Friday, March 18, 2011

Cookbook giveaway: Coming soon

I couldn't decide which dessert cookbook to offer. I'll have it up next Friday.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Put a fork in it, Capitol style

In case you missed this little New York Times story about the waste laid waste by the House Republicans:


Within the war between Republicans and Democrats over the federal spending rages an affray over disposable forks.

Under the tutelage of Representative Nancy Pelosi during the years when Democrats ran the House, her party moved to “green” the Capitol with several initiatives, including obligating the food vendor for the three main House cafeterias to provide compostable cups and utensils. But the newly empowered House Republicans have ended the program, and plastic forks and foam cups have returned.

The move enraged many Democrats, who argue that the House is now doing something bad for the environment and retrograde.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Painting with pasta

Pasta is fast, filling and simple. What it lacks at times is texture and color, which is why sauces were invented. But except for simple marinaras, sauces can pack a lot of calories.

The recipe below is somewhat low in fat, quick to make, and the contrast between the ivory orzo and the toasted vermicelli adds interest to the plate. Use a non-fat chicken broth (add salt to taste). I used a 12-inch sauté pan to hasten the absorption; if you use a smaller saucepan, you may need to adjust the time. This recipe was enough for two servings, and a second helping.

A little note about vermicelli: It goes by various names, and is used in the cuisines of many countries, not just Italy. In that country, it's also called orati in Bologne, minutelli in Venice, fermentini in Reggio and pancardelle in Mantua. (Perhaps that's because "little worms" isn't the most appetizing name for a pasta, although it is very descriptive of the untoasted cooked noodles.) If you can't find it, you can break angel hair pasta into tiny pieces and use it as a substitute. In Mexico, it's fideo; in Egypt, it's called she'reya (شعريه) in Arabic, and a very common dish mixes the dry toasted pasta cooked with rice. The most common vermicelli/rice dish in the United States is Rice-a-Roni®. For a home version that's not nearly as salty or processed, click HERE.

Orzo looks a lot like big rice grains, but it's pasta. Toast the vermicelli until it's very brown (without burning it) to increase the contrast with the orzo.

Lori K's orzo with vermicelli
Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup vermicelli
1/2 cup orzo
2 cups chicken broth
Salt to taste, if broth is unsalted

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a skillet or wide saucepan (one with a lid, which will be used later). Add the vermicelli and cook, stirring frequently, until brown, about 5 minutes. Add the orzo and chicken broth, cover, bring to a full boil, then turn burner to low and cook for 15 minutes until most of the broth is absorbed. Serve.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Light "fried" chicken

Roast chicken is a treat, but most of the fat comes from eating it with the skin on. That's what makes cheap chicken parts, like chicken wings, so yummy. Frying wings adds even more fat to them, and breading them adds fat AND carbs. Want to put on weight fast? Bucket of buffalo wings coming up.

So when I'm not roasting the whole bird, I either buy my chicken parts with the skin off, or take it off when I cut up the bird before freezing the individual parts.

But you can have crispy, fried-like chicken with just a fraction of the calories. I served this with a salad of mixed greens, orange peppers, grape tomatoes, feta and toasted pine nuts, a dish of orzo/vermicelli (recipe tomorrow; it was very easy and cooked while the chicken was in the oven) and a side of peas. The peas were frozen - my tip for cooking them is to put them in a bowl, season to taste, put a plastic cover over them and microwave for 2 minutes or until steaming hot. Don't use water, and don't overcook them. And use the young peas, petit pois, instead of the larger kind. The larger kind may cost a little less, but they tend to be mealier and the skins tougher.

Lori K's oven-fried chicken breasts
Serves 2

Dried bread crumbs
Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, smoked paprika
2 egg yolks
2 chicken breasts
Olive oil spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put a light layer of breadcrumbs on a plate and season them well. Beat the egg yolks until smooth. Wash and dry the chicken breasts, then brush one side with the yolk, lay on the crumb plate, brush the other side and flip. Make sure it is well-coated with crumbs. Place on a rack set over a shallow roasting pan. Repeat with the other breast, adding more crumbs and seasonings if needed. Top with a little extra smoked paprika. Spray lightly with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes; turn pan around (or if browning too fast, flip) and bake for another 5 minutes. Serve.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Roast chicken done Holly's way

A good roast chicken is one of life's most sublime pleasures, a crisp-skin package with meltingly tender meat, releasing a bit of wonderous broth in every bite.

My usual method is to season the chicken well – salt or garlic salt, pepper, paprika (smoked or plain) maybe put a little rosemary under the skin and stuff with a lemon – spray with olive oil, start it at 475, then turn the oven down to 325 and cook for an hour or so. I never baste, never open the oven door while cooking. I love crispy skin.

I check the temp in the breast since that's what I eat first; it should be at least 160 degrees (the temp continues to rise as it sets out of the oven) and never more than 165. Overcooking is what usually dries out poultry.

Letting the chicken rest when it comes out of the oven is another key to a moist chicken; minimum 10 minutes to let the juices absorb back into the meat (that works with all meats, by the way). Before serving, I check the temp on the thigh; if it's not up to 165, I remove the legs and put them back in the oven, keep the breast warm, serve the salad. They are usually cooked just right by then.

But I'm always open to new ways of roasting chickens: I love the Zuni Cafe method, and I'm eager to try THIS ONE my friend Holly just posted on her blog, which uses butter and celery. Do you have any favorite roast chicken recipes or tips to share?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Meaning of gleaning

I don't usually talk about religion on this blog, although it's a part of my life. But a couple of Sundays ago, we heard a reading that only comes up in the cycle when Easter's really late, like it is this year. It's from Leviticus 19, and it's the only time we hear Leviticus read in the Episcopal church. But it has a lot to do with food, and my friend and fellow communicator Phina had these thoughts on verses 9 and 10:

What struck me on first reading these again was that the poor were actually allowed onto the fields to glean; the leftovers were not managed by the landowners and distributed according to the landowner's policies, but the gleaners came onto the land, and their labor yielded their gleanings. Somehow, this seems more dignified and just than the ways we in our place and time usually manage our charitable activity. Perhaps it shows more trust, and more of a relationship, between the poor and the rich than we experience.

You can read her blog entry HERE. Phina writes a lot about sustainable food practices and our relationship to food and the land. You can read her blog, Just Gleanings, by clicking on the link to it further down the right side of this page.

A bit about the painting above. Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) was a French painter noted for his scenes of peasant farmers. Millet's "The Gleaners" (1857) depicts three peasant women gleaning a field of stray grains of wheat after the harvest. The painting is famous for monumentalizing what were then the lowest ranks of rural society. The earthy figures blend into the colour of the piece, ingraining them well into the scene. The original is in the Musee d'Orsay - Paris.