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Monday, February 14, 2011

On Improvising

My thoughts have turned to spring.  It is too early, I know.  Here in the Inland Northwest we could still get major snow storms as it is only mid-February.  But my thoughts and my food thoughts especially, have turned to spring.  Delicate greens rather than winter squash, asparagus instead of root vegetables.

So, Saturday I went to the Co-op.  Surely there, even if not local, I could find some vegetable a pale shade of green that I could justify.  I walked into the store and turned the first corner after getting a cart.  I had some other items on my list, like local flour and coffee, but the produce section beckoned.  And there, in the midst of all these treasures was a bin of Brussels sprouts--yes, I said Brussels sprouts.  Small and pale green, tight little heads.  My sister called them "stinky little lettuce balls" when we were kids the summer Dad accidentally planted them and not broccoli.  But I admit, I like them.

From those little green heads my own head turned to thoughts of the wheatberry roasted Brussels sprouts salad that the Co-op deli used to have before the chef changed.  Could I reproduce that?  Surely that would be more ethical -- fewer Brussels sprouts needed and local wheatberries.  A plan developed. 

I grabbed an organic lemon and a hunk of Parmesan cheese for the dressing, cruised down the aisle passed the wine and cookies, crackers and tea to the bulk section. I took a plastic baggie and a twistie tie for the bulk bin number and went over to the bin for the wheatberries knowing I had only a few tablespoons of them at home.  Then, tragedy struck--the bin was empty!  Ack!  What was I to do?  I left a little dejected.

Improvise, that's what!

So, no wheatberries.  What might I use instead?  I left the Co-op with the veggies, flour and a few other items, but nothing to use instead.  I had not decided what to do. 

I got home and looked in the pantry.  There was wild rice bought on my last trip to Minnesota, orzo pasta, white rice (oh, why did I not have any black japonica, that might have done nicely!).  I had no barley, not enough wheatberries.  Then I decided, quinoa.  Quinoa is not really a cereal grain I learned long ago, but is a good source of protein and was highly prized by the Aztecs.  It has recently had a bit of a comeback.  It is easy enough to cook, and relatively fast--much faster than polenta, faster than rice.  And it has a slightly nutty, slightly grassy flavor and just a tiny bit of crunch.

Now, was my quinoa and Brussels sprouts salad as good as the one with the wheatberries?  No, the texture and size of the quinoa is substantially different.  But the idea was good and it resulted in a perfectly good side salad.  Changing up the grain or "bulk" in side salads can result in something quite good.  This was good, although, next time I see wheatberries I can be sure to stock up!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Good Fortune

Recently I was out to dinner with a friend who commented that he really likes fortune cookies--to eat.  Lot of people like the fortunes but don't really bother to eat the cookie.  (Some, I know, eat at least part of the cookie for fear the fortune won't come true without eating some of it.)  I eat the cookie if mostly because I hate wasting food.

I had heard you could make them at home, personalize the fortunes to whatever you wanted.  But I never really thought about it very much.  Until my friend mentioned how much he actually really liked the cookies.

So, I thought I would try making him a batch.  It actually is pretty easy.  The trick is, I think, asbestos fingers, thin enough batter and working fast.

Admittedly, I watch a bunch of youtube videos to get the recipe and the basic strategy for getting the cookies off the baking sheet and folded up with a message inside.  The silpat helped a lot.

Fortune Cookies

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
2-3 tablespoons of water

Preheat over to 400 degrees.  Bake for about 8 minutes, but watch carefully, only the edges should brown. Make cookies first just two at a time until you are confident you can get them off and folded before they cool.  Once folded put in the hollow of a muffin tin to cool.  This helps them keep their shape.  Once cool they are crisp and just like fortune cookies.

Imagine making an Asian inspired meal with local and seasonal ingredients and serving your own fortune cookies at the end.  You could even put message about the sourcing of the ingredients or other ethical feel-good messages inside!

I saved the egg yolks and will do something with them tomorrow.  I have some other baking to do and such tomorrow, so I am sure I can figure something out.