May, 2005

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Magazines and Chicken Broth
May 24th, 2005

I've been on a bit of a magazine buying kick lately. I've picked up the most recent issues of Cook's Illustrated, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Saveur, Eating Well, and Fine Cooking. I had a subscription to Food & Wine a few years back, but got bored of it after a while and now I'm looking around to see what's out there. Saveur and Cook's Illustrated I enjoy for their articles while Eating Well and Fine Cooking have the most recipes that appeal to me. Cooking Light is just terrible, lot's of ads and fluff.

There was an article in the May/June issue of Cook's Illustrated that caught my eye. The authors arranged a tasting of supermarket chicken broths and ranked their choices. What captured my attention was the fact that the spendy organic free range broth that I use came out ranked dead last. I was taken aback and started thinking about why I use this brand. Had I ever actually tasted it in its natural state? Was I just getting suckered by the words 'organic' and 'free range'?

The winner of the Cook's Illustrated tasteoff was Swanson Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth. The runner up was Better Than Bouillon, and Swanson's captured third place as well with their 'Natural Goodness' Chicken Broth. I already have some of the Better Than Bouillon which is a concentrated paste that you can use in place of bouillon cubes. It's not bad, but it mainly tastes like salt. So when I was shopping last week I picked up one of each of the Swanson's. The organic kind costs about $.60 more per carton (they're both packaged in the resealable paper containers called 'aseptic packaging'). The Natural Goodness brand has an offputting smell right out of the box, but I have to admit it tastes pretty good. The Organic kind isn't as strong tasting, it mostly tastes like salt.

The tester's notes for my (formerly) favorite brand, Pacific Organic, included "Watery", "chemical", "dirty", and "like an entire vegetable drawer gone bad." I don't think it's that bad, but I probably will change the brand I use. And I'll think a bit more about what informs my buying decisions.

The rest of the list:
Recommended (1 - 3 listed above)
4. Imagine Organic Free Range Chicken broth
Recommended with Reservations
5. College Inn Light & Fat Free
6. Orrington Farms Chicken Flavored Soup Base and Food Seasoning (bouillon cubes)
Not Recommeded
7. Trader Joe's Free Range Chicken Broth
8. Kitchen Basics Natural Chicken Stock
9. Pacific Organic Free Range Chicken Broth

There were a few more they deemed so bad they didn't even make the not recommended list - mostly stuff in a can like Health Valley and Campbell's, but a couple more cartons of organic broth hit this list as well, Nature's Promise, and Shariann's.

The author's explain the fact that larger manufacturers were beating the smaller companies in terms of taste by citing the vigilant quality control necessary to keep the broth from oxidizing. Apparently even a few hours of exposure to the air will cause the fats in the broth to oxidize and the broth to taste slightly rancid. They posit that the smaller companies just don't have the resources to deal with this problem which is why, in their words, "the worst offenders in terms of rancidity were products made by smaller companies."

That's a bummer for those of us who would prefer to buy from smaller companies than giants like Swanson.


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Colcannon Soup
May 22nd, 2005

Noting the dribs and drabs of things in the fridge, lettig them tumble about in your brain, and coming up with an idea for a dish is one of my favorite things about cooking. Sure you could just call it using up leftovers, but to me it's a challenge and a good way to engage my brain. Also, I'm sort of pathalogical about wasting things, which is why I hate to buy fattening ingredients that I won't use completely in a recipe. Because part of my brain will want to throw the remainder out, while a larger part of my brain will scream out that it's just wrong to throw out half of a $1.99 pint of whipping cream. So fattening recipes tend to create their own little satellite bad-for-you dishes, it's a domino effect.

Anway, yesterday I had one of those half pints of cream leftover from the uber-fattening Onion Galette, and some new potatoes and greens from my produce box. I decided to look for a creamy potato-based soup that included some kind of green vegetable.

I ended up finding this recipe for Colcannon Soup, an Irish-inspired soup of potatoes, milk, cream, and greens. The author describes it as homey and definitely not for company. In other words, it's ugly. But the taste is subtle and savory, and the amount of cream is actually very small. In fact, I still have some left. The cycle continues...


Colcannon Soup

Cooking spray
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 to 5 medium all-purpose potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 tbsp butter or mild vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound greens, any combination of turnip, mustard, kale, collard, spinach, beet, radish tops, poke sallet [I give, I have no idea what that one is], dock, chard, watercress, or any other wild or cultivated greens [could there possible be any more?], all washed very well, thinly ribboned, and coarsely chopped [I used half beet greens and half spinach]
1 cup milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream or evaporated skim milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Spray a heavy soup pot with the cooking spray, and in it bring the stock to a boil. Drop in the potatoes, turn down the heat, and let simmer 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, spray a 10-inch skillet with cooking spray and in it melt the butter or heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 4 minutes. Lower the heat slightly, add the greens, and stir until they start to wilt, about 3 minutes. Cover the skillet and let the greens steam until fully wilted, 3 to 10 minutes.

When the potatoes are done, strain them from the stock, reserving both. Return the stock to the soup pot. Place the potatoes in a food processor with the milk and cream and buzz until smooth. Combine this mixture with the stock in the pot, and stir in the sauteed greens and onion. Taste for seasoning. Reheat [but don't let it come to a boil again as I did, the cream will separate]. Serve immediately.

Note: I didn't blend the potatoes with the milk, I just mashed them up a bit in the pot and added the milk directly to the soup.

-Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread, Crescent Dragonwagon
Print Recipe

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Caribbean Chicken Salad
May 22nd, 2005

My produce box had a rather unripe mango in it this week, and I couldn't think of anything better to do with a firmish mango than this Caribbean Chicken Salad. I've made it before, and it works quite well with mangoes that hold their shape and maybe aren't quite as sweet.

The recipe calls for 3/4 cup of chili sauce. When I first read the recipe I was horrified, imagining almost a full cup of some tabasco-like substance. But I went shopping in the Asian aisle of our local grocery store, and realized that chili sauce is a much sweeter, less spicy product than I was expecting. The kind I use is called 'Arroy-D Sweet Chilli Sauce for chicken Nuoc cham ga' and it is made out of sugar, chili (or as they insist, chilli), water, vinegar, salt, garlic, and some nasty fillers and preservatives. It lasts forever in your fridge and is good on its own as a grilling marinade for chicken or shrimp.


Caribbean Chicken Salad

3/4 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3/4 cup chili sauce
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
6 drops hot pepper sauce
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 mango, halved, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tbsp minced scallions
1 tbsp olive oil [I left this out]
3 cups 1/2-inch-wide shredded romaine lettuce [I used the spring lettuce mix from my produce box]
4 tsp coarsely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts [I used lightly salted, yum]


In a medium saucepan, combine the sweet potatoes with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and cool. [Don't overcook them as I did this time, they get too mushy].

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. In a large bowl, combine the chili sauce, lime juice, and hot pepper sauce. Remove 3 tbsp of this chili sauce mixture and set aside the remainder. Place the chicken on the broiler rack and brush with the 3 tbsp sauce. Broil the chicken 4 inches from the heat for about 4 minutes per side, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and cut it into thin diagonal slices.

Add the sweet potatoes, cucumber, mango, scallion, oil, and chicken slices to the reserved chili sauce mixture and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

Put the lettuce in a big bowl (or individual serving plates) and spoon the chicken salad on top. Sprinkle with the peanuts and serve. [I like a little cilantro spinkled on top as well.]

-Great Taste, Low Fat Chicken, Time Life Books
Print Recipe

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Spanakopita
May 17th, 2005

I've been reading a good Greek cookbook lately called The Olive and the Caper. Jim's parents were in town and I had volunteered to bring dinner over to their condo in exchange for taking Jay off our hands for a Sunday afternoon. We came home and put Ian in bed and I had several hours to putter around the kitchen. I was reading the section on savory pies and tarts and decided the classic Spanakopita (Spinach and Cheese Pie) would be the least scary for Jim's parents - who are less than adventurous eaters.

This was my first time using phyllo dough, and it went just fine. Just be sure to factor in the time it takes for the dough to defrost if you're using frozen dough (about an hour), and tuck the corner eges down into the pan as you go. The recipe says to tuck the corners in at the end, but if you've left all the layers curling up a bit as I had, it's too late by that point.

This is a very tasty and impressive looking dish that really doesn't require a whole lot of time to put together.


Spanakopita

2 pounds (about 2 bunches) fresh spinach, stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped, well rinsed, and drained [washing the spinach is the most time consuming part, bagged spinach would help here]
2 1/2 tbsp olive oil
8 scallions, white and light green parts finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
10 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
12 to 16 sheets filo dough
olive oil or melted butter, for oiling the filo
2 to 3 tbsp milk, or 1 egg yolk beaten with 1/2 tbsp water (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly oil the bottom of a 13x19-inch baking dish or equivalent round pan.

Place the moist spinach in a large nonreactive pot or skillet over medium heat, and stir until wilted but still bright green, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain in a colander, pressing down lightly to extract most of the water.

Place the 2 1/2 tbsp oil and the scallions in the same pot and stir over medium heat until the scallions begin to wilt, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the spinach, mix well, and then transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Add the parsley, dill, cheese, eggs, and salt to the bowl and mix well.

Cut the filo sheets to size [I didn't need to cut mine at all]. Oil and layer 6 to 8 sheets in the bottom of the baking dish [brush olive oil over the top of each sheet with a pastry brush - keep a moist towel over the unused sheets of filo as you work]. Spread the spinach filling over the filo, and top with the remaining layers of oiled filo. Oil the top sheet. Tuck the filo in around the edges, and score the pastry to make 12 pieces. Brush the top with the milk or egg wash if using.

Place the pie in the oven and bake until the top is golden and crisp, 45 minutes. Serve right away, or keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator. Reheat or serve at room temperature.

-Susanna Hoffman, The Olive and the Caper
Print Recipe

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Diving back in
May 16th, 2005

I haven't been posting with my ordinary zeal on the food page lately for a variety of reasons. We've been kind of out of our normal routine for a bit and I haven't been cooking a lot so that has something to do with it. But I think the main reason is that Shannon and Adam said some nice things about my writing in recent posts and I just wanted to let those posts sit there at the top of the queue for a while where I could read them to myself whenever I clicked over here to check the traffic. Sad I know, but I have been working on trying to develop my writing a bit and the validation felt really good. Thanks guys!

I'm ready to start posting some more recipes though. I made a Spanakopita that turned out really well - the first time I'd ever tried working with phyllo dough - and I have several cooking related books to review.

What I'm really excited about right now though is our new CSA subscription. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it's a way to support local farmers by pre-paying for a share of what they plant that season. The farm I've signed up with this year is a local organic farm that supplements their vegetable and fruit deliveries with organic produce from other farms both in and out of Washington state. Because of this supplementing they can deliver produce boxes all year round. I've received my first two boxes and we've been eating lots of early spring vegetables - spring salad mix, radishes, chives, spring onions, carrots, peas, spinach, rhubarb - and some out of season produce from farms in other climates - oranges, apples, potatoes, broccoli, and mangoes of all things. It's great fun, and the little kid in me loves the treat aspect of it all, picking up a mystery box once a week and unwrapping all sorts of beautiful presents. We've also been doing a good job of eating everything up before picking up the next week's box, although I fear that has not always led us in the direction of healthy eating.

Vidalia onions were included in our box the last two weeks in a row and by Saturday we were accumulating quite a pile of onions in our storage basket. I know there are healthy ways to consume large quantities of onions, but I fixated on making some sort of onion pie, tart, or quiche. I ended up making a fabulous Onion Galette, which is a sort of rustic, free-form tart where you curl the crust around the edges of the filling and bake it on a baking sheet instead of in a tart or pie pan. It was really pretty and I'll post the recipe here soon, but what you must know about this dish is that it used two entire sticks of butter. Yes that's right, two sticks of butter, and Jim and I ate half of the Galette for dinner last night. And there's more! And it's good! And I will eat it! And did I mention the two sticks of butter? That almost makes the cream, eggs, and parmesan cheese in the filling seem inconsequential. What's a measly 1/4 cup of cream when you've already thrown in two sticks of butter?

Curse you vegetable box, curse you and your succulent onions which taste so good wrapped in buttery pastry....


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WBW #9
May 11th, 2005

Chilled roses seem to be all the rage for sipping on warm summer evenings these days. I always think that sounds lovely, but haven't sampled many pink wines. For this Wine Blogging Wednesday, I wanted to choose a wine from Washington, and something that wasn't too sweet.

I ended up with the 2004 Grenache Rose from Syncline Wine Cellars. Only 198 cases of the wine were produced, so it's only available for a limited time. Apparently the 2003 bottling sold out quickly.

Syncline Wine Cellars get their grapes from about ten Washington vineyards. They specialize in Rhone style wines (Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, and Viognier) and look for vineyards that, in their words "have followed the European tradition of matching varietal to vineyard site."

The wine itself is a gorgeous color, a deep rosy pink. It comes with a screwtop cap, and sells for around $12.50. I enjoyed this dry, fruity, sophisticated wine, but it wasn't something I wanted to drink glass after glass of. A glass before dinner with a few tasty nibbles would be just about right.


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