Monday, September 6, 2010

Stovetop Fun

This may be the weirdest food photo I've ever taken. Take a guess at what it is…

Here, I'll give you a hint.

Small pot, peeled cloves of garlic, about a cup of
extra-virgin olive oil, over low heat

I love my recipe for Caesar dressing. But darned if it doesn't sometimes give me a little trouble in the gastrointestinal department (this is the same department I work in as a dietitian). So I wanted to mellow the garlicky sharpness of the dressing a little by using roasted garlic, but it was too hot to turn on the oven. Anyway, what a huge waste of energy it would have been to use the whole oven for a few cloves of garlic. Even if I were roasting an entire head of garlic, it would be a tad self-indulgent. Better to wait until I have the oven on for something else to go that route.

Instead, I used a method my husband taught me for simulating roasted garlic. By slowly simmering the garlic cloves in olive oil, I could get a pretty good approximation of roasted garlic and also have a garlic-infused olive oil to use in the Caesar dressing… double the garlic flavor AND double the fun! And by "fun," I mean, look at these crazy photos! They were the fun part.

Streams of bubbles beginning to show…
Trippy how the natural light is giving the metal a bluish cast

With the flash, you can see the individual bubbles

Bubblin' like a hot springs

Blisters forming on the surface of the cloves

This is where it starts to get weird, as the sun goes down
and the light grows dim in the kitchen

Blue and gold were my high school colors

Garlic goes supernova (or I forgot to focus the camera)

Making this stovetop "roasted" garlic is very easy and low-maintenance. Just bring the oil and garlic cloves to a simmer over low heat. Use as many cloves as you want, as long as you also use enough olive oil to cover the cloves. Continue to simmer until the cloves start to look a little dehydrated and wrinkly, and maybe even a little golden. They should be quite soft at this point.

When you judge it to be finished, transfer the cloves and oil to a bowl or jar and cool uncovered in the fridge (unless you are using it immediately in a hot dish). For my Caesar dressing, I used the cooked garlic cloves and added a couple of raw ones, since it's not the same without a little bit of garlic bite.

Sorry, no pictures of the finished product. However, in my next post, you can see it doing its thing behind the scenes in a Caesar salad topped with stovetop "roasted" asparagus. Yes, there's a theme here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Back to Life

The weather in Seattle has been confusing this year, always defying expectations, acting like March in June and vice versa. The arc of my life has been similarly defiant recently. Along with the planned turmoil of moving to a new apartment in the same week that my internship ended, there was added upheaval when a job I had been counting on fell through. Then a couple of days later we had to say goodbye to Hannah, our feline companion of 18 years, just when we finally got her that balcony she'd been asking for that overlooks several lovely trees filled with chattering birds.

The upside of all this -- the end of the internship, joblessness, no cat underfoot -- is that I now have time to get back to blogging about food, cooking and nutrition. I happen to have made a lovely meal this very evening that I want to share, a meal that fits perfectly with the uncertain weather (they're calling it Junuary) because it’s full of lively spring flavors but has some of the richness of comfort food.

Have you ever made a frittata? It’s like a quiche without the crust, and it cooks on the stovetop like an omelet, only there’s no potentially messy flipping or turning. The recipe I used requires finishing the frittata under the broiler to brown the top, but this isn’t really necessary. I checked with Morning Food, a beautiful cookbook by Margaret Fox (an ex-employer of my husband’s) and her recipe calls for putting a tight lid on the pan to make sure the frittata cooks through – no oven time involved.

To make this recipe a little easier, I didn’t brown the potatoes separately – I added them to the onions after about five minutes, and browned them a little bit together. I also stirred the grated cheddar cheese into the egg mixture before adding it to the pan, thus saving another step.

For some brighter flavor and crunch to complement the frittata, I made this Napa cabbage slaw. It was darn good, but next time I’ll make it a little ahead of time to let the flavors marry. I’m also thinking about grating fresh horseradish into it, or adding garlic to make it a little friskier. Another option would be to add some finely minced jalapeno.

The best thing about this meal? Leftovers! Meeting the weather (and life) halfway – that’s how I’m going to get through this challenging period with my positive attitude intact.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hello Again!

Finally! My dietetic internship has ended. I have time to cook. I have time to write. And it helps that it’s still light out when I’m ready to take pictures of my food. Stay tuned for a new post coming VERY, VERY soon.

Here's a photo to entice you to check back for new recipes...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Follow Me at DIY

For a little while I’ll be blogging over at DIY only. Come read about my dietetic internship and catch a glimpse into the fascinating world of dietetics.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Good for Your Heart, Makes You Fart

Remember the charming little song, “Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you fart.”? Well, what the song says is true, and that’s why it's still around and still funny.

I’ve recently come across a great source for dried chickpeas, hence the subject of beans, and so I’ve been cooking with a lot of chickpeas recently. The source, incidentally, is the bulk bin at PCC Edmonds and the reason these chickpeas are so great is that they plump up into fat, tender morsels when I soak and cook them. I wouldn’t be so impressed if I’d had the same experience with other dried chickpeas – usually they turn out smaller, and even after soaking and proper cooking the skin is still a little tough, and the inside can be mealy. This may happen with dried beans if they are old and past their prime, so either the bulk bins at PCC have a high turnover (which I don’t doubt, considering the locals’ dedication to PCC) or they’ve recently bought a particularly fresh batch of dried chickpeas.

A little about the nutritional value of chickpeas for those who want to know. For lots of great information about chickpeas, visit the World’s Healthiest Foods. Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are a type of legume. Legumes are famously high in fiber, and it’s the fiber that is the cause of the gas-producing aspect of beans, but that’s a fair trade-off in my opinion. Fiber is, by definition, the indigestible carbohydrates in food, but these carbs are literally grist for the mill for the bacteria in the colon. The bacteria ferment the carbs and produce carbon dioxide and hydrogen as byproducts. There’s nothing harmful about this gas, though it can be uncomfortable for some people, or embarrassing in social situations.

Fermentation of fiber in the colon also produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). Besides fueling the cells that line the intestines, SCFAs help keep blood sugar levels stable and contribute to a healthy immune system. The fiber content is also the reason beans have a reputation for being heart-healthy. The soluble fiber in beans has the ability to soak up cholesterol and fatty acids and carry them out of the body, bypassing absorption.

Legumes are an inexpensive and plant-based source of protein, which is why they are a staple for vegetarians and are prominently featured in traditional foodways all over the world. Chickpeas in particular have been cultivated for about 9,000 years in southwest Asia. When I want to cut back on my grocery bill for the week, I make sure to plan a couple of meals based on legumes. Right now, I’ve got lentil soup in the fridge (from the recipe in the Moosewood cookbook), some cooked chickpeas waiting to become hummus, and leftovers of this Greek-style dish of roasted garbanzo beans, redolent of fennel and caramelized shallots.

Roasted Garbanzo Beans with Swiss Chard

Makes 6 servings


Garbanzo Beans:
1 3/4 cups dried garbanzo beans (equivalent to 12 ounces dried beans, or 5 1/2 cups cooked beans), soaked overnight in twice the volume of water
10 garlic cloves, peeled
2-4 large shallots, peeled and sliced
3 small bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
3 small bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 shallots, sliced
2 bunches Swiss chard, center stems cut out and chopped, leaves coarsely torn
1/2 cup chicken broth

Optional: Lemon


To cook chickpeas:
Discard soaking water. Place chickpeas in a pot with water (about three cups of water per cup of beans) and bring to a boil. Adding a couple of bay leaves at this point really infuses the beans with flavor. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, about one hour (may take longer depending on age of chickpeas). When chickpeas are done, salt water generously (the water should taste like seawater) and allow them to cool in salted water.

Garbanzo beans:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine first five ingredients in 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour oil over and stir; cover dish with foil. Roast until garlic is tender, about 35-40 minutes. Remove foil, turn oven to 450 degrees F and cook for 5-10 minutes more, or until shallots and garlic become slightly brown and caramelized.

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, bay leaves, and shallots. Saute about 5 minutes, or until shallots are tender. Add chopped chard stems, sprinkle with a little salt, and sauté about 5 minutes. Add chard leaves to pot, sprinkle with salt to taste and cover. Cook until chard wilts and volume is reduced by half, about 2-3 minutes. Add broth. Cover and cook until chard is tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Discard bay leaves from garbanzo beans and chard. Add garbanzo beans to the chard mixture and toss over medium heat until warmed through, moistening with more oil or chicken broth if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

I always serve this over brown rice and sprinkled with fresh lemon juice. Next time I make it, I think I’ll try adding lemon zest to the chard. I'll have more chickpea recipes up soon, like Chickpea Leek Soup!

Adapted from a recipe by Michael Psilakis, Bon Appetit, January 2008

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Involuted Inflorescence of the Syconium

Breakfast this morning: homemade granola topped with homemade yogurt flavored with vanilla and maple syrup, and chopped fresh figs. The whole combination is tangy, sweet, crunchy and creamy. The popping of the fig seeds between my teeth is one of my favorite food textures.

Figs are an interesting food. My brother tried to freak me out many years ago as I was eating a fresh fig by telling me that wasps lay their eggs in figs. I did not freak out, I’m proud to say, but filed the information away for later research. Many years later, I’m finally getting around to looking it up. This task is a heck of a lot easier with the Internet. And yes, it’s true… there’s a type of wasp called a fig wasp that is believed to have coevolved with the fig species so that the fig and the wasp cannot reproduce without each other! Amazing. More about this in a minute.

The so-called fig fruit is not actually a fruit. It’s a syconium, defined as a fleshy stem containing multiple flowers. Furthermore, the syconium is an involuted inflorescence, an inside-out cluster of flowers. Cut open the fig and the lines you see extending from the outer edge to the inside are the flowers, each with a seed at the end. Again, amazing.

As I was saying, several species of small wasps are intimately involved with figs. The wasps pollinate the figs by crawling into them through the ostiole, the small hole at the base of the fig, and laying their eggs inside. The species of wasp is specific to the species of fig and therefore a specific region, so that you can’t just grow any old fig in your yard and expect it to bear viable fruit. You have to have the right kind of wasp living nearby.

Funny, I don’t think I’ve ever found wasp larvae in my figs. Could it be that I just wouldn’t know them if I saw them or tasted them? I found this explanation on Wikipedia: “In figs of this sort [the sort that wasps pollinate], the crunchy bits in the fruit contain both seeds and wasps. However, there are several commercial and ornamental varieties of fig that are self-fertile and do not require pollination; these varieties are not visited by fig wasps.” I take that to mean that the types of figs sold as food are generally from self-pollinating species and I don’t have to worry about finding wasp eggs in them. Good to know.

As for their nutritional value, figs are a good source of fiber, potassium and manganese. According to the World’s Healthiest Foods, they’re also a fruit source of calcium, though you’d have to eat a lot of figs (about 8 medium figs) to get only 79 mg of calcium. Still, the more of these nutrients you get from your food, the less you need to get from supplements. And there are countless other nutrients supplied by whole plant foods, some of which haven’t even been discovered yet, let alone studied for their biochemical roles, that are believed to act synergistically with vitamins and minerals to help increase their absorption and facilitate their functioning in our bodies.

Figs are in season in the Pacific Northwest from July to September. This means you only have another month to get a hold of some wasp-free figs from your local farmers market. Enjoy them on salads, grilled and served with fish or pork, stewed along with your morning oatmeal, or just cut in half and smeared with a little goat cheese. Yes, I’ll say it one more time… amazing!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Goods on Cocoa Nibs

My stats software tells me that there are a number of people out there looking for information on cocoa nibs. Given the name of this blog, I guess it behooves me to devote a little time to the subject.

First, why did I choose Cocoa Nibs as the title of my blog? Chocolate is one of my favorite foods. I am prepared to admit that I am obsessed with chocolate. I eat it every day of my life. And its ability to stimulate and satisfy in small amounts made it the perfect symbol for what I hoped to achieve with my blog.

Cocoa nibs -- or cacao nibs -- are bits of roasted cocoa beans. They're the whole foods version of chocolate! They have not been sweetened or otherwise processed, so they’re bitter and a little grainy, a little crunchy. Cocoa nibs are often used these days as accents for salads and baked goods, but most cocoa nibs go on to become chocolate liquor (cocoa nibs ground into a paste), which is then made into chocolate by adding cocoa butter, sugar, and sometimes vanilla and lecithin. Cocoa nibs can also be separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

As for the nutritional content and benefits thereof, cocoa is very high in antioxidants. Research at Cornell University showed that cocoa powder has more antioxidants than red wine and green tea. Flavonoids are one type of antioxidant that is especially abundant in chocolate. Flavonoids have some nice effects on the heart and the circulatory system, including the ability to improve the flexibility of the walls of the blood vessels, and anti-clotting effects in the blood.

Chocolate also contains stearic acid, a saturated fat that has been shown to be “cholesterol-neutral,” meaning that it neither lowers HDL levels (this is the good cholesterol) in the blood, nor does it raise LDL (the bad cholesterol) or total cholesterol levels.

Antioxidants, flavonoids, and stearic acid are highest in the darkest chocolate. Adding milk to chocolate not only dilutes the amount of beneficial compounds, it adds saturated fat and cholesterol that does affect blood levels. Most chocolate manufacturers are now putting the chocolate percentage on product labels, making it easier to identify and buy the chocolate with the most added benefits.

I agree with Dr. Weil’s advice to eat one ounce of dark chocolate (he recommends at least 70%) several times a week. And remember that though chocolate may be good for you, overindulging in it can lead to weight gain, just like anything else!

As for cocoa nibs, they have all the great benefits of chocolate without the added fat and sugar, and the additional processing. There are many recipes floating around on the Internet, so cruise around a little and find one that strikes your fancy. Here are some to get you started:

Chocolate and Cacao Nib Cookies
Cacao Nib Almond Sticks
Ribeye Steaks with Cocoa Nibs Spice Rub