Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sauteed Fennel with Raisins, Pine Nuts, and Garlic

This is not a pretty side dish. It's kind of brown and green and not terribly appealing. But do not be put off by it's looks. This is a very simple and incredibly tasty vegetable side dish. I have been eyeing making this Fennel with Raisins, Pine Nuts, and Garlic since I started peeking through my all time favorite cookbook. Yes. I'm talking about Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop. It's just such a complete cookbook, chock full information and recipes for pretty much every vegetable I can get. Like tonight's vegetable was close race between some beets, some baby zucchini, and the fennel that I've been meaning to cook for a while.

I'm glad I chose the fennel. It's not as pretty as the sweet potatoes that I made using a sweet and spicy spice blend sent to me by the lovely Amanda at Mrs. W's Kitchen. Seriously, go check her out because she has all kinds of healthy great recipes that keep in mind Diabetic and gluten free lifestyles. The fennel, ugly as it may be was subtly licorice flavored and the sweetness of the raisins and the crunch of the pine nuts set it off perfectly.

Sauteed Fennel with Raisins, Pine Nuts, and Garlic

2 medium fennel bulbs
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves minced
2 Tbsp golden raisins
2 Tbsp pine nuts
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim the stems and fronds from the fennel. Discard the stems; mince enough of the fronds to yield 1 tablespoon. Trim a thick slice from the base of the bulb and remove any tough or blemished outer layers. Cut the bulb in half through the base and use a small, sharp knife to remove the triangular piece of the core from each half. With each fennel piece flat side down and your knife parallel to the work surface, slice crosswise to yield several 1/2 inch thick slices. Cut the slices lengthwise to yield long strips about 1/2 inch thick.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add the fennel strips and toss to coat them with oil. Cook, stirring often, over medium heat until the fennel has softened considerably but still offers some resistance, about 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, raisins, and pine nuts and cook, stirring often, until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the minced fennel fronds and serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Maybe I was craving some food to remind me of home, or maybe I had an eggplant in the fridge and some ground lamb frozen from last time I was in Michigan, I'm not telling. But when I looked in my A Taste of Lebanon cookbook I found the perfect recipe, Ma'aloobi. It's packed full of vegetables and potatoes and then has a wonderful filling of ground lamb and toasted pine nuts. And it's fun to say too! I did tweak the recipe some to make it a little healthier. I promised the Brain that I wouldn't make any dinner that had over 500 calories per serving. I figured this recipe on 4 servings, but really it could have served 6.

What resulted was a warm and delicious meal to cheer Marissa and Tony on Dancing with the Stars. And the leftovers were a great lunch today. Especially because it's darn cold outside and we might get snow. grrr.
I really wish the fighting in the Middle East would stop because I would love someday to visit. I love the warming spices and the beautiful dishes. Perhaps I'm fortunate that I grew up in the Detroit area and was exposed to a lot of Middle Eastern culture. I think it's a terrific and old culture and it really saddens me that on one end it seems no one can get along and that we seem to be messing up the other end.

adapted from A Taste of Lebanon

1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 pound ground lamb
1 medium onion (half finely chopped)
1 tsp salt (divided)
1/2 tsp pepper (divided)
1 large eggplant
2 large potatoes
2 large tomatoes
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup water

Toast pine nuts in skillet until nuts are golden brown. Add meat and chopped onion. Saute until meat changes color. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel eggplant and potatoes. Cut both into 1/2 inch thick slices. Cut tomatoes 1/4 inch thick. Slice remaining onion 1/4 inch thick. Divide the vegetables into 2 groups.

Layer the first group by alternating the four vegetables in a casserole dish. Sprinkle the meat filling evenly over the vegetables. Layer the remaining vegetables over the filling. Add the remaining salt and pepper, and cinnamon. Mix the tomato paste and water together in a small bowl and pour on top. Cover with lid and bake for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.
Approximate nutritional information per serving (4 servings): 432.4 calories, 19.8g fat, 50.3g carbohydrates, 9.6g fiber, 17.2g protein, 3.7g sugar, 767.9mg sodium, 41.2mg cholesterol

Monday, April 28, 2008

Multigrain Bread

Have you ever looked at the ingredient list for your standard loaf of bread? If you buy the $4 loaves of bread like Aunt Millie's light five grain that actually have whole grains and fiber it's not horrible. Although I'm curious what "DATEM" is and what exactly "resistant corn starch" is resistant to. If you have a husband like the Brain who is so sweet and actually goes out and buys a loaf of bread when you ask him to, but then doesn't really look at the label but goes for what's cheapest, then you may want to have a stiff drink before you look at the ingredients. He came back with wheat bread (just like I asked). But there was less than 1 gram of fiber per slice. And there were wild and bizarre things in this bread. Things like raisin juice. How exactly do you juice a raisin? And soy fiber which is mighty common in bread actually and makes me think of things like the stalk of the soybean plant. And then there's high fructose corn syrup and the chemicals I can't pronounce.

This has been a long time coming, because I'm a bread junkie and because I'm really trying to get back to eating more natural foods, well less chemicals anyway. We don't have a bakery in our county, or I think the next county up, that makes anything close to artisanal bread and bolstered by the success of the Julia Child French Bread, I've decided to make my own bread. I have to admit though, I sort of cheated on this one. I have a bread machine, which I love. And I have The All-New Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook, which I also love. Mostly what I like to do is make the dough in the bread machine and then transfer it to a loaf pan and bake it in the oven. It has something to do with being OCD I'm sure, but the idea of bread in those funny bread machine loaves freaks me out. Seriously. It's creepy. The bread machine is a great convenience though. I know that I can throw all the ingredients in it and then find something else to do for 2 hours. Like try to walk around the block. And I can come back and have perfectly made dough. Yummy dough when I use recipes from this book though.

So expect more bread in the future. Don't get excited, I'm not turning into Breadchick Mary, who is awesome and has tons of bread on her site. But on occasion I'll be sharing a loaf or two. I may even get daring and make the sourdough starter Mary posted about. And yeah, they won't all be bread machine recipes. But I promise not to use any resistant corn starch, or soy fiber. Or raisin juice.

And if you're curious, I have decided that the whole scariness of the hard plastic water bottles and chemicals leaching into my water has sufficiently scared me into recycling my beloved Life is Good water bottle and splurging on this beautiful aluminum SIGG bottle. I know, I know, aluminum and Alzheimer's. But this Swiss beauty has a "ground breaking interior liner" that is "100% effective against leaching". Even the paint on the outside of the bottle has been tested. And, though the mouth is much smaller on this bottle, it's surprisingly comfortable to drink from. Hooray!

Multigrain Bread
makes 2 loaves (16 servings)

1 1/4 cup water
1 egg
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp honey
1/3 cup flax seeds
3 Tbsp yellow cornmeal
3 Tbsp rolled oats
3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp rye flour
1 package (2 1/4 tsp) dry yeast
All ingredients should be at room temperature. Liquid ingredients should be approximately 80 degrees F. Add ingredients in the order specified in your bread machine owner's manual.

Select dough option.

Remove loaf from bread machine after it's second rise. Pat the dough into a rectangle and cut into 2 pieces. Fold the top third of the dough down onto the rectangle. Fold the bottom third up onto remaining dough. Flip the dough so the seam side is on your lightly floured work surface. Tuck the ends of the rectangle under so it will fit in a standard loaf pan. Repeat with the other rectangle. (I only made one loaf and as you can see it's a little on the ridiculously huge side of life.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the loaves and set in a warm place to rise for 30 minutes. Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 35 minutes. The loaves should be golden brown and have a hollow thumpy sound when tapped on the bottom. Place the loaves on a rack to cool.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 154 calories, 5g protein, 27g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 3g fat, 21mg cholesterol, 29mg potassium, 274 mg sodium.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cheesecake on a Stick!

It's Daring Baker Challenge time again! This month it was Cheesecake Pops from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor. Now I happen to love cheesecake, but the Brain and a significant portion of his family are lactose intolerant so I knew that I needed to find a place to give these babies away or I would really become Jaba the Butt. As it so happens, last Wednesday I was cleared by the physical therapist to be able to drive up to Michigan to go to the opera. My best friend T. and I have season tickets and La Rondine by Puccini was playing and it hasn't been performed in 37 years. It was I think my favorite opera so far and the people at the Michigan Opera Theater were really great about moving my balcony seat to a box seat and letting us have a primo parking space. They were really terrific about the challenges I faced on crutches.

Conveniently my friend T's son, my godson, is turning 2 on Tuesday (yes, this is an old photo) and he had a big birthday party yesterday. So I merely transported these babies up to her (and about 10 to my family) and minimized the risk of me eating the entire batch of cheesecake pops by myself. And trust me it was a real danger. They were delicious! And my track record for sampling as I was making them was pretty sad.
The batter went together super easy. Although I sort of shuddered at the 5 8oz packages of cream cheese, I figured that there's no butter in it and if you only eat one pop it wouldn't be so bad for you. That's one pop. Not 4 pops that you run out of chocolate coating for. I licked the beater so I knew the cheesecake was going to be good, the batter is good. And for the first time I actually put the cheesecake in the water bath. My cheesecake baked in about 55 minutes and was nice and solid.
The recipe says to scoop the cheesecake into 2oz balls. So I got out my little scooper. I'm sure it has a fancy name, its a little ice cream scoop that I use for portioning out cookie dough or frosting. Anyhow, I was scooping away and eating the scraps of cheesecake, which turned out about as yummy as I imagined, when I decided to stick one of the little buggers on a scale. It was 3/8 oz. Crap. They looked good though. Just a nice bite. But I am a direction follower so I got out the big ice cream scooper that I use for portioning out cupcakes. And I scooped one and weighed it. It was 1 1/4 oz and they looked pretty big. I started thinking that 2 oz was about the size of a softball and the cheesecake was far to rich for that.

So once I had all my little 3/8 oz balls rolled and scooped out and my tummy was seriously hurting from eating too much cheesecake ("What did you have for dinner?" "cheesecake"). And I somehow managed to rearrange my freezer to be able to have all these cute little balls on sticks fit, I froze them. I should mention here that lollipop sticks can be found at Walmart. I just happened to conveniently have some bright orange candy melts in my pantry. Don't laugh, my sister Super G discovered she had a can of Jamaican sardines in her cupboard this week. It happens. So I melted those up and coated my little cheesecake lollipops. And it was a kitchen of orange. I have an orange Kitchenaid and orange plastic mixing bowls and my favorite spatula is orange. And somehow these candy melts were the exact color of orange. Which thrilled me. I am easily thrilled. Even when my stomach is hurting from eating far too much cheesecake.

I did have a little trouble getting them to stay on the stick when they were thawed out so I did have to keep sticking them in the freezer. My sister M when she tried hers at home fell of the stick too. I think they'd be almost as fun just without the stick. As like tiny little bon bons. This was definitely a challenge for me. I'm not sure if it was just complicated for me to scoop them out and roll them into a ball and then dip them in chocolate or if I was just at the point in the day where standing becomes uncomfortable and I'm pretty much done. I don't think I'd make this again for a weekend dessert or a casual birthday party, but probably if I was going to a bridal shower or baby shower I would. They're a lot of work, but they're really impressive.

Thanks to the wonderful Deborah at Taste and Tell and Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms for picking a recipe that I probably wouldn't have picked myself. It was a good challenge. Also make sure to check out all the other talented Daring Bakers. And if you'd like the recipe, you can either buy the book, or check out Deborah's blog. And I'm headed back to the couch.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Where Have I Been?

I have overdone it yet again by making the Daring Baker Challenge and then driving up to Michigan to go see Puccini's La Rondine at the Michigan Opera Theater. The opera was beautiful and the employees of the Michigan Opera Theater were the most wonderful and accommodating people to me. (I had to go back on the crutches for a bit). So I had a great time, but now I'm dealing with a lot of swelling and haven't really been cooking. I will be posting tomorrow though so stay tuned!

So for now, I'm spending my time looking at my unplanted garden. We picked up our tomato and pepper plants (both jalapeno and bell) and some rosemary and basil plants, plus I have last year's parsley and sage. So I lay here on the couch surrounded by my soon to be garden and I'm waiting for the two weeks before we're sort of out of the frost danger zone. Come on planting season!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Braised Chicken Drumsticks

I don't believe I've mentioned recently how much I love this cookbook. Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes for 2 has a tremendous amount of really good slow cooker recipes just the right size for me and the Brain. That and we haven't had anything turn out bad yet. That's kind of an understatement. Everything we've made has been really really good. And there's not a can of cream of mushroom soup in sight. Actually the cookbook is very lactose intollerant friendly. A definite plus on our noses.

Today's recipe of Braised Chicken Drumsticks with Garbanzo Beans and Dried Fruit is yet another example of the excellent food in this cookbook. I followed Courtney's lead and went over to Spark Recipes and figured out the nutritional value. This super delicious and easy crock pot dish is very high in both Vitamin C and fiber. The sodium and fat content were a little high so I cut out 1 tablspoon of oil and used low sodium chicken broth. I was also surprised to find out that there were only 4g sugar. I think that makes it a good dish for diabetics, however Atkins type people might want to be aware of the 44g carbohydrates. I need those carbs though to power myself around the block again. I'm getting speedier and now I don't hurt until the last 3 houses. Whoo look at me go now.

Ooops. I got sidetracked there. Anyway, check out Sparks Recipes. It's a pretty interesting site and you can totally find out the nutrition content easily for your recipes.

Braised Chicken Drumstics with Garbanzo Beans and Dried Fruit

1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1/2 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped
3/4 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
4 dried apricot halves, each cut into quarters
2 Tbsp golden raisins
1 cup chicken broth, low sodium
1 1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cumin
pinch of mace
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 chicken drumsticks
a few strips of orange zest
1 Tbsp cornstarch

Spray the inside of the crock with nonstick cooking spray. Place the onion, pepper, cilantro, apricots, and raisins in the slow cooker. Add 3/4 cup of the broth, the vinegar, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, mace, ginger, cayenne pepper, and salt.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the chicken legs. Cook until the chicken is browned , about 5 minutes; add to the crock, laying the pieces side by side.Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 7 hours (or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours), until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken legs from the crock with a slotted spoon to a plate; cover with foil and keep warm.Increase the heat to HIGH. Whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth, the orange zest, and the cornstarch in a small bowl; stir into the vegetables and broth in the crock. Return the chicken to the crock, cover, and continue to cook for 15 minutes, until sauce is thickened. Serve hot. Serves 2.

Per Serving: 358.1 Calories, 10.7g Fat, (1.7g Saturated Fat), 57.0mg Cholesterol, 956.0mg Sodium, 680.1mg Potassium, 44.5 total Carbohydrate, 6.6g Fiber, 4.0g Sugar, 22.5g Protein.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cooking to Combat Cancer 2

Oh cancer. As I mentioned in my cornbread muffin post for A Taste of Yellow, I worry about cancer. It's a little unnerving to realize that I've hit the mid-thirty somethings and I've already predisposed myself to some cancers. Besides the smoking and the damage I worry that I've done to my lungs, I come from the pasty white people of the north. My mom says I'm allergic to the sun. I can burn through baby sunscreen. And I've already had one suspicious spot removed. Fortunately, it was nothing. But skin cancer does run in my family. On both sides. I like to think that maybe when my ancestors came over in 1640 and just kept marrying other Germanic type people that if they had known the risk factors they were setting me up for they might have tried to get to know an Italian, or a Greek or somebody with a little tiny bit of melanin. But they didn't.

SO dutifully, every time I go out in the sun I slather on some Neutrogena SPF 70 (with Helioplex) sunscreen. I wear a hat. I wear big sunglasses. At the beach I wear a swim shirt. And I wear a beach cover up. I look like one of those crazy old ladies that is completely covered up. But I haven't had a tan, or a massive burn in 3 years. 4 years ago is when I discovered that I burn through baby sunscreen on my first annual family vacation to Hilton Head Island. Bad burns happen, but I do try to prevent them.

But as careful as I am now, most skin damage is done before you're 18. Crap. I think I had one or two or three bad burns a year before I turned 18. My grandma had a cottage on Lake Huron and just for me she kept a massive jar of Noxema. Out of 19 grandchildren, I'm the one that burns bad. My cousins used to peel the flaking burnt skin off my back. My sister doesn't burn. She tans. It's highly annoying.

So what am I bringing this all up for? Because Chris at Mele Cotte is hosting a Cooking to Combat Cancer 2 event to raise awareness of cancer fighting foods. This Spicy Chicken and Greens is packed full of cancer fighting foods. There's the Mac Daddy of all leafy greens Kale. Kale has been shown to slow growths of cancers in laboratory animals. It helps reduce the risk of lung, stomach, colorectal, prostate and bladder cancers. Kale is also high in folate which helps combat breast cancer. Then there are scallions, which are from the garlic group. Scallions contain diallyl disulfide which protects against skin, colon and lung cancer. There's even some soy sauce. I don't know if soy sauce counts as a soy because it doesn't have the soy protein that my body just can't digest, but I purposely kept it in for soy's cancer fighting properties. Soy's isoflavins protect against cancers of the bladder, cervix, lung and stomach. And then if you serve this lovely (and unfortunately not terribly spicy) dish over brown rice as I did, you've just added the cancer fighting properties of whole grains, which when eaten as part of a balanced diet works to combat most types of cancer.

So there you go. Have some of this not very spicy Spicy Stir Fried Chicken and Greens with Peanuts and battle away your potential cancer risks! Also make sure to check back at Mele Cotte for the roundup!

Spicy Stir Fried Chicken and Greens with Peanuts
from Bon Appetit

2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, divided
2 Tbsp dry Sherry, divided
3 tsp sesame oil, divided
2 tsp brown sugar, divided
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch wide strips
2 Tbsp peanut oil, divided
4 green onions, white parts and green parts chopped separately
1 chopped serrano pepper, seeded
1 large bunch kale, thick stems removed, cut into 1 inch strips
1/4 cup chopped roasted salted peanuts

Whisk 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Sherry, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon sugar in medium bowl. Add chicken and marinade 20 to 30 minutes.

Whisk remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Sherry, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon sugar in small bowl and reserve.

Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add white parts of onions and chiles; stir 30 seconds. Add chicken; stir-fry just until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer chicken mixture to bowl. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil to same skillet; heat over high heat. Add greens by large handfulls; stir just until beginning to wilt before adding more. Saute just until tender, 1 to 6 minutes. Return chicken to skillet. Add reserved soy sauce mixture. Stir until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to serving bowl; sprinkle with green parts of onions and peanuts.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Grilled Eggplant and Tomato

Spring has sprung. Finally. And I'm allowed to walk around the block. Hooray! Even though I am a champion race walker (for my age group anyway), it was kind of refreshing to walk slowly (and I really mean slowly) and take everything in. The neighbor on the corner one street over has an amazing forsythia bush. It's huge and bright yellow. Other neighbors had blooming daffodils and one neighbor was grilling. And my knee didn't start hurting until I was almost all the way home. And that may have been because some guy I didn't know kind of creeped me out and I realized I couldn't really just pick up the pace and walk past him. I tried. That may have been a bad idea.

So today I felt like grilling. Unfortunately, rain looks imminent so I settled for broiling. For a nice healthy side with dinner I made Grilled Eggplant and Tomato out of the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook. I changed it up a bit though. The original recipe called for 3/4 cups of crumbled goat cheese. Walmart does not sell goat cheese. At least not here they don't. And I know what you're thinking, it's Weight Watchers so it's probably "diet" food. (Even though their slogan says they're not a diet, I think of them that way too.) But really this antipasti is pretty darn tasty. The Brain even liked it. I used feta instead of the goat cheese and I think the saltiness of it helps. Also I think next time I will omit the tomatoes. Probably I cooked them too long, but they got mushy.

And now I'm going to attempt walking around the block again. Going slowly. Concentrating on walking without a limp and straightening my leg completely. And trying to avoid uneven pavement. And contain my happiness at being able to mosey around the block.

Grilled Eggplant and Tomato

1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chicken broth (it's what I had, the original recipe calls for vegetable broth)
4 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tomato, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil

Preheat the grill (or broiler). In the food processor or blender, combine the bell pepper, broth, oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper; puree. Place the eggplant and tomato on a sheet of wax paper and brush both sides with the broth mixture; discard any remaining broth mixture.

Broil (grill) the eggplant until lightly charred, about 4 minutes on each side. Broil (grill) the tomatoes about 2 minutes on each side.

Arrange the vegetables on a platter. Sprinkle with the cheese and basil.

Per Serving (1/4 of platter) from original recipe with goat cheese and vegetable broth: 161 Cal, 11g Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 17mg Chol, 260mg Sod, 11g Carb, 2g Fib, 7g Prot, 124mg Calc.
4 points.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Vermicompost cupcakes

Vermicompost cupcakes? Ewww. Not really. (It's not real vermicompost.)

Actually it's that time of the month again. Time for me to hopefully submit my cupcake to the Cupcake Hero contest to Laurie and TW et al and patiently wait for the results knowing that I have a consistently good cupcake, but that someone out there has made one better than me. And then I get sad and I drown my sorrows in leftover frosting. OK, that's not actually true. I make a point of getting leftover frosting under running water as soon as possible after frosting the cupcakes so I'm not standing in the kitchen at midnight eating frosting out of the freezer with a spoon. So here we go again.

This month's theme is Earth Day, picked by the lovely TW! Now that's an odd theme for a cupcake. But I was pretty excited about it. There's all sorts of little things we can do to help the environment. By now, most of us are bringing our own bags to the grocery. (If you can't find bags, I know that both Walmart and Meijers sell them for 99¢. I've bought them and they're pretty great. Nice and roomy and the Meijers one has a little pocket in front and inside wine holders.) And if you're not bringing your own bags, why not? They're a great and easy way to do something good for the environment. And they hold a lot more than regular plastic or paper bags. So you can end up with 2 bags instead of 17.
Another easy way to help the environment is to say goodbye to bottled water. I know. I know. Bottled water is an easy way to get healthy. Water is good for us. That's all true, but there's a better way. Roughly 40 million plastic water bottles find their way to the trash can every day or become litter. You could argue that you can refill plastic water bottles and reuse them. That's true only for the first 3 times. Each time you use a plastic water bottle little cracks form in the plastic and after 3 times they are a bacteria breeding ground. ick. So what's a person who wants to drink healthy water to do? Buy a cool reusable water bottle. I got mine from Dick's for less than $10 (it was on sale).
You can also order them online from a variety of sources. I like the Life is Good line myself. What if you have really undrinkable tap water like I did in Indianapolis? Then buy a faucet water filter like this one from Brita. They are easy to install, inexpensive and last for 100 gallons. I would even bet that the cost of the filter and the replacement filters as well as the reusable bottle over time, even end up being cheaper than buying all that bottled water. But I couldn't figure out how to make that into a cupcake so consider it a public service announcement.
*It has been brought to my attention that In Europe the filters are recyclable while here in the US they are not. There is grass roots movement to encourage Brita to create a recycling program. To sign the petition go here. For a much better explanation go to Fake Plastic Fish.
*Make sure you wash your water bottle by hand and don't store water in it for longer than a day to keep harmful chemicals from leaching from the plastic into the water bottle. Apparently the water bottles also need to be recycled once they get pretty old and beat up. I've also heard there are stainless steel water bottles out there.

So what cause that is good for the environment can I make into a cupcake? Vermicompost! Vermicompost is a system of breaking down food scraps, into a rich fertilizer for houseplants and your garden. OK, it's worm poop. But it's really good for plants and it keeps all that junk from going to landfills. And the fertilizer is a completely organic way to have your plants (and vegetables) grow big and healthy. I can't seem to convince the Brain we should do it either. But my parents have a vermicompost system in their basement. You can read about theirs here. It's pretty odorless really. Kinda cool. I've convinced them to come "help" me plant my vegetable garden this year and maybe they'll transport some of the compost down here too! If you're interested in vermicomposting I highly suggest the book, Worms Eat My Garbage. I got it out of the library. It's easy to read and has some nice illustrations. Also here's a video with Martha Stewart and David Hyde Pierce (aka Niles Craine from Frasier) demonstrating how to do it.

So yeah. Here's my Vermicompost cupcakes. They're a rich dark chocolate cake studded with caramel bits and walnuts because really dirt isn't smooth and homogeneous. Then they're topped with dark chocolate frosting and "vermicompost" with coconut "newspaper strips". The newspaper strips are very important for worm composting (as shown in the video). Then I carefully piped red wiggler worms on top. Red wiggler worms are actually the best worms for composting. I read the book. Also, if you'll notice, my little vermicompost systems are in they're very own little Rubbermaid tubs. OK here I'm totally lying. These are silicon cupcake holders that my mom bought me and are really fun. They also can be reused so they're pretty good for the environment too. (Well OK, I sent a dozen off to my nephews and those weren't in the silicone holders. You know how boys are. They like worms, but i didn't want my square cupcake cups to get lost.)

Vermicompost Cupcakes
makes approximately 20 with leftover vermicompost

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup Hershey's Special Dark cocoa
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup Kraft premium caramel bits

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place paper liners in wells (or silicon cups).

Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine walnuts and caramel bits in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl with a hand mixer beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Beat in the vanilla extract. Beat in eggs one at a time making sure each egg is incorporated before moving on. Add the flour in 4 additions alternating with the milk. Begin and end with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl and beat for an additional 30 seconds.

Divide batter evenly among the cups, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes back clean.

Cool completely.

Dark Chocolate Frosting:
6 Tbsp butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
4 Tbsp milk

Beat butter and sugar together with cocoa powder. Add milk one tablespoon at a time until spreading consistency. Set aside.

"Vermicompost" mix:
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup Kraft premium caramel bits
20 fudge sandwich cookies (I used the cheap kind, but fudge filled Oreos would work)
1 cup coconut

Pulse walnuts, caramel bits, and sandwich cookies in the food processor until crumbly looking. The caramel bits won't get chopped up hardly at all, but that's OK. Think of it as organic food waste particles. Stir in coconut to resemble newspaper strips. The leftovers of this would be great on vanilla ice cream.

Red Wiggler Worm Icing:
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp milk
1 cup powdered sugar
Wilton's Aster Mauve Concentrated Icing Coloring (or a combination of food colorings to achieve pinkish purplish worm color.)

Blend together butter and powdered sugar. Add milk to achieve very thick consistency. Add food coloring to achieve proper worm color.

To Assemble Cupcakes:

Transfer "vermicompost" mix to a wide shallow bowl. Frost cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Frosting. Then turn cupcakes upside down into "Vermicompost" mix. Your frosting should be completely coated in "vermicompost". Transfer Red Wiggler Worm icing into a piping bag fitted with a #4 tip. (Or you could just stick it in a small Ziploc bag and cut one corner off to make a little hole.) Pipe worms onto cupcakes. These worms aren't going to want to stick to well, but that's OK it just adds to the randomness of what worms look like.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Blushing Cream of Cauliflower Soup

Sometimes I just want something soothing and comforting. Like a hug. It may be 60 some degrees outside and sunny, but I'm still fairly much on house arrest until we can get the swelling down. I did sneak out to Meijers over the weekend and filled my tiny little cart with an assortment of vegetables. I've discovered that husbands, although they have many spectacular qualities, cannot be trusted to grocery shopping by themselves. It's all nitrite laden meat and no veggies. blecch. well the 3 packs of bacon in the fridge is weirdly comforting. But otherwise blecch.

I am a veggie girl. I have been craving veggies. So even though I've had a lot of very good soup over the last 3 weeks, I thought of my Soup & Bread cookbook and the Blushing Cauliflower Soup recipe and loaded my cart full of cauliflower and red peppers.

This is some serious good soup. It's comforting. It's filling. It's fairly nutritious (the full cup of heavy cream keeps me from saying it's totally healthy). Cauliflowers are a cruciferous vegetable so it has cancer fighting properties. It's also super high in Vitamin C. The red bell peppers are high in both Vitamin C and Vitamin A and provide help against anti-oxidants and free radicals and may help protect against heart disease. It's not the easiest soup ever. It does take 2 pans. But overall I think it's worth it. I really liked the combination of flavors of the nuttiness of the cauliflower, the cooked red pepper and the crunch of the raw red pepper. Yummy.

Blushing Cream of Cauliflower Soup

1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets
cooking spray
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery finely diced
3 red peppers, stemmed, seeded, and diced
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
4 fist sized all purpose potatoes, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Steam the cauliflower over boiling water until barely tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Add the butter and oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until wilted about 2 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and saute 2 minutes more. Add 2 of the bell peppers and saute another 2 minutes. Scrape the sauteed vegetables into a soup pot.

Add the stock, wine, potatoes, tomato paste, basil, and thyme to the soup pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium low and simmer until the potato is done and the cauliflower is quite tender, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is smooth. Reheat, then stir in the remaining sauteed vegetables, the milk, the cream, and about three quarters of the remaining bell pepper. Season with the salt and pepper. Heat the soup through, being careful not to let it boil. Serve hot garnished with remaining red pepper.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

LiveSTRONG Day 2008

I am lucky. I may be on pseudo-house arrest. I may not be able to get into my pantry. I may have the world's squeakiest brace and sound like a demented version of the tin man. I may wake up sometimes in the middle of the night with a weird pain in my knee. And I may have resolved that it's possible that this isn't my last knee surgery. But I am lucky. This is all temporary. Eventually, and it's a certainty, I will be able to ride my bicycle again. I will be able to play and jump and maybe run (I've never been very good at running). I will heal one hundred percent. I don't have cancer. My body isn't mutinying against me. I am lucky.

My mom's friend Pam wasn't so lucky. She had lung cancer and finally succumbed to it two years ago. Pam had her flaws like everyone else, but she was a pretty cool lady. She taught school, but I really have no idea what grade and what she taught. I know she loved to swim. But mostly I remember driving her to the hospital when she wasn't allowed to drive anymore and listening to her talk about how when she got better she was going to have adventures. She had this attitude up until the very end. It was pretty inspiring really. And Pam's gift to me was showing me what would happen if I didn't quit smoking. That sounds so Machiavellian of me, but it's true.

The fear of lung cancer sometimes keeps me up at night. I used to smoke. I used to smoke a LOT. Some people will tell you that I survived in college on Diet Coke and cigarettes. And pretty much I did. Cigarettes became a way for me to stop myself from saying things I would regret. Cigarettes allowed me to pause and think before I spoke. Cigarettes allowed me to step outside and take a deep breathe when I got completely stressed out. And yes, I'm not from a generation where I can claim that I didn't know they were bad for me. I didn't care that I smelled bad. I didn't care that I couldn't smell anything. I was only mildly perturbed that my teeth were starting to yellow and that I'd probably get those scary lines around my lips. I had smoked for 15 years. Half of my life. And I loved it.

Those horrible photos of blackened lungs didn't do anything to break the grip that cigarettes had on me. I was addicted. What finally did it was watching Pam. Was knowing how Pam had all these adventures left in her that she wouldn't get to take. I didn't know Pam too well. But when Pam needed rides to the hospital, I didn't feel I could say no. After all, I have had far more than my share of people driving me around because I couldn't do it myself. And in the end, I was on the receiving end of these trips. Because I had a new appreciation for Pam and her unconquerable spirit. And I will never be a smoker again. How lucky I am that I had Pam in my life!

Winosandfoodies is having a Taste of Yellow blogging event where bloggers make yellow food to show their support for LiveSTRONG Day 2008. I spent a long long time thinking of a good food to make for this event. I wanted to make something that not only was yellow, but was also appropriate. For example, Saveur magazine had a recipe on how to make butter. Butter is yellow, but it doesn't seem right for a we can beat cancer type event. It's more of a oh hell let's all get fat kind of an event food. (If there is such an event please let me know!)

So I did loads of thinking and found this recipe for delicious corn muffins studded with cranberries and walnuts. Both of which have HUGE cancer fighting properties. According to work done by Catherine Neto at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and her colleagues, cranberries have chemicals called proanthocyanidins, which originally were thought to help prevent urinary tract infections. They have found that they inhibited the growth of human lung, colon and leukemia cells in culture without affecting healthy cells. I think that's pretty promising and you can read the whole article here. Walnuts contain an antioxidant compound called ellagic acid that supports the immune system and appears to have several anticancer properties and you can read all about walnuts here. So I think these little cancer fighting yellow muffins are perfect for this event. That and they're damn tasty too!
There will be a complete roundup of entries on May 13th here. Make sure you check it out. Last year there were 149 entries and it's been accepted by the Lance Armstrong Foundation as an official LiveSTRONG Day event. And if you'd like to see the rules for the photo contest or how to submit an entry check them out here.

Dried Cranberry Black Walnut Corn Muffins

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp white sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup black walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 egg
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup grape seed oil (or other mild vegetable oil)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray 18 muffin cups with oil. Set aside

Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Toss them together well, breaking up any lumps of brown sugar with your fingers. Set aside.

Combine the dried cranberries and walnuts in a small bowl. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the dry cornmeal mixture over them and toss well. Set aside.

Whisk together the egg, buttermilk and oil in a small bowl.

Pour the egg mixture into the cornmeal mixture and, working with as few strokes as possible, combine the two. When they are moistened but not quite incorporated and the batter is still far from smooth, stir in the meal dusted cranberries and nuts.

Scoop the batter into the prepared cups and bake until the muffins are golden brown, slightly crusty around the edges and test clean with a toothpick, about 15 minutes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Memoir of only 6 words?

Both the lovely Cakelaw and Amanda at Mrs. W's Kitchen have tagged me for the six word memoir. And the rules are as follows:
1. Write your own 6 word memoir.
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration.
3. Link to the person who tagged you.
4. Tag 5 more blogs with links.
5. Leave a comment on the tagged blogs letting them know they're tagged.
Actually, Amanda tagged me a while ago, and I've been in the middle of reading various huge books from the library, Jane Eyre and The Cider House Rules to name a few, so limiting me to 6 words was something to think about. For example, after finishing Jane Eyre I had to make myself stop thinking things like "Once injured, I was wont to forget the pain of recovery and focus lightheartedly on the joys of skipping again if only I could bend my leg and sway like the bulrushes." OK so I have no real idea of how bulrushes sway other than what I've seen on PBS, but the truth of the matter is that Charlotte Bronte is really wordy.

As an aside, I just checked out Wuthering Heights, Portrait of a Lady, and The Scarlett Letter from the library, so be warned that posts next week may get super wordy. It's not that I'm fascinated with the reading list of the average parochial high school, it's that I never actually read the books I was supposed to read in high school. See, I somehow learned if I paid attention to class discussions, I would know enough for the tests. Well, that and many many of the Shakespeare books are on video (DVD now, it was video back when I was young). Thus the only book I read in high school was King Lear and that was only because the video was far more confusing than reading Shakespeare.

See what I mean about 6 words being difficult for me?

I decided to go with 6 unchanging things about myself. Things that will be the same now as 10 years from now.

Re-repaired (yeah that's the screw they took OUT)

And on the last note, tomorrow is our one year anniversary, so don't hold your breath for a post.

And I tag:

Kitt at The Kittalog
Deborah at Taste and Tell
Miss. Von Schtoop at Calamity Shazaam in the Kitchen

Because they are all really cool fun blogs and I like them.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dairy Hollow Cornbread

At the end of last month, shortly before my surgery I was contacted by Crescent Dragonwagon, the author of the Dairy Hollow Soup and Bread cookbook. That happens to be the lovely cookbook that the beer soup came from. It turns out that Mrs. Dragonwagon happens to have written several other cookbooks including a fairly new one called the Cornbread Gospels. She asked if I would like a copy to review.

I have a small confession to make here. Although I said "sure send me a copy" I am definitely not what one would call an expert on cornbread. Prior to receiving the book, I'd never actually made cornbread except out of the blue and white box mix. My mom has always just used the Jiffy mix too. So has my grandma. As it turns out this book is excellent for me. Unfortunately it arrived the day after surgery.

So there I was in a Percocet induced fog excited to get a new cookbook, but really unable to concentrate on what it said. As the fog cleared, mostly due to my stubborn resistance to taking painkillers, I started to read the cookbook. This was also something new for me, but Mrs. Dragonwagon had so much interesting information packed into this cookbook. There is all kinds of information on the differences between "Yankee" and "Southern" cornbread. There's information about cornbreads around the world. There's information about what to do with leftover cornbread. There's basically a TON of information in this cookbook.

My wonderful mother in law, was over at our house everyday to help change my bandages and cook me lunch and usually dinner for the Brain and I. She's very nurturing. I think I can say I have the best mother in law around. Anyhow, back to the subject at hand, she had seen the book arrive and we had several talks about cornbread, which she called Johnny cake. (Johnny cake information is also in this book.) So one night she borrowed the book (OK I sent it over with the Brain) and she made me Countryside Cornsticks. They were delicious. You'll have to take my word on this because at that point in my recovery I couldn't have found my camera if it was sitting in my lap. But they were delicious and now I was fully intrigued.

Last Sunday, the Brain and I momentarily ran out of food being delivered by neighbor ladies and friends and we decided that I would pull a chair into the kitchen and read off the recipe for the beer beans.(Beans are an important food to eat when you've been taking pain killers. Even I couldn't go cold turkey on the painkillers. I don't think I should extrapolate here, but trust me beans are important when taking painkillers.) So there I sat watching my husband cook for me. It was very sexy. I would have taken a photo, but he was in his drawers and that's only something I get to see. I did however get the brilliant idea that we should make something out of The Cornbread Gospels. He got the brilliant idea we should make cookies.

We compromised. While he ran to the store for buttermilk and a refrigerator full of nitrite rich meats, I mixed up these cookies and got them ready for the oven. But then when he got home I carefully mixed up the dough for the Dairy Hollow House Skillet-Sizzled Cornbread. Well, apparently I wasn't too careful because I mixed the baking soda in with the dry ingredients before I realized that it was supposed to go in the buttermilk. So I got it all mixed and the Brain handled the cast iron skillet part. What was the result? A fabulously crumbly delicious cornbread. Crescent Dragonwagon was right. I'm not going back to the Jiffy mix.
This recipe wasn't complicated. It really came together in a flash. Besides, it was great soaking up juices from the beans. And it was great leftover and reheated for about 15 seconds in the microwave with some cube steak a lady friend dropped off. And it was great soaking up the juices from the beans the same lady dropped off. And it was great cold with a thick slice of butter after an early morning physical therapy session. And now I've run out.

Fortunately for me, there are over 200 recipes in this cookbook. I've had 2 so I'd say I realistically have 99% of the recipes left to try. And try more of these recipes I will. I'm only having a hard time narrowing down the choice on which one to do next!

Sorry the photos are blurry, I hadn't quite gotten myself off the Vicodin by that point.

Dairy Hollow House Skillet-Sizzled Cornbread
from The Cornbread Gospels

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 Tbsp sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
2 Tbsp butter

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 10 inch cast-iron skillet with oil and set aside.

2. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl.

3. In a smaller bowl, stir the baking soda into the buttermilk. Whisk in the sugar, egg, and the 1/4 cup oil.

4. Put the prepared skillet over medium heat, add the butter, and heat until the butter melts and is just starting to sizzle. Tilt the pan to coat the sides and bottom.

5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine them quickly, using as few strokes as possible. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cornbread until it is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cook for a few moments, and slice into wedges to serve.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's Gold in my Family

There's an exciting blog event going on co-hosted by Pixie over at You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato and Rosie at Rosie Bakes a Peace of Cake. It's called "Putting Up" and it's about preserving foods, canning, also known as "putting up".

I may be a fairly large dork because my mom and my grandmas all canned and I just followed in their footsteps. Next thing you know I'll be doing things like quilting and making soap from bacon grease. I doubt it, but if I wanted to to really go back to my roots, I guess I could. So even when I was living in apartments in Kansas City and Ann Arbor I happily made preserves and pickles and chili sauce and what my sister calls "crack beans" (they're that good).

And last year I finally moved into a house and I had a garden and I went completely bezerk at "harvest time". So which recipe should I blog about for this putting up event? My chunk pickles are really good, but I'm planning on entering them for the county fair (I'm a HUGE dork) and it's a secret recipe that my mom won third prize at the Michigan State Fair many many years ago. Honest. I'm not lying on that one. I do love my canned tomatoes and there's tons of uses for them, but really they're super simple and nothing more than canned peeled tomatoes with salt. I can't reach the recipe book that has the "crack beans" recipe or the salsa recipe in them. It's in the bookshelf on the side of the pantry and although I'm now down to one crutch around the house (Hooray!) I'm still forbidden from attempting the pantry.

So that leaves us with the very old and very delicious Chili Sauce recipe. Chili Sauce is a tomato preserve that sort of resembles a homemade chunky ketchup. It's sort of like a tomato relish I guess. It's also treated like gold in my family. For Christmas one year my mother gave us kids all a jar of Chili Sauce and the family's secret fruitcake recipe and we were a bunch of happy clams. Yeah anyone who says they hate fruitcake has never had my mom's fruitcake. Unfortunately, the recipe makes far more than my little family of the Brain and I could possibly eat in a year and it's a lot of work, so I'm mostly reduced to begging my mom to make some every year. Oooops sorry, got off track there.

So Chili Sauce (and the secret family fruitcake recipe) is guarded in my family. It's saved and stored until the perfect moment for using. Well unless you make it yourself like I do and then you can lavish it on top of hamburgers or mix it with Miracle Whip for some very tasty salad dressing. My sister Super G makes short ribs with it. My vegetarian brother once said it's tasty on a bean loaf. It's fabulous in Beef Brisket with Beer, which I'm giving you the recipe for, but no pictures because I can't go down those scary basement stairs. And I really really like it when making Sloppy Joes. See I never grew up with Manwich because there was always Chili Sauce in the house. And frankly, now I think Manwich is icky. But I have it in my pantry because I am a good wife. But if you want a sloppy joe, go with the chili sauce.

Chili Sauce
Family recipe courtesy of Caroline Fritz my great grandmother

2 red and 2 green bell peppers
1 cup celery
1 cup onions
1 peck tomatoes, peeled
pickling spice bag
1 pint vinegar
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup salt
1 Tbsp dry mustard

Grind vegetables and put all ingredients in large pot. Boil. Stir often as it scorches easily (and once it scorches the little black floaty bits are hard to get rid of.) When the chili sauce is thick (probably 3+ hours later) seal in jars and process 5 minutes in boiling water.

Pickling Spice Bag:
1 stick cinnamon
1 Tbsp celery seed
3 Tbsp pickling spice
Tie all the ingredients together in cheesecloth (or in the cut off toe end of a new and very clean pair of panty hose).

Beef Brisket in Beer
Family recipe courtesy of Dorothy Hunter my grandmother

3-4 lb brisket
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chili sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 12 oz can beer
garlic salt

Trim excess fat from meat. Season with salt, pepper and garlic salt. Put in roaster. Mix onion, chili sauce, and brown sugar with some beer and pour over meat with remaining beer. This cooks down to almost nothing. Cover and bake at 350° for 3 -3 1/2 hours. If not brown, bake uncovered for 10 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before carving. Add water and 2 Tbsp flour for thick gravy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Spiced Carrot and Zucchini Quinoa

Today was the first day of physical therapy. It's amazing how in 2 weeks my leg has shriveled to downright puny. My therapist and I had a long discussion on what I could and couldn't do and although I'm sure she thinks I'm chomping on the bit to get back to athletic life, she also says that a metric century (62 mile bicycle ride) in November is a "realistic goal". Yippee! Being the third knee surgery I was pretty scared she was going to tell me that rehab was going to be more conservative. But all my random leg lifts on the couch have apparently done me good and she said that she's pleased with my strength and happy with my range of motion. I can now bend my knee a whole 96 degrees. That's better than I thought I could do! So between chapters of the Cider House Rules I'm flopping around like a fish out of water doing my exercises. I will be strong again!

But what does this have to do with food? Not a whole lot. I'm still eating food the ladies in town are making. I really have to get the recipe for the cube steak that came over on the weekend. It's seriously yummy. But today's recipe I made a while back and is really really healthy. It even contains a food my mother considers as one of my special fancy foods. Quinoa.

Quinoa isn't a new food. It's actually an ancient food from South America. The leaves are edible, but good luck finding them in a grocery store out here in North Central Ohio. Or really I'm not sure where you can find them. Maybe in New York City. Or probably South America. Anyway, I digress. Quinoa, pronounced keenwa, is a pseudocereal because it's not a grass. The ancient Incas called it the "mother of all grains". We eat the seed part of quinoa and it's a complete protein, meaning it has a balanced distribution of all the amino acids. This makes it a very good meal for vegetarians. Quinoa also is gluten free, which is important to a whole lot of people. (thank you wikipedia)

Quinoa also comes in different colors. The white kind is most readily available in larger supermarkets. The red kind tastes a little nuttier than the white kind. Quinoa is also very easy and quick to cook, but they should be rinsed several times before cooking to remove their natural coating of saponin. If the quinoa isn't rinsed the saponin can make it taste soapy and that's no good.

This Spiced Carrot and Zucchini Qunioa recipe I found on and it really makes a tasty dish. For people who need meat, this makes an excellent side dish. I ate it for lunches as a nutritious and tasty meal all in itself. It's the kind of dish I feel good eating, because it's so tasty and yet I know I'm doing something excellent for my body. Like growing my muscles.

Oh and those 62 mile bike rides are really more like a string of 6, 10 mile bike rides (yes, plus 2 miles) with rest stops with Gatorade, fruit, and Snickers bars in between. And you get all day to do it. Well a large portion of the day. They're a lot of fun and really not that difficult to do. Usually if you get a flat tire or something, other bikers will stop to help you and there's a support vehicle that keeps circling the route. The American Diabetes Association, in most states, has a Tour de Cure every summer that has a 62 mile (100km) option that I did once near Grand Rapids, Michigan with the Queen Geek and had a tremendous amount of fun. They do also have shorter routes too. These bike rides are a great way to support a terrific organization, spend a healthy afternoon, and eat Snickers bars guilt free. What I'll do for a guilt free Snickers bar....

Spiced Carrot and Zucchini Quinoa

4 cups water
2 cups quinoa, rinsed well, drained
2 Tbsp dried currants
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into small cubes
2 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut into small cubes
1 Tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine first 4 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add carrots; saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini; saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Mix in paprika and cinnamon. Add quinoa to skillet; toss to blend. Season with salt and pepper.