Category Archives: health

Health

Why Pay $11 for Avocado Toast?

San Francisco is the land of outrageously expensive toast.

Last year the internet trended with articles about $4 toast or $6 toast but the fervor over avocado toasts has reached hysterical heights.

I visited the Ferry Building, as I often do, and tried out one of the most outrageously expensive avocado toasts in the city at Frog Hollow.  Admittedly, it was divine.  The avocado was perfectly ripe, the bread had the perfect chewiness and toasted not too hard to become too difficult to bite through, causing a cascade of luscious avocado slices to slide off onto your black pants.  A hint of garlic overlays the bread, and the entire toast is dappled with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Untitled

This beauty comes in at $10.99.

While it is awesome to be like one of the cool kids and fork out two fins and a buck for someone else to make me lunch, I would rather reduce my wallet at the market and shop for the ingredients and make avocado toast myself.

Let’s do the math.

 Grocery Store cost ingredient outlay  At home per toast cost
Acme Herb Slab loaf = 4 servings                       4.99  1 serving           1.25
Avocado each                       1.50  1 avocado           1.50
Stonehouse olive oil, house blend liter = 67 Tbl.                     14.00  1 Tbl.           0.21
Garlic head = 10 cloves                       0.96  1 clove           0.10
Maldon salt box = 8.5 oz                       5.99  1/2 tsp.           0.06
McCormick’s black pepper in grinder grinder = .85 oz                       4.29  1/4 tsp.           0.02
 Total                      31.73             3.13

I used Instacart to price out the ingredients at Whole Foods, while knowing that if I shopped at the farmer’s market or at the Ferry Building I would have received a discount for paying cash for the bread, and the other ingredients can be found cheaply depending upon which farm you source the avocados and garlic.

Last Saturday at the Ferry building I bought a loaf of Marla Bakery’s molasses oatmeal bread ($5), a head of garlic ($.25), and two avocados ($3), and made avocado toast at work on Monday. This delay was necessitated by the ripeness of the avocados.

If you haven’t tried Marla’s molasses oatmeal bread as toast you need to rectify this immediately.  I do feel slightly ashamed for not baking my own oatmeal molasses bread, as I often do, but I had a busy weekend.  I used salt, pepper, and a small bottle of olive oil from the office kitchen and the toaster and made this:
Fast avocado toast

I was in a hurry and didn’t take the beautiful care to arrange the avocado like the staff at Frog Hollow, and my slice of bread got a little trashed during my morning commute on MUNI, but nonetheless, it tasted fantastic and I was the envy of my boss and coworkers.  And I saved $7.86.

The only vaguely tricky part is getting a ripe avocado, so I recommend visiting a farmer’s market and asking the farm to help you pick an avocado out.  They can advise you when it will be ripe to eat, and usually they are spot on.

Enjoy your avocado toast!

Recipe: Not Insanely Priced Avocado Toast

 

 

Advertisements

Sunday Cooking

Sundays are a great day to bond with your couch, and often I like to putter a bit in the kitchen in between.

Like any “normal” person, I tackled the pile of dishes in the sink that built up during the week. Somehow every coffee cup ends up in the sink instead of the dishwasher. After KP is completed I pulled out the produce that was waiting in the fridge.

I am cooking for breakfast and lunches during the week. Dinner tonight is already sorted out, minestre from Nonni’s recipe and meatloaf that I made on Friday night.

20140413-124439.jpg

It helps me figure out what to cook when I see what I’ve got to work with, so I heaped everything on the stove and decided I would make:

o Melitzanosalata or Greek eggplant salad
o Broiled tomatoes
o Sautéed chard
o Gratined chard stems and leeks
o Rainbow quinoa
o Lemon tarragon vinaigrette

The eggplant gets baked until very soft and a bit smoky from the browned skin, so I pricked it all over with a fork and got it settled in a hot oven on a piece of foil.

20140413-125627.jpg

The quinoa was next, it’s extremely easy to make, just boil water! Add a bit of salt and while you’re waiting for the water to boil, measure and rinse your quinoa. I use a cone shaped strainer that gets used for everything from straining stock, sifting flour and draining pasta.

20140413-130106.jpg

20140413-130236.jpg

I set the quinoa to simmer while I prepared the tomatoes.

The tomatoes are an heirloom variety from a local organic market, so they’re especially juicy and flavorful, yet another reason to love California produce in the spring. I cut off a tiny sliver from the bottom and removed the stem end and halved them, and nestled them in a gratin pan. I sprinkled them with a sea salt blended with bell peppers and dried onions, and a grind of pepper and a pinch of harissa spice. Then I sprinkled over a little bit of bread crumbs from one slice of bread chopped in the food processor. A hearty drizzle of local, peppery olive oil and they are ready for the oven.

20140413-135732.jpg

The timer for the eggplant sounded so I pulled it out of the oven to cool, and popped in the pan of tomatoes.

20140413-135914.jpg

The eggplant is cooked when it’s sort of collapsed looking and is as wrinkled as a surfer after a long set.

I cut it in half while it was hot, and trying not to burn my fingers and with the help of a paring knife, I flipped over the eggplant and peeled off its skin. The skin comes off easily with a tug from the knife.

20140413-140220.jpg

The eggplant needs to have all of the liquid removed while it is still warm, so using my trusty strainer I put in the peeled eggplant and used a spatula to squish out all the liquid I could.

20140413-140452.jpg

20140413-140500.jpg

The eggplant cooled off in the strainer for a while to drain a bit more while I removed the quinoa from the stove.

I let the quinoa cool for a few minutes then fluffed it with a fork. The quinoa still had a bit of texture to it, not mushy, but nutty and fluffy, and it absorbed the lightly salted water and was perfectly seasoned.

20140413-141039.jpg

The timer went off for the tomatoes and I pulled them from the hot oven. The tomatoes were still holding their shape but soft and bursting with juices under their crispy breadcrumb topping.

20140413-162956.jpg

Back to the cooled eggplant, it was a small one so I put it in my mini chop with a small clove of garlic and enough plain yogurt to help the mixture purée smoothly was added, along with the juice of a lemon. Since my lemons were minis, I used three!

20140413-151711.jpg

When the eggplant was perfectly smooth, I poured in some olive oil and let it purée a bit more to emulsify. A quick check for seasoning a added more lemon juice and then decided to eat it right away. All of this cooking is making me ravenous.

20140413-152009.jpg

Before I had my snack, I cooked the chard quickly. A quarter of a slivered onion went in the pan first with olive oil and was sautéed until soft. The rinsed and chopped chard leaves went in next with a splash of water to cook until they are tender, this takes just a few minutes.

20140413-152256.jpg

When the greens were cooked I put them in a bowl to cool with a bit more olive oil and crunchy sea salt. The chard is tangy from the lemon and I think they taste far better than spinach.

20140413-152430.jpg

I rinsed out the pan and added the halved leeks and chard stems with a little broth so they could simmer until soft.

20140413-152657.jpg

While they simmered, I had my little melitzanosalata and pita bread for lunch and watched the rest of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The eggplant is light and lemony with a pleasant earthiness from being roasted. It tastes fantastic at room temperature or cold. I also like to put inside sandwiches but I polished off this batch quickly. Next time I will buy a larger eggplant so I can use the melitzanosalata for other purposes.

Since the lemons were so tiny, I abandoned my plans to make a vinaigrette and saved the last one for a cocktail.

The leeks were finished cooking by the time I was done with my lunch. Using a spatula, I lifted them out of the skillet and placed them in a gratin pan, added cream and a heavy grating of Romano cheese and put them in the oven so that the cream thickens and the cheese browns. I saved the 1/2 cup of broth leftover from the braising leeks and added it to my minestre; it had great flavor and would be a shame not to use it.

20140413-154830.jpg

The gratin smelled divine, the leeks are sweet and meltingly tender and the chard is toothsome and coated in rich cream and the savory, salty browned cheese on top was the perfect mouthful.

20140413-161647.jpg

When the gratin was done I had a glass of wine before tackling the KP duties again. All this lovely food was done and cooling.

Tonight I will have half a tomato with my meatloaf and a cup of soup. For breakfasts I can have the quinoa topped with chard or with a tomato half. For lunches I can have the gratin with a the leftover meatloaf or a tomato half. They all work together in various combinations, and it’s comforting to know I don’t have to worry about going out for a meal at work and accidentally eating eggs. Plus, all of these dishes are nutritious, besides being very tasty.

It’s still early on Sunday, there’s time for a nap or some knitting or some more bonding time with my couch or perhaps all three!

Recipe:    Melitzanosalata – Greek Eggplant Salad/Dip

Gratineed Leeks and Chard Stems

 

How Do You Like Your Nuts?

I wanted to makes spiced pecans for a snack for a day’s excursion to the South Bay and needed inspiration, so I posed this question, “How do you like your nuts?” to some culinary minded friends on Facebook. Usually spiced nuts are mixed with egg whites and baked to allow the seasonings to adhere to the surface of the nut, but for me that is disallowed because of the eggs so I needed a new idea.

Happily my friends came through with suggestions such as rosemary and cayenne, sugar and black pepper and butter!

My memory flashed on a jar of Aji Amarillo chile powder I purchased from Peppahead, a friend’s family business. It’s a beautiful yellow chile with a warm heat and fruity flavor, and much more interesting than cayenne pepper.

20140222-072648.jpg

My grocery delivery the night before included a sack of fresh rosemary so I broke off a big piece and pulled the jar of Demerara sugar from the pantry cupboard and set to work making hot, spicy, salty and sweet nuts for our snacking pleasure.

I melted almost an entire stick of butter in a skillet and added the sugar, spices and the rosemary and when it was all melty and mixed well, I poured in handfuls of fat pecan halves. Four minutes of stirring later I poured the hot nuts onto a platter to cool and showered them with sprinkles of crunchy Maldon sea salt. I love Maldon salt, it has such a clean flavor and the squared shaped crystals, like little patio umbrellas, crunch delightfully between your molars before hitting your tongue with that perfect salty hit.

20140222-072459.jpg

When they were mostly cooled I scooped them into a little bento box that would fit into my satchel I was bringing on the trip. I made up a thermos of hot Earl Grey tea and tossed in some little bags of peanut M&Ms for good measure and set off for my fun day with friends.

20140222-072608.jpg

When we stopped for a break we were the envy of all around us as we popped these rich, toasty, buttery, spicy and sweet and salty nuts into our mouths and groaned in delighted pleasure as all the flavors combined in our mouths. It was an utterly satisfying snack. The best part is that I still have a half a bag of pecans left at home to make more!!!

Spice up your own nuts here! (printer friendly recipe)

Farmers Market Day and Red Cooked Pork Belly

My favorite Saturday activity, when I don’t have a pajama day, is heading to the farmer’s market with a friend to shop and to have a little something tasty for brunch or lunch.

We stopped at the Italian butcher first, Guerra’s Meats, where I scored a fat ribeye, breakfast sausage, some cheeses and milk, for another $30. I like getting my weekend protein first, then filling in with vegetable and other items from the el cheapo farmer’s market.

This weekend I spent $20 at the farmer’s market, including my fantastic huarache el pastor lunch. A huarache is a bean filled masa dough pancake, shaped like a football, and topped with something meaty with the perfect amount of salsa, crema and a handful of chopped cilantro. You can buy them at La Palma Market on 24th Street if you don’t go to the Alemany farmer’s market.

A huarache was the perfect lunch, leisurely nibbled while sitting on a tiny clear spot of a loading bay next to a nice farmer’s truck. It was good to rest a bit after doing all of our shopping and to kick our heels against the back of our cement perch like we were little kids again. For some odd reason a diet soda tasted awfully nice but as it was a rare treat for me I just enjoyed it (mostly) without guilt.

String market bag

My new knitted string market bag performed superbly, I could not believe how much it held, and how nicely everything stayed. It was stuffed with broccoli, obscenely large leeks, the freshest green onions I had ever had the pleasure to hold, pale green zucchini and yellow ball zucchini, a huge bunch of mint and rosemary, crimini and ugly shiitake mushrooms, enormous yet light sourdough English muffins and cranberry walnut bread. I should have taken a picture of it stuffed and outstretched but still comfortable and incredibly stylish on my shoulder.

(If you would like to make one of your own, please visit The Inadvertent Redhead)

I have enough food for breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the entire week and probably into the next week, supplemented with more protein from my freezer.

After unloading my friend’s groceries at her place and doing some menu planning while petting her pretty cats and slugging back the necessary glass of red wine, I headed home and started cooking.

My huarache was quite filling but around 4:30 pm I made a snack of Humbolt Fog cheese and the cranberry walnut bread. With my pollinosis the cranberries were a little troublesome but not enough to dissuade me from eating the bread. I started on a pot of red cooked pork belly.

The pork belly was trimmings from the Mangalitsa pork I bought a while back. I had to trim the raw pork belly so that it would fit in my brining bags and the excess, uneven pieces were about 2 pounds. The red cooking, or a slow braise in a soy, Chinese rice wine, ginger, spices and garlic broth, is a traditional way to cook pork belly and other fatty meats. It couldn’t be simpler, I put all of the ingredients in my 5 quart pot, brought it to a boil, covered it and simmered it until the meat was super tender. The aromas it generated as it simmered were amazing, I felt full just by being in the kitchen.

After 2 1/2 hours and another 10 minutes of cooking on high to reduce the sauce I poured off the fat and decided I was too full to eat anything so into the fridge it went!

Sunday morning I dined fabulously well on a huge toasted sourdough muffin, one side buttered, one side smeared with raspberry jam, and a handful of tiny Italian breakfast sausages.

Meantime, I cooked the ribeye in some bacon fat from the red cooked pork belly and sliced it thinly for work lunches. The bok choy I brought home from work on Thursday was quickly steamed and given a light dressing of oyster sauce and chilled. The pale green zucchini and yellow squash were cut into planks along with some onion, the rosemary and some lemon zest and olive oil and roasted until just crisp-tender. They were packed into a tub for the fridge. The mushrooms were sliced and browned in my biggest and yet too small skillet, the last slosh of port in the bottle went in along with some dried herbs from last summer and a bit of butter. This was packed up with the sliced steak.

Getting quite tired of the kitchen by now, I steamed some basmati rice and wondered what happened to the bag of jasmine rice I bought a few weeks ago, a desultory search in the pantry and auxiliary pantry bags did not yield it. Huh…. I made myself a little bento lunch of rice, the jade green bok choy and the red cooked pork belly.

Bento

Later in the the week I’ll roast the broccoli for lunches and make a leek and bacon pasta. I might make a pizza one night with some of the zucchini. I also have some frozen ground pork which would be wonderful stuffed in the ball zucchini.

It was really fun prepping good food for the week and I enjoyed my domesticity. I also washed up the kitchen and dumped the trash and did some hand laundry. The vacuuming didn’t get done nor did the dusting but I will fit that in some night when I don’t have an extracurricular activity.

I sunk into my comfy Martha Washington chair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some knitting and mindless television before going to bed. It was a fun and productive weekend, nourishing to the body and soul.

REC: Red Cooked Pork Belly

(printer friendly)

3 lbs. of fresh pork belly, cut into cubes
3 pieces of palm sugar or 1 1/2 ounces rock sugar
3 pieces of whole star anise
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp. five spice powder
3″ piece of fresh ginger root, sliced into 1/2″ medallions – no need to peel
2 T light soy sauce (this is less salty than regular soy sauce)
3 T dark soy sauce (I use Tamari)
1/4 cup Shao Xing wine – or a white vermouth
2 cups chicken broth – low sodium is best
1 bunch of green onions – whole

Place the pork and all of the other ingredients into your heaviest pot with a lid or a Dutch oven, my 5 quart Le Cruest pot was perfect for this dish.  Bring everything to a boil, stir and cover with a lid.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.  Test the pork, it should be very, very tender when pierced with a fork.  

Remove the lid and simmer over medium high heat for 10 minutes, stirring, to thicken the sauce.  Pour off the fat and remove the ginger, anise and green onions and compost them.

Serve with plain rice.  Serves 4-6.

Victory Blackberry Pie

I made a victory pie, a blackberry pie to enjoy on Superbowl Sunday. Sadly the 49ers lost (even though they shouldn’t have but I don’t want to get into *that*) the pie was still a win because it was my own victory.

I have long had an irrational fear of pie crust, any kind of rolled dough just doesn’t work for me. I never get the consistency of the dough right, it sticks, it rips and tears, it bakes up wrong, it tastes wrong or pasty, it’s just stupid and scary. For years I have struggled with my hot, not made for pastry, hands and have grumpily given up to buying premade pie crusts and hated them.

Meanwhile my mOm bangs out perfect pie crusts with her elegant, cool hands like she’s making a bed, smoothing out the pastry with effortless strokes. I have watched her and helped her year after year and I’m still a failure.

Then a great lady in town started her handheld pie business. Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies delivered her mini sweet and savory pies using her cute bicycle and the pie crust was the bomb. I met her when I was doing culinary tours during The Great Unemployment. I couldn’t really afford them but loved the samples she gave during the tour.

When I got a job I would order her pies for myself and then I started ordering them for the office and we all scarfed them up marveling at her great crust and divine fillings. How on earth did she make her pies so well and make so many of them? Practice obviously, and a great recipe.

When she stopped her business due to exhaustion and burnout I was glad for her for taking a rest and selfishly a tiny bit sad because how could I possibly live without her Shaker lemon pies? But then, a fabulous email arrived! Natalie had written a recipe booklet!  It is probably the most adorable recipe book I have ever seen, the illustrations are so adorable and really capture the joy of Bike Basket Pies.  The instructions and recipes are well written and explained and are a joy to use.

http://bikebasketpies.com/index.php/bike-basket-pies-booklet/

But I was still afraid. Then the Great Allergy/Intolerance arrived and fruit was banned from my life, along with many things I loved, nuts, potatoes, eggs, who all knew what else. The doctor still doesn’t know why but one day I could eat raspberry jam, then cherry, then walnuts, then fresh berries (but not strawberries) and the occasional potato chip. This summer I ate about six pies, mostly blackberry, and life was good again.

Last year Natalie announced she was teaching a pie crust making class. I had to go! With a very gimpy ankle I got to the darling Pot and Pantry for her class and made pie crust. It was great, we all had to make a batch and it felt good. I froze the pie crusts from the class since I had yet to go grocery shopping alone.

In early February, after a month of heinous flu and secondary sinus and ear infections, I made it to the farmer’s market with D___ and bought great vegetables and $15 of blackberries and Buddha’s Hand citrus. It was fantastic to shop without a cane and not feel so petrified of being knocked over. I was weak as a jellied eel after a long fever but the sunshine felt great. The moment I got home I went hope to bed and slept for 3 hours. I sugared down the berries though before going to bed for the evening and resolved to bake a pie for the Superbowl.

20130203-210244.jpg

On Superbowl Sunday I made breakfast and had a nap and tried to knit but that didn’t work, too tired still, but I did get up to make soup from all my vegetables, a minestrone of sorts, and to roll out the pie crust.

I was nervous but just did it, using a Silpat on my kitchen table. It rolled out pretty nicely, cracking here and there but it went okay! I made a rustic pie/tart using a tiny tin, just enfolding the giant berries inside the dough.

I brushed the crust with milk and a generous sprinkling of coarse sugar, and just remembered to add a pat of butter on the fruit. Into the oven it went.

20130203-210557.jpg

The juices were thick and bubbling, the crust was nicely browned, it smelled good. I was excited.

The game was sad but I thought consolation by pie would be nice. It was better than nice, it was perfect. The 49ers should have won that game but it cut as keenly because the pie was my victory.

The crust was crunchy and yet flakey, it held together, the fruit was delicious and not too soggy or sweet, it was just perfect. I still have one crust left to make a savory pie this week, greens and goat cheese I think or perhaps a winter squash. I can make pie now!

My pie.

My victory.

Natalie’s pie recipe booklet for Bike Basket Pies is available here, I have given away several copies as gifts so I would recommend you buy several.

Emerging from Being Under the Weather and the Joy of a Meat CSA

I’ve been under the weather for almost three weeks now, the flu had me in a tight grip like a siren holding me fast under a turbulent sea. There’s nothing one can do except hunker down and hope it goes away.

Copious amounts of tea, water, aspirin, cough syrup and half dozen boxes of tissues and throat lozenges have been used up and now I’m left with a sinus and ear infection that has me feeling like an alien in a fish bowl. It is, however, a bit of an improvement and after eating a bland dish of pasta I started to feel slightly perky.

With this little bit of energy I pulled out a pork shoulder medallion I received in this month’s meat CSA from 4505 Meats. I froze all of the goodies from my CSA bag with the exception of this medallion and the chicken, Campari and apple sausages that I cooked up and nibbled on during the week. I have also been living on a large tub of chicken stock from the shop, reheated and sipped with a sprinkle of salt for each meal. (I will write more about the meat CSA and how to join at another time.)

Tonight, after I rinsed off my dinner dishes, I removed the large slab of pork with its rich layer of creamy pork fat and all tied up nicely with twine, and slid it into a bag for marinating. There’s not much left in the Roost since I haven’t shopped for ages but I do have garlic, a softening Cara Cara orange and lots of spices.

I roughed up the garlic and used my julienne peeler to zest the orange, put in a teaspoonful of cumin seeds and a few dried California bay leaves in the bag with the pork and a slosh of olive oil purloined from the Fancy Food Show. I pressed out as much air as I could from the bag, gave the pork a brief massage, bunged it in the fridge.

The fever has me craving all kinds of things, like cool fruit juices, milkshakes and Rhine ice wine, but today a dear friend brought me a salted caramel milkshake and a hilarious “this is what a pie-shake does to two bouncy eight year old boys” show and a rather fun sing-a-long with a yodeling pickle. I swear that this bit of hilarity really made me feel so much better. Of course I slept for for hours after they left, but here I was, puttering lopsidedly in the kitchen. But cold, sweet fruit juice, how I want some so badly, it’s been 19 months since I’ve had any.

I looked at that denuded orange sitting on the cutting mat and juiced it and decided to try drinking it. It looked so pretty, Cara Cara oranges look like pink grapefruits inside and are so lovely and sweet. Maybe it’s this flu or that I can’t barely taste anything or maybe, dare I hope?, my food intolerances are easing, because I drank that shimmering pink juice and didn’t feel any nasty tingling or bee sting feelings at all. It surely was a satisfying little glass of juice!

So back to bed I go, tomorrow is another day. I’ll figure out how to braise the pork medallion in the morning.

My First Tagine – Chicken with Preserved Lemon

A beautiful Emil Henry tagine found its way to my home and I was so excited to wash it up and begin my maiden voyage of Moroccan tagine cooking.

My apartment is so tiny and I have enough kitchen equipment to stock several large homes, so my new tagine gets to live under the antique Japanese slat table I use as a coffee table. It’s such a gorgeous color, it looks like sculpture nestled under the bench.

My new tagine, which gets to live under my coffee table. #cityliving

The tagine gets to keep my vintage Taylor and Ng chicken roaster company along with my massive Irish cut crystal ice bucket that currently houses yarn.

Tagine and Chicken, good neighbors :)

This lovely gift also included a jar of preserved lemons from Tunisia, a large jar of saffron from Spain and some fancy couscous. I started with browning the chicken in some deep green olive oil from Lodi.

Heating the deep green olive oil.

The base of the tagine holds 6 cups of stew and is larger than my Caphalon searing pan. It did a tremendous job slowly browning the chicken to the perfect golden hue.

This tagine is amazing for browning chicken. I'm smitten.

(My, what big thighs!)

I used a 5 pound 6 ounce chicken, on sale from the Unsafeway for $6.00. What a whopper of a bird! I could have fit in all of the parts at once but I didn’t want to crowd the pan. While the chicken was searing, I chopped up some onions, garlic and ginger. I fished out three preserved lemons from its jar of brine and rinsed them a little. Then I cut the lemons into quarters and removed the pulp, and finely shredded the rind. Preserved lemons, if you aren’t familiar with them, are simply lemons preserved in coarse salt and a touch of water, and jarred until the salt completely melts into a brine. The lemons have a unique flavor, lemony but mellowed, and are essential to the recipe. You can make your own like Anna and I did one day.

Making chicken tagine for lunch today!
Three large onions and all of the aromatics and the saffron threads went into the tagine base until soft and gently browned. The aroma was heady. I have adopted Molly Katzen’s dogma that if you don’t know what to make for dinner, start by sauteing an onion. The scent will inspire you.

Sautéing onion, garlic, ginger in Lodi olive oile
The vegetables had softened and were golden so I added in the browned chicken, some artichoke hearts in lieu of olives, water, the preserved lemons and artichoke hearts.  I used artichoke hearts because I had them and did not have green olives, which are the traditional accompaniment to this dish.  I really don’t care for the flavor cooked olives, however, and the brininess they add to stews but that is just my preference, and it was my lunch, so I went with what worked for me.

I also added a splash of wine, it may not be authentic but the spirits moved me! On went the adorable cone lid and I relaxed for half an hour while it gently simmered.

My tagine's maiden voyage.

(Ready to simmer, and it already smells great)

After 30 minutes, I flipped over the chicken pieces, basted everything a little, tasted for salt and pepper and added pinches of each, and a good squeeze of fresh Meyer lemon juice and let the tagine cook for another 15 minutes.

I also started water boiling to make the couscous. Couscous is a fine pasta that is shaped into small grains. Traditionally one makes the couscous in a coucousiere, which I happen to have, and it is steamed and fluffed in the top section of the pot while a stew (or just boiling water) simmers in the base. We are fortunate today to have basically instant couscous that only needs to be added to boiling water, returned to a boil, removed from the heat with the lid on to rest for 15 minutes, and voila! Perfect couscous and no effort. The couscous that I received as part of this gift was particularly cool, larger sized shapes but not as large as Israeli couscous. It was *fancy*.  I let the couscousiere languish and used a 2 quart saucepan instead, super fast and so tasty. Why don’t I make more couscous?

m'hamsa couscous

The timer went off, and it was time for my Moroccan lunch! I heaped my bowl with some couscous, pulled out a tender and moist piece of chicken breast and a rich spoonful of vegetables and sauce. The chicken was gently flavored with lemon with the earthy undertone of the saffron and a zip from the ginger and garlic. I was surprised the chicken was a bit spicy but then remembered the lemons were preserved with some beautiful crimson chile peppers, no doubt the peppers infused the lemons with a bit of their heat. I was supposed to have added parsley or cilantro but did not have any and the dish did not suffer from the lack of it. It was a frigid and moist afternoon but inside I was enveloped in a fantasy of dining under azure skies, feeling cool breezes through twisting stone alleys and buildings, hearing exotic foot traffic behind ornately carved screens and wearing embroidered caftans and leather slippers. I nibbled at my beautiful lunch and sipped some rose wine and felt quite pleased with myself for making a hot cooked lunch on a weekend. And it was so easy!

Chicken tagine complete, I must say it was quite tasty and easy.

When I make this again I will use the fresh baby artichokes, quartered, because the canned and frozen ones really lacked the lovely artichoke flavor I was hoping for but it did add a lovely subtlety to the tagine regardless. I set aside some of the couscous and chicken in small containers for the freezer for dinners on another night, and packaged up the rest to take to work for lunch for the next few days. At my office, reheating the chicken and couscous in the work microwave the aroma of lemons, saffron, ginger and spice filled the kitchen and my coworkers were quite complimentary on my humble repast. I made myself a cup of mint tea and relaxed for a moment at my desk, enjoying my desk-chair visit to Morocco in rainy San Francisco.

(Recipe here)

Greek Comfort Food – Gigandes Plaki (Baked Giant White Beans)

Years ago when I was just 13 and visiting family in Canada I was introduced to Greek cuisine and became obsessed. In my late teens my mom gave me a basic Greek cookbook and over the years since I have made every recipe in it and collected several more wonderful cookbooks that are getting well used. One of my favorite recipes I make again and again is gigandes plaki, or baked giant white beans.

Gigantes

Gigandes are not restricted to the categorization of a winter dish but when it’s cold out there is nothing I find more comforting than a hot bowl of these giant, creamy and tender beans baked in a savory tomato and aromatic sauce with chunks of feta cheese. For those who can, a fried egg on top of the beans transforms the bowl of beans into a perfect breakfast or a homey dinner. I like to eat them one bean at a time, popping it against the roof of my mouth and letting the creaminess mix with the savory tomato and onion and garlic. Each bean is a complete sensory experience, luxurious and yet rustic and healthy.

In the summer I have made gigandes plaki and served them at room temperature with fried chicken or one large overstuffed sandwich that serves 8. This is truly a fantastic dish for any season, but since it is winter, please do find a bag of dried giant white beans (or giant lima beans, as I have seen them labeled lately) and make a batch now. With no embarrassment I confess I have made them four times so far this winter (but one batch doesn’t count because I fell asleep and burnt them in the oven, my bad cooking mojo continues to haunt me.)

There is no guilt with these baked beans, the beans themselves have a great deal of fiber and this is a low fat preparation. If you are vegan you can omit the cheese easily, many versions of gigandes do not contain feta but I really like the browned outside of the baked feta with the creamy interior that emulates the creaminess of the beans themselves with the addition of the salty tang of sheep’s milk.

A note about the beans, if you read “lima beans” and think, ew, please consider that this method of cooking the beans renders them creamy and soft inside with the texture of white beans or cannelini beans.  Somehow they don’t have that grainy texture that many lima beans seem to have.  I don’t know why, I think it is Greek magic.

Gigandes Plaki – Baked Giant White Beans

1# dried giant white beans, sometimes labelled as giant lima beans, soaked overnight in lots of water with 3 T of salt
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
2 large tomatoes, diced
2T parsley, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 c tomato sauce, or 1 T tomato paste dissolved in 1 c H2O
extra water if desired
6 oz feta cheese, cut into large chunks (I have also made this with goat cheese)
salt and pepper

The night before you make these, or the morning before, soak the beans in a huge quantity of water with the salt added, for overnight, or a minimum of 8 hours.

Drain the soaked beans and throw away any loose skins from the beans.  Do not be alarmed if they look wrinkled, split or otherwise strange.  Place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with cold water by several inches and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.  Cook the beans at a simmer for 40 minutes, skimming the foam or scum that rises to the top of the water.  When most of water is absorbed and the beans are tender with no resistance, remove from the heat, drain a little and let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, sauté onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, over medium heat.  Then add the carrots and tomatoes and sauté for another 10 minutes.

Add the cooked beans, put in large shallow dish, add everything else, except the cheese, and taste for enough salt and pepper. The sauce should be slightly soupy but the beans should not be swimming. Gently fold in the cheese, and bake 1  to 1 1/2 hours or until beans are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Beans should be slightly burnt on top.

Serves 4.


It is highly recommended to make them ahead of time because the flavor of the sauce permeates the beans over time. I prefer them on Day 3 after cooking. Sometimes I add a 1/3 cup of water to the dish before putting into the fridge as the beans will continue to absorb liquid.

I have just finished my last batch and think I will wait a week or so before cooking more.  Maybe I will wait, that is…

Returning To Health Takes Planning

After a medical leave of over two months I am back working full-time and I am finding it a challenge.

Every person has challenges one way or another. Dealing with a daily routine while holding down a job and having a personal life is normally a juggling act; add a physical illness or injury to that mix and coping becomes more complicated.

I never quite realized just how tired I would get from the simplest things, such as making sure I have enough clean clothes, allowing enough time to get to work and making sure I do the absolute basics of eating and drinking regularly.

Patience

My ankle rehab is going really well and yet it is very frustrating how slowly I get around and how gimpy I still feel. Yes, I am walking but I am walking like a drunk sailor on shore leave. It takes an extra 10 minutes to get to my bus stop and it is so frustrating to see the bus zoom down the hill and know that even though I am halfway there, there is no way I can catch that bus.

I am learning that I cannot rush and that I must be patient with myself. Most of the time, however, I feel like screaming. Even though I can work on a cooking project that has 27 steps or an art project that may have to be redone nine times over, my patience with trying to get from Point A to Point B or doing any task that was simple pre-injury seems to have evaporated.

Anxiety

Getting to work is problematic. Taxis are prohibitively expensive and hard to find. I try to take the bus when I can but I have to sit in the senior and handicapped seats . So far everyone has been really nice most of the time about giving me a seat during the busy commute time. I live in dread fear that someone is going to kick my foot at they stagger around and scramble for balance as the busses lurch around, like yesterday. It was really painful and the woman who kicked me did not apologize even though I yelled out. Some passengers rush around me as I am getting on or exiting the busses and I worry about someone knocking me over as I have very limited balance. It is very scary.

I also worry about being mugged or knocked over on the street. Yesterday a homeless man wearing a pink sleeping bag crossed the street and ran a circle around me, literally, and then ran away. It was bizarre, typical for the city, and it heighted my anxiety about feeling vulnerable physically as I heal. I run various scenarios through my head as I am out of my apartment or the office, like a waking nightmare, what if someone does this, or what if that happens. Basically I worry a lot, which is not really good but completely understandable, I don’t like this way of feeling though and want this to change.

Self Care

It is wonderful to be mobile again, despite the temporary limitations. Upping my level of activity from zero (not being allowed to put any weight on my foot or move it at all for 6 weeks) to being more mobile (limping around the office all day and commuting) has mandated that I be vigilant in my habits.

It takes work to remember the basic self care. I must:

  • Be in bed no later than 10 pm
  • Allow an extra 45 minutes each morning to get ready for work, this includes the 10 minutes I spend doing ankle Olympics to get ready to get out of bed
  • Eat breakfast first thing while at work, as there is no time for this at home
  • Take frequent breaks to move my ankle during the day, every hour at the minimum
  • Eat a hearty lunch to fuel me for the day’s exertion
  • Keep my foot elevated and ice as much as possible while at work, and as soon as I get home
  • Drink enough water throughout the day
  • Remember to comb my hair and put on lipstick! I am a visible figure at work and must always look polished
  • Remember to S M I L E (for those who know, remember the PTA smile?)
  • Keep in mind that forward progress can be small, almost imperceptible at times, but still there is progress
  • Not feel discouraged about how tired and sore I am
  • Be brave – next year at this time it will all be a distant memory

Just reading this lists of “musts” and “should do’s” makes me tired. How do you cope when you are tired of coping? What do you do to refuel your energy?

One-Handed Chicken Enchiladas

I am back to cooking one-handed again after another accident on the bus. Friday night I was heading home from work on the bus, looking out the window and thinking of my fun weekend plans, when out of the blue a largish woman falls on me at full weight, crushing me and my poor wounded shoulder. The pain was inexpressible.

A very dear friend, D___, rescued me and took care of me this weekend, keeping me packed in frozen peas, dosed with Vicodin and good coffee and keeping my spirits up. Her sweet boy was such a joy to be with too and he volunteered to help me with my chores, all on his own. I’m such a lucky gal, when it comes to my friends.

Happily the shoulder is just sprained and the feeling in my hand should return within the week. I should be able to go back to work tomorrow. After about a month I should feel much better but a girl can’t live on Wing Wings alone, so I gave cooking the old college try and cobbled up quite the decent dinner.

It is hard to keep the blues away at a time like this but having a decent meal to eat always helps, so here are my Sandra Lee-like one-handed chicken enchiladas.

20120313-183049.jpg

Thanks to D___ helping me shop at Costco and Molly Stones I have some provisions, so I pulled out the crockpot.

So what if I couldn’t pick it up off the floor, I put a dish towel under the crockpot and tipped in a packet of chicken thighs from Costco – about 5 thighs, boneless – about a cup of Primavera’s chipotle salsa and a packet of shockingly expensive pre-chopped vegetables from the market – their cacciatore mix of onion, peppers and a mushroom.

They cooked for about two hours and I was able to use the spatula to break them into small chunks. My friend S___, who gifted me with this crockpot and about 50 pounds of bacon over the years, has been extolling me with the joys of salsa crockpot chicken and she is a genius. The chicken was perfectly savory without me straining myself in any fashion.

I put the chicken mixture in the fridge and managed to hoist the dirty pot into the sink. Tonight I poured off the juices into a skillet and reduced them to almost a syrup, then added the succulent chicken and tender veggies in to be warmed up.

I managed to grate some Dubliner cheese, also from Costco, and warmed up two green chile corn tortillas from the market in the microwave. I filled them with the chicken mixture, folded them over and sprinkled the cheese over the top. They were microwaved again for 90 seconds until the cheese was melted. I added more fresh salsa from the market and set to with enthusiasm.

I will deal with the dishes later and am resting now with my frozen pea ice packs. It was a bit ambitious and not exactly homemade but given my circumstances it was a wonderful meal.

I can see making up a big quantity of this chicken for an enchilada party or to have in the freezer. Tomorrow night I’m going to cook some brown rice, add a drop of sherry to the chicken as it warms up and serve it cacciatore style. Who says leftovers can’t be interesting?

I would like to thank all of my friends and family, and especially my mOm, D__ and her son and A___, for all of their help and support over the past 14 months as I heal from my shoulder injuries. “They” say third times the charm so hopefully I can heal up once and for all.