consumption to all natural and no mass produced products.  Milk and dairy were supposedly unknown to the caveman so it’s not eaten on this diet, as well as sugar, alcohol, and coffee (among others.)

Another thing I learned is that the science behind this diet is sound.  It’s been studied for over a hundred years and refined and will do no harm to the body if followed properly.  This is one thing that always worries me about fad diets because they typically say to eliminate one thing completely and watch the weight melt off.  Of course, once that one thing is reintroduced, the weight comes right back.  Keto is an all around diet that includes all the food groups, but in different measures.

The human body needs fuel to operate the same way your car needs fuel.  It gets that fuel by breaking down the foods we eat into glucose to power the engine.  The easiest form of food to break down into glucose is carbohydrates, or starch.  That’s why we like cake so much.  All carbs.  A balanced diet includes about 50% carbs, 25% protein, 24% fruits/vegetables, and 1% fats.  The keto diet switches that up, and for a very good reason.  In keto (and Atkins for a different proportion), the carbs are severely limited, the proteins are scaled back, and dietary fats rule the roost.  About 80% of the keto diet is from dietary fats, 15% is protein, and 5% is carbs.  The reason you can’t eliminate carbs totally is because the body needs some carbohydrates to function properly.

Going back to our engine metaphor, when we fuel the engine with too much carbs, the body will store the extra as fat.  But since there is always a ready supply of carbs coming in, that extra never gets used, and gets added to.  There are ways to reduce the amount of fat we carry.  One of the easiest is to reduce the amount we eat while increasing the amount of activity.  I can attest to that personally.  When I was diagnosed with diabetes early last year, I eliminated soda from my diet completely (and wine, too, sob) and the weight loss was so dramatic that people I worked with for less than six months were commenting on it.  I didn’t change very much else about my diet because we’ve always eaten fairly healthy.

In keto, by eating primarily dietary fats, the body isn’t getting the carbs and has to burn something.  So fat becomes the fuel.  And once the body starts burning the fat rather than the carbs, the fat reserves start to disappear.  There are more calories in fat than in carbs so it disappears slowly, and in a more healthy way.  So, in a keto diet, carbs are the enemy.

How tough is that?  No bread.  No cake.  No donuts.  No chocolate.  No wine.  I’m making myself sad just listing all that.

Except that’s not really true.  It’s about balance, and what works for you.  Some people have cut down carbs dramatically and lost the weight, then eaten smaller amounts of carbs, and been fine.  Others, have cut down, lost, and gone back to carbs, but in a more measured and healthy manner.  They gained a little weight back, but not in an unhealthy way.  So it really depends on the person and how they manage their own calorie intake.  Just like any diet.  And I’m using diet here as in the total diet, not just a fad regimen.

So what’s allowed to eat on a keto diet?  You’d be surprised.

Eggs are a good thing.  Just be careful about your heart.  Bacon is also a good thing, which is one of the things that draws people to this diet.  I once knew a guy who was on the Atkins diet and would bring two pounds of cooked bacon (just bacon) to work every day and nibble on it all day long.  I never noticed that he lost weight, but he looked happy.  Cheese is good, too.  And butter.

What’s not allowed?  Well, there’s nothing that strictly not allowed, because you need it all.  Just severely limit the amount you eat or drink of it.  So, in the overall scheme of things, in a week of meals, one sandwich is not a killer.  Nor is one six ounce glass of wine.  But limit the carbs as much as you can.  And know where your carbs are coming from.  Vegetables are good for you, right?  But carbs are in veggies like corn, and potatoes, and carrots.  Again, you can have these, but don’t have as much.  If you used to have a whole baked potato, try eating a third or a quarter of one.

So, we’ve got one book, Keto Lunches.

We’ve also got a few more on the way.  Once I’m used to cooking the keto way, I’ll be able to remake my recipes into keto-centric versions.  Luckily, we both like salad, and as long as we leave out the carb heavy veggies, we can have all the salad dressing we want.

Feel free to share this post as you like and send any questions my way.

And as always,

Post #650 And the Answer Is . . . !

June 12, 2019 at 8:55 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So it’s the 6th anniversary of the blog.  I don’t know if I ever expected it to last this long.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but I’m happy with every milestone it passes.  So to mark this one, I’ve added a new “feature”.  I’ve long said that any time any of my readers has a question about food or technique to simply ask and I’d do my best to answer as completely as I could.  Someone took me up on that and sent me a series of questions about foods she’s unfamiliar with.

Let me give some background.  I’ve known this person since high school and she’s been a good friend for decades.  She was there at the start of my cooking education and has watched my skill set grow in the subsequent years.  She is not a cook, but that’s mostly due to impatience than anything else.  During recent years, she’s been asking about cooking and following some of the recipes I’ve posted.  She bought one of the cookbooks that is one of my favorite “go to” books, and asked for a list of my favorite recipes from it.  I did, and she read through them, and came back with questions about things she was unfamiliar with.  So, here’s the answers she needs.

What is a tomatillo?

This is a tomatillo:

It’s Spanish for little tomato, and it looks quite a bit like one.  It has a paper-thin husk around it.  The husk is removed and the tomatillo is eaten either cooked or raw depending on the recipe being made.  In my experience, cooked tomatillos are generally roasted then added to whatever is being cooked.  Roasting strengthens and enhances the flavor which is a light citrus tang.  Mostly tomatillos are used in sauces.  Salsa Verde is a tomatillo based salsa the uses tomatillo, green peppers, and cilantro that’s used in Mexican cuisine a lot.  One of my favorite recipes is pork loin stewed in salsa verde and served with rice and tortillas.  It’s not a spicy fruit so it’s easy to add to salads, tacos, or whatever you want.

What is Jicama?

This is jicama.

Jicama

It’s a root vegetable that in my opinion is best eaten raw.  It has the texture of a potato and the flavor of an apple.  It’s crisp and juicy and lightly sweet.  I’ve seen it cooked, deep fried into French fries, but I’ve never tried it.  I’ve thrown it into salads, cut it into strips for dipping in hummus, and cut it for appetizers by itself.  It’s sweet flavor lends itself sharp flavored foods, as well as blander foods.  My favorite way to eat this is to cut it into strips and eat it plain.

What is orzo?

This is orzo.

It’s a pasta that is shaped like rice and can be used in any recipe that calls for rice, except risotto.  Orzo can be added to soup, eaten on its own, or added to other dishes.  It’s pasta, so any pasta dish that calls for a short piece of pasta can be enhanced with orzo.  I’ve also put a small handful of cooked and cooled orzo in salads of just about any kind.  I’ve made chicken salad with a mayonnaise base and added orzo to give a different texture.  Just remember that like rice and other forms of pasta, orzo absorbs the liquid its in to the point where it will fall apart.  I did learn of a new technique for cooking pasta that helps that.  I haven’t tried it so if anyone does before I do, let me know how it goes.  Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and sauté some onion.  When the onion is clear, add whatever pasta you’re going to use and stir to coat.  Allow the pasta to cook in the oil until it just starts to get toasty, about five minutes.  Then finish cooking in whatever liquid you’re adding it to.  The oil seals in the starches but allows the pasta to cook completely without absorbing too much liquid.  This sounds like the perfect way to cook orzo so it doesn’t explode in your soup or casserole.

What is escarole?

This is:

It’s a leafy green that can be used in salad mixes.  It has a slightly bitter flavor so it seldom used by itself.  It’s part of the chicory family which gives it its signature lightly bitter flavor.  I’ve seen it used in soups, salads, and sandwiches.  I like the flavor it gives to sandwiches, but I don’t eat a lot of it.  Like any other leafy green vegetable it’s rich in antioxidants.  To get the most nutrition from this veggie, it’s best eaten with either potatoes or white beans.  There are tons of recipes, from nearly every cultural cuisine that pairs escarole with beans in a soup.  I like it when I want something different.

What is falafel?

Here we go:

Falafel is a paste made from ground up chickpeas.  Typically, it’s formed into balls and deep fried.  The paste is made by grinding the chickpeas with herbs and spices and adding an egg for binding together.  They can shaped into whatever shape you like, and can actually be cooked in any way you like.  Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of recipes calling for baked falafel which is likely healthier than deep fried.  Can’t vouch for the flavor though.  Anything deep fried is better.  Mostly, I see falafel in sandwiches like this:

But in many places, it’s a street food and eaten by hand after dipping into a thick sauce.  But I gotta tell you, when you look at that sandwich with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce, I’d eat an old flip flop with all that.  Falafel is so good, and to make it more easily accessible to the average consumer, there are mixes available that you just add water to, and sometimes an egg, to make the basic dough, then you shape and fry.  Some are good and some are not so good.  Just remember, you get what you pay for so go for the quality brands.  Or, if you just want to try it, go to a Middle Eastern restaurant.  They’re going to do it right.

What is tempeh?

It’s this:

Doesn’t look so great does it?  It’s a meat substitute that’s been around for a long time.  It’s one of those things you gotta wonder how it happened.  It looks a little like compressed brains, but it’s actually compress soy beans that have fermented and a special fungus has been added.  After the processing is done, you have a product similar to tofu but with a much firmer and meatier texture, and a ton more nutrition as well as a very stable shelf life.  And like tofu, it can take on the flavor of the things it’s cooked with.  So, if you have some tempeh and some spaghetti sauce, you can turn them into this:

And have a healthier version of spaghetti.  I’ve only had tempeh once, in a sandwich, and it was excellent.  But it takes some work to make, and it takes some time to find a brand you like and trust.  Once that’s done, though, if you’re totally into the whole nuts and grains style of cooking, this is a good meat substitute that won’t let you down.

So!  I hope you’ve learned something from someone else’s questions.  Please feel free to throw more questions my way if you like.  I’ll try to make this a regular feature in the blog, but that’s really up to you folks.  Feel free to share this post as you like.

As always,

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