Thursday, April 26, 2012

Power Breakfast Smoothie

I am not a morning person. Nor am I a breakfast person. Most days, I tumble out of bed, brush my hair and teeth, pull on some clothes and head out the door with a big to-go container full of a riff on this smoothie. It keeps me full until lunch, is super fast to set up, and also makes me feel like a responsible, non-Lucky-Charms-eating, adult. Woot.

Power Breakfast Smoothie
makes enough for two smoothies (give the other portion to someone you like, they'll appreciate it)

Ingredients & Directions:
This is mostly just a basic idea of how to go about making a normal tasting smoothie that doesn't have a lot of sugar going on. I never add any sugar to mine because all the yogurt in China is already sweetened, I counteract this sweetness with a squeeze of half a lemon in there because I like some zing, but your welcome to put some honey or agave in there if it needs sweetening to you, both of those sweeteners are healthy and yummy!

Hardest part: Get a blender and assemble it in the right order for it to work. Plug it in. (MAKE SURE IT'S SWITCHED OFF FIRST THOUGH!)

In every smoothie I make, there is:

1-2 bananas, depending on how many people I am making it for. 1 banana is fine for 2 people
1/2 cup of plain, dried oatmeal, preferably rolled, but quick will work in a pinch.
a large handful of washed spinach, trust me you can't taste it at all (it's a miracle!)
1 cup of whole milk yogurt with live cultures. Plain would be best, but all yogurt in China is sweetened...
a splash of whole milk
a splash of 100% juice

Here's where you can get funky:
Add whatever other fruit you have on hand. I like my smoothie to be interesting and light tasting, so I go for puckery fruits like pineapple, oranges, mangoes, and peaches. Berry's get lost in smoothies to me, unless you put a ton in, so I just save the berries for more berry-centric things.... like tarts. If all else fails and I don't even have a measly orange to throw in, I always have lemons in the house, and I just squeeze the juice of half or a whole one in there.

Alternately, instead of extra fruit, you could add a tbsp of nut butter for a rich, thick smoothie, if you're into that sorta thing.

I like to add some 100% juice to up my fruit intake, but if you don't have 100% juice, I'd just leave it out. Avoiding corn syrup laden cereal is the goal here for me, so I wouldn't add juice that has it in it either.

If you're feeling bored, throw in some spices. If I've got bananas and peaches in there, I add some cinnamon and trick myself into thinking I'm eating a peach cobbler. If it's bananas and pineapple, cardamom would be fine. In a nut butter and banana smoothie, a tsp on cocoa powder could amp it up a bit.

If you've got a strong juicer/blender, throw in some cut up carrots instead of spinach and add a small piece of ginger, add some cinnamon and a little honey and you'll have a carrot cake like smoothie! Mm!

You could add some flax seeds or a green machine type powder to make it extra good.

And lastly, if you are on a diet, I highly recommend a tbsp of virgin coconut oil. It'll keep you full and satisfied for longer and coconut oil (of the organic, virgin variety, like Dr. Bronner's) is extremely good for you!

Basically, add things that are good for you to get the most out of this breakfast. White sugars, corn syrup-y granola, and diluted juice won't do anything for you, so just stick to whole things as much as possible for this. It'll jump start your day with a serving of fruits and vegetables and get your metabolism working without having to spend 20 minutes cooking something. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

French Toast with Fresh Blackberry Syrup

I am not a sweet foods in the morning kind of person (not including my coffee). I love eggs with cheese and hot sauce and savory, salty things, like bacon, toast, omelets and home fries. One of the few sweet breakfast foods I enjoy is French toast.

When I was a kid, we only ever had wheat and whole grain breads in the house, which drove me crazy. I liked white bread, darnit, and I was embarrassed when my friends made fun of my darker sandwich slices. But on weekends when I had friends sleepover, we would have heaping breakfasts of scrambled eggs, bacon, and custardy french toast dusted with powdered sugar. My favorite topping was a dark, rich purple boysenberry syrup. The toast would be soft and delicious, with oats in the crust and nuts in the interior. I don't care if the origin of French toast, pain perdu, in meant to be made with stale baguettes. French toast is just plain better when made with oatnut breads.

When I stumbled upon a precious, small basket of fresh berries in the market last week, I knew right away that I had to make some jam or syrup so that we could enjoy this rare treat longer. I love making jam in summer with fresh fruits, but this spring treat sure hit the spot.

 This syrup would be superb with sage, some cinnamon or chili powder, but that's your call. It takes maybe 15 minutes to make, and can be on its way while you prepare things for the French toast.

The incarnation of French toast below is not low fat. It is a delicious, special occasion treat that would be perfect to make for guests or someone you love on a Saturday morning.

French Toast with Fresh Blackberry Syrup
serves 2

For the French Toast:
4-5 slices of oatnut bread, or your favorite bread, slightly stale
2 eggs
1/4 cup of cream
1/2 cup of milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
butter for cooking

For the Blackberry Syrup: (makes about 3 cups)
2 1/2 cup of fresh, rinsed blackberries, stems removed
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups sugar
a pinch of salt
2 cups water

1. Make the Syrup: In a small (you don't want too much surface area), non-reactive pot, put all of the ingredients for the syrup and turn the heat on to medium. Allow the sugar to melt and give it a good stir.

2. Bring to a steady bubble and allow to cook, making sure to stir the bottom, for 10 minutes. Feel free to go whip of the French toast dip, but keep ears and eyes alert. Jammy concoctions can occasionally foam up, and if you aren't watching, create an enormous mess of your once clean stove. You also don't want the bottom of your syrup to burn, as it'll stick to your pot for eons. You just want to evaporate some of the water, while also fully cooking and dissolving/softening the fruit. When it has thickened, turn off the heat and let it hang out while you cook some of the French toast.

3. Make the French Toast: In a small bowl (again, you don't want too much surface area) beat your eggs with the sugar , cinnamon, milk and cream. Really get it all in there. Cut your bread slices in half diagonally (in this case creating more surface area). Dip each slice into the egg-milk dip and allow it to become saturated.

4. Heat a nonstick pan of medium and add a small pat of butter to melt. I usually just swirl the stick around the pan quickly to ensure it's lightly coated. When the butter is slightly foamy, add two half (or one whole slice) of the bread to the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side (adjusting for your particular stove top) until the bottom is cooked and has some lightly browned spots. Flip and repeat.

5. If you're my dad, you'll have a small baking sheet in a low oven ready to accept the cooked slices of French toast to keep warm. If you're me, you'll have two plate at the ready by the stove, and you'll divide each batch between the two until you're done cooking them.

6. Strain the Syrup: Warm your intended syrup dispenser on the outside with some hot water from the tap. Set a fine mesh strainer (I use a tea strainer) over the top of it and slowly pour your syrup through, using a spoon to squish out excess juice from the pulp. I personally enjoy the pulp, so I really squish the pulp in the strainer trying to only retain the seeds from the final syrup.

Drizzle your French toast with the Blackberry syrup and maybe some of the fresh fruits, dust with a little powdered sugar and enjoy alongside some softly scrambled eggs and crsip bacon!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How To: Make Bacon

Picture courtesy of Dylan
Bacon. I don't need to tell you what it is. I don't need to tell you why it's delicious. If you don't like it, you're lying. And if you like it, you owe it to yourself to try making your own.

When I told my dad that I make my own bacon, his first reaction was 'be careful not to poison yourself!!'. Um, yes. That is a concern, I suppose. This bacon, though, is what's known as 'green' bacon, meaning it is unsmoked. Because it's not smoked, it has a shorter shelf life. Fortunately, it's so delicious it barely lasts 2 days once it's done curing.

This bacon is fantastic for breakfast or cut into small pieces and sauteed with spinach. My favorite way to eat it, though, is on a BLT. Because it's not pumped with salt water like the store bought kind, this bacon won't shrivel up and shrink when fried. It stays in its glorious meaty, thick sliced state which makes for really excellent sandwiches when topped with tomatoes, and lettuce, a little mayo and some fresh cracked pepper.

Please do not be intimidated by this. The hardest part of this process is probably finding the right cut of meat. However, if you have a friendly disposition and don't live in a tree stump in the middle of the woods, it's almost guaranteed you can get your hands on some easily. Heck, even if you do live in a stump and are mean as all get out, if you can find a pig, you can make bacon. 

What is curing? Well, in nontechnical terms, it's the process of preserving foods using either salt or sugar. I generally think of dry curing, which involves just dry ingredients. But there is also brining, which involves liquid and it can cure as well.

Is curing bacon hard? No. More primitive peoples cured meat, so if you can use your iPod, you can make bacon.

Don't I need special materials and equipment? No. Seriously. A gallon sized zip lock, a knife and your hands work fine. Oh, and a bowl and a plate. If you eat, it can be made. Some people use nitrates to ensure that they don't get botulism. As long as you use a clean cutting board, clean hands and clean tools, this bacon will be fine. And as long as you eat it within a week or so, you will be fine. 

Doesn't it take a lot of work? No. Literally 6 minutes at the beginning, 2 seconds every day for around 5 days, and then the time it takes to slice, cook and eat every last morsel once it's done.

Here are the steps.

How to Make Bacon
adapted from Saveur Magazine's recipe, here
2 1/2 lb pork belly, skin on.
1 1/2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp salt (I use regular table salt. If using kosher, go up to 2 tbsp)
1 tbsp crushed dried rosemary leaves
1/2 tsp ground sage
1 tbsp fennel seeds, whole
3 bay leaves
a pinch of red pepper flakes
fresh ground pepper

1) Get your hands on 2 1/2 pounds of pork belly, skin on or skin off. Skin on ensures that you'll be the judge of how much fat you keep on there, and it is generally sold this way. Skin off, however, will do.

2) Trim you pork belly into a rectangular piece. Cut off the skin (or rind as it's sometimes called), leaving at least a 1/4 inch of fat.

3) Mix together your dry rub, minus bay leaves.

4) Place the pork in  a gallon zip lock bag. Pour in all of the dry mix, and shake it all around to coat. Use your hands to pat it on there through the bag. Get as much air out of the bag as possible to ensure good surface contact with bacon and dry rub, and zip closed.

5) Put it in your refrigerator, on the bottom shelf, on a plate. Every day for 4-5 days, turn it over to ensure even curing. While you're doing that, poke it to see how firm it is. On the 4th day, take it out, cut a small piece out of the middle and fry it up to try. If you like it, cut it up and eat it! If it's not as firm or salty/sweet as you want, put it back in to cure a day or two more. If it's too salty, put it in a bowl of cool water for an hour or so to dry out some salt, then pat dry with paper towel and eat!

6) Once you have it at the flavor and texture you want, rinse off excess spices, and pat dry with a paper towel. Put it on a clean plate, and put it in the refrigerator for a few hours to 1 day with just a paper towel or plastic wrap loosely covering it. You want to dry it up a bit. After that, pre-slice or leave whole and store in a new, fresh ziplock in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for 3 months.

7) There is also the option of putting it in a very low oven at about 200F~85C wrapped in aluminum foil for an hour or two to firm it up and render some of the extra bacon fat. This is optional, however, as it will only affect the slice-ability of your bacon, and not the tastiness.

Your bacon will last approximately 1- 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Be smart. Your bacon should have almost no scent at all. If it begins to have an odd smell, toss it. If it has a faintly green color, toss it. Neither of these things have ever happened to me, but use your head. Don't be gross and don't risk your stomach!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Spinach Ravioli with Garlic Herb Olive Oil

Tuesday is my long day. I start work at 8 and finish at 5:30.  I know, that's a normal 8 hour job. I know that 8 hours should not be a big deal. I used to regularly have a couple of jobs at a time, but now I am a working wussy. China has 2 hour lunch breaks, early closing times, week and month long national vacations.... it's kinda of awesome.

But seriously, teaching can be a tiring job!

Often times, I love it. I'm especially enjoying teaching art this year and having that creativity back in my life. Sometimes, though, trying to get teenagers to understand the basics of oil painting 5 times in one day is enough to make you want to eat the fake still life fruit, just so it can end! Enough is enough! To top it off, Tuesdays, I have a meeting at 4 o'clock that could last anywhere between 1 and 2 hours. The meetings are often fruitless and circular and by the time I get out of there I need to go do something I want to do.

Last Tuesday, I wanted flowers, so I bought some.  I wanted to eat spinach for dinner, so I bought some. I wanted rose tea when I got home, so I had some. When I got home, I rummaged in my fridge to figure out what to make. You see, for some reason, it's rare for me to actually have a totally thought out plan for dinner. This often results in my boyfriend worriedly asking me if we're ever going to eat dinner, or what exactly it is that I'm making. So last Tuesday, I had spinach and then I saw mushrooms and  jiaozi wrappers and immediately thought, ravioli. I made mushroom ravioli with thyme and breadcrumbs, and I made spinach ravioli and egg. I was a little worried that the egg would be weird or the the combo too boring. It was anything but.

These ravioli are delicious.  They are garlicky, earthy and truly rich tasting despite having zero cheese or dairy  whatsoever. I think they'd be great with Pasta Pomodoro, but I just ate them with a drizzle of some herb garlic olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan.

Spinach Ravioli with Herb Garlic Olive Oil

For the Ravioli:
A pack of potsticker wrappers, the thickest you can find, or fresh sheets of pasta dough (I used about 40)
A ton of spinach
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 a medium red onion, finely diced
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten

For the Oil:
1/2 cup olive oil, fruity is okay
a large pinch of rosemary
a large pinch of oregano (or italian herb mix)
a medium pinch of red pepper flakes
a medium pinch of kosher salt
a tiny pinch of cinnamon
3 black peppercorns
1 clove of garlic, minced

1. Grab all your ingredients. Trim off some of the spinach stems and rinse thoroughly. Chop finely. (Finer than I did, please!)

2. Prepare the Herb Oil: In a mortar and pestle, add all of the dry ingredients (meaning, not the olive oil or the garlic). Crush until very fine. Mince the garlic. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl to allow the flavors to meld.

3. Prepare the Filling: Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a pan and heat over medium. Add onions and cook for 1-2 minutes to soften. Add garlic. Be careful to adjust according to your particular stove's heating, you don't want to burn the garlic! Season with salt and fresh ground pepper, maybe even a little nutmeg if you want to be interesting.

4. Set the spinach aside to cool just a bit, about 8 minutes. In a bowl, beat the egg. Add a small amount of the spinach mixture and stir to make sure the egg won't curdle when you add it all. Then, gradually add more and more of the spinach to the egg until all combined.

5. Fill the Ravioli: Set yourself with a little ravioli assembly line. You'll need your wrappers, a spoon, a fork, a little bowl of water and a little bowl of flour. Here are the steps:

Form a small bowl shape with the wrapper in your fingers. Brush just a tiny bit of water on the edge of the wrapper.

With a spoon add just a small amount, about a teaspoon, of the filling to the middle of the wrapper.

Fold the wrapper in half and squeeze at the top middle. Make sure the two sides actually meld, the water should help. Then, move along the edge squeezing until the entire edge has been sealed shut.

Lay the ravioli onto a dry place on a cutting board or plate. Dip the fork tines into the small bowl of flour, then gently press the tines into the sealed edge of the ravioli to give it that happy little ruffled edge. This is optional, but I think makes it look so nice.

Repeat until you either run out of filling or wrappers.***

6. Cook the Ravioli: Fill a large pot with water and salt it. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, you may add up to about 10 ravioli to your pot. The ravioli are cooked when they float to the top of the water and stay there.

7.Scoop cooked ravioli out with a slotted spoon as they finish. Split into bowls or onto plates. Drizzle the garlic herb oil  on top. Sprinkle some Parmesan if desired (you do) and eat! Excellent with a side salad and some white wine, or by themselves for a light lunch. You could even serve these ON TOP of salad and use the herb oil and a little red wine vinegar as the dressing. Enjoy!

*** These ravioli freeze really well. Dust a baking sheet with some flour and arrange the ravioli on it as you fill them. Make sure they aren't touching! Put the ravioli on the sheet into the freezer overnight. The next day, pop the ravioli off the sheet and into freezer bags, and enjoy in the next few weeks!