Grains – the good and the bad

This was an interesting assignment because until this week’s class, the only grains I’ve eaten have been rices and barley. This confusing world of alternate grains overwhelmed me. But cooking millet this week sparked my interest in spreading out. I chose to start with millet.

toasting-milletCooking a pot of millet for the week was simple. Toast the grain with a little butter while heating chicken stock in a separate pan. Put the millet into the stock, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Done! I ate a little to see if it still interested me. It was chewy and rather satisfying!

Now I had a tupperware full of millet, I needed something to do with it. So I searched online for recipes . Since we’d already tried millet pilaf in class, I chose to go simple with a chicken soup. If figured this was just a chicken noodle soup exchanging millet for pasta. As I thought of the millet’s chew though, I decided millet alone would be overwhelming to me. So I added in rice to even it out. I had a combo of brown and white rice in the refrigerator from a previous meal, and found frozen wild rice in the freezer. Grains were complete. Next  the stock and meat. I only had boxed stock and 2 frozen chicken breasts. I poached chicken-wild-rice-millet-soup-2the chicken (simple) and shredded it. To enhance the stock, I sautéed diced carrots, celery, onion, garlic and dried Italian herbs (I’d read that roasting dried herbs before adding them to the pot enhances their flavor). Next I added stock, a little chicken base (thought this would ramp up the flavor a little),  and simmered it for 20 minutes. The stock was amazingly tasty. To finish it off, I added in the cooked rices, millet and shredded chicken. The result was a very satisfying soup and knowledge that I could have good soup in a pinch even if I didn’t make my own stock!

Breakfast millet. I was uncertain about this part of the assignment. My recipe search found 2 types of options – millet-poridge-2millet cakes with  maple syrup and porridge. I opted to for the porridge since I love steel cut oatmeal  with diced apples. The recipe I found online (http://bit.ly/2kMOcDn)  guided me to boil then simmer millet in water, milk, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and raisins ( I used dried tart cherries instead) for 25 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. The result? Bland, chewy and boring – not a winner. I won’t try this one again – my traditional oatmeal is much better.

My third recipe for millet was sautéed shrimp and scallion millet risoto  (http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/sauteed-shrimp-and-scallion-millet). But ias I gathered together the ingredients, I realized I had leftover pot roast in my refrigerator that needed to be used. My family doesn’t eat left overs and I had made too large a pot roast to create a 1-meal dinner. My usual solution is to make beef with barley soup. So I decided to switch my grain to barley. The only challenge was I didn’t have any mushrooms to give the soup depth and beef-barley-soup-ctexture. So I returned to the sautéed diced carrots, celery, onion idea from the chicken wild rice millet soup. I already had onions that had been cooked with the pot roast so added in the other vegetables, thyme and pepper. To this I threw in 2 cups of beef broth from the pot roast, 3 cups of boxed stock, 3 bay leaves and 1/3rd cup hulled barley. Since time was limited, I tried out the pressure cooker again. This time I was successful in getting the pressure high enough and cooked the soup in 15 minutes. To finish it off, I added in the shredded pot roast meat and boosted the soup’s flavor with soy sauce and a splash of red wine vinegar. Again, another delicious soup.

Now I have more soup than I know what to do with. But since I could happily eat soup at every meal for the rest of my life, this really isn’t a problem.

All in all, the grain assignment was a fun and eye opening experience.

 

 

 

Purple potatoes & pressure cooking

Vegetables – a missing ingredient in my diet. When I do get them in, they’re routine and rather boring (salads, vegetable soup, steamed things). This would definitely be another nutrition-expanding week.

Mississippi Market was my starting place to peruse and chose produce. After spending 20 minutes looking, touching, reading (checking recipes online) and finally choosing, I walked away with 1 artichoke, 6 brussels sprouts, and 1 Molokai purple sweet potato. Yes, I started small (it’s a pilot testing experience – I’ll expand next time if successful). I’ve cooked artichokes before (canned in artichoke spinach dip) but never tried a live one. Brussels sprouts have always seemed odd to me and I’ve never eaten them so this was my new vegetable experience. And the Molokai sweet potato – I just had to try one because it is really odd looking and purple.

While shopping, I thought about the challenge to purchase vegetables in bulk. I’ve learned the hard, expensive way that it’s better to only buy bulk for vegetables I can cut up and freeze for later use. I do this with the basics – carrots, celery, onions, corn, spinach, zucchini, etc. It spurred me to research other vegetables that can be frozen. I found guides for freezing tomatoes (!) and cucumbers (in a brine – basically frozen pickles) and much more. My interest is now piqued to explore this further so I’m ready for all the farmer’s market produce next summer.

With vegetables in hand, I planned my attack starting with the artichoke. How hard could it be?!? artichoke-raw I found a simple-sounding Williams and Sonoma recipe for artichoke soup using a pressure cooker (http://bit.ly/2kJ9nUc). The process was straight forward – cut up the artichoke; saute onions and garlic then simmer with chicken stock and wine; add with artichoke pieces, diced potatoes, thyme, salt, pepper in a pressure cooker; cook for 20 minutes; blend and strain; finish off by adding warmed cream. I quickly realized this wouldn’t be so easy. The recipe called for 4 large artichokes but I only had 1 medium so needed to adjust all the other ingredients – simple enough. But this reduced the liquid in the recipe to less than needed to use the pressure cooker. Looking at what I had, I added in cauliflower florets in the fridge to bulk out the vegetables allowing me to increase the chicken stock. I’d seen cauliflower as an additional ingredient in another recipe (http://bit.ly/1jPhJ6H) and thought it sounded good.

Cutting up the artichoke was harder than anticipated (it wasn’t anything like the pictures I found online) which made me worry that artichoke parts that shouldn’t be included were thrown in the pot. Next, the pressure cooker didn’t work. This was my 1st time trying one at home and I couldn’t get the pressure up (the toggle on top never moved). pressure-cookerBy the time I figured out this wasn’t going to work, I’d boiled down the chicken stock to the point I needed to add in more. Unfortunately there was no more stock. Luckily, I found a jar of chicken base I didn’t know I had so created stock with base and water. The vegetables were pretty soft at this point so I finished cooking the soup in a non-pressure manner. At this point I blended the mess with an immersion blender which immediately got clogged with the artichoke fibers. I assume this was a sign that I didn’t cut up the artichoke correctly at the start. I had to strain the resulting soup twice to manage these fibers. In the end, I had was left with 1 decent sized serving of soup.

artichoke-soupGiven the complicated process, I didn’t anticipate good results. To my absolute surprise, the soup was REALLY delicious! Even my daughter whose favorite food is frozen chicken nuggets (she buys her own) found it good. I’d definitely make this again but this time with frozen artichoke hearts and plenty of stock!

I kept things simple with the brussels sprouts. I knew they had an intense taste and this made me think of a recipe I’d used for another vegetable that I didn’t care for – roasted kale chips. I’ve made kale chips for years as an easy-to-make snack. A simple internet search found a similar recipe for brussels sprouts (http://bit.ly/1KY42U8). It was a simple but fussy process: cut off the sprout ends and peel off the tiny leaves; toss with olive oil and sea salt; roast at 450 degrees for 7-10 minutes. This process worked like a charm and the result was a snack equally enjoyable as the kale chips.

 

molokai-rawNext was the Molokai purple sweet potato. My plan was to steam and mash the potato (http://bit.ly/2kOfeqC) but my dog changed this plan. lucyWhile I was at work, she stole the potato off the counter and chewed it to pieces. She didn’t experienced any ill effects thank heavens but having only 1 potato, I had no back-up. This is what it would have looked like had I been able to cook it (http://bit.ly/2kOfeqC). Very purple! molokaiPart of me is rather glad that Lucy got to it first. But I decided to try it so next time I’m at Mississippi Market, I’ll pick up another Molokai  and try it again.

 

The result of this week’s adventure was an expansion of vegetables in my diet (it even spurred me to add spinach and asparagus into my morning scrambled eggs) and increased interest in doing more. I’ve realized that soup is the easiest way to expand my vegetable repertoire so I’ll work to expand my soup recipe collection.

 

Becoming the Cook I want to be!

As a newbie cook, I’m a bit daunted by this week’s assignment. I’m ancient and just learning foundational cooking skills. My history with food is limited and bland, filled with creamed foods with little color or taste. While I love my mother, she was not a cook and I did not learn on my own. Food has also been an area of control and constraint for me over the many years living with Type 1 diabetes. When I was diagnosed, food options were limited, weighed and measured to within an inch, and food was more of a threat than an enjoyment. As the diabetes field has evolved, flexibility with food has expanded exponentially. I am slowly moving along with this.  So, I’ve stocked my home with an array of foods and collected recipes to overflowing. Now is the time to move to put the food and recipes together!

Taking stock of my pantry was eye opening! I have just about anything needed – pastas, multiple types of rice, stock of every sort, collection of fairly fresh spices and frozen herbs, frozen meat, fresh and frozen vegetables, juices, dairy products, nuts of all sorts, unami options – anchovies, soy sauce, etc.

I decided to start small and safe with a recipe that was familiar – also acceptable to the varied palates of my husband and 16-year old daughter. Speed of completion was also important. Looking through foods that were available and needed to be used, I decided to adapt a family favorite – porcupine meatballs. These are meatballs with embedded, uncooked rice that’s simmered in V-8 juice for an hour. To speed this up, I browned ground beef with onions rather than making meatballs. At the same time, I cooked white and brown rice in the microwave. All was thrown together with left over V-8 juice (I made vegetable soup last week- love adding the V-8 to the stock) in a pan and heated together. During the simmer, I steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Start to finish – 20 minutes. And it was good enough to get my 16-year old to the table for dinner. Victory!

After dinner, I noticed a container of cherry tomatoes on the counter that needed to be eaten. I didn’t want to roast or make sauce out of them, so I scanned through my recipes. Creamy Shrimp stuffed cherry tomatoes (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/46561/creamy-shrimp-stuffed-cherry-tomatoes) caught my eye and took advantage of ½ bag of shrimp in the freezer and cream cheese that cried to be used. The recipe was simple and quick: 1) cut off and de-pulp the tomatoes; 2) pulverize the shrimp, cream cheese, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, horseradish, and lemon juice in food processor; and 3) put the 2 together (this actually was the hardest part!). The result – tasty treat for snack and lunch tomorrow.

All in all, this was fun and encouraging. A great way to jumpstart my life as a cook!