Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rhubarb Sauce

Warm rhubarb sundae
Stir it into oatmeal, spoon it warm over vanilla ice creams for a delicious sundae,  put it on your holiday table in place of cranberry sauce, or just spread it on toast.  Rhubarb sauce zings with tart flavor and bright color.

My friends Christopher and Barbara have a big garden.  Last spring they filled their freezer with rhubarb.  When I went to visit them in early November, they were busy harvesting the last of their garden crops for the season and needed to make room in their freezer, so they sent me home with a metric buttload of frozen rhubarb. If you have your own rhubarb plant, great, but if not, don't give up hope.  If you have access to a friend with a rhubarb plant, they can almost never eat all of their rhubarb, so you might be doing them a favor by offering to take some off their hands.

I am such a good friend.

The sauce is super easy to make.  Just put about 2 cups of rhubarb into a sauce pan with a splash (about 1/4 cup) of orange juice, a generous shake of cinnamon, and sweeten to taste with brown sugar.  Let it cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is smooth and the consistency of apple sauce.

Sometimes, the sauce looks a little brown and not so attractive, so you can make it festive by grating in a couple of tablespoons of fresh beet.  This is totally optional and doesn't change the flavor at all.

Beet adds color.

I'm planning on putting this on my holiday table as a surprise alternative to cranberry sauce.  Your guests will be amazed at how delicious this simple sauce is.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Homemade Sriracha Sauce

It only takes a casual reading of this blog to know that I'm nuts about hot stuff and sriracha sauce is one of my favorite condiments.  I put it in almost all the soups. If I don't put it in while I'm making it because I'm not sure about the heat tolerance of the people I'm cooking for, you can be sure that I'll at least add some to my bowl.

Usually, I use the commercial stuff made by the Huy Fong company of southern California that one buys at the store - the lovely red bottle with the green cap and the rooster on the front.  Some people call it rooster sauce or even <raise an eyebrow> cock sauce.  Whatever, it is delicious and makes almost everything you put it on taste better.
 If you read the list of ingredients on the label, you'll see this stuff is made of chilis, sugar, salt, vinegar, and garlic with some preservatives and a thickening agent added.

My friend Alan Zak, from Florida, sent me a box full of his homegrown red-ripe Fresno peppers, which were just beautiful.  It's hard to eat a whole lot of fresh hot peppers, so to do them justice, I decided to try and my my own sriracha sauce.

I rinsed the peppers and peeled the cloves of a whole head of fresh garlic.  I laid them all out together into a large flat baking dish and put them into a hot 400 F oven.  When I could smell them, and believe me the smell soon permeated my small apartment, I shook the pan to make sure everything was not stuck and to flip them over.  When the peppers were soft and looking roasted and the garlic cloves were soft and slightly browned, I took them out and let them cool.

Hot peppers get their heat from capsaicin, which is concentrated most heavily in the seeds and the whitish membranes surrounding the seeds.  If you decide to try and make this, you have a decision to make.  If you want a milder sauce, you'll need to slice each pepper lengthwise and use a knife to gently scrape out and discard the membranes and seeds.  This is a lot of work, and for me, the hotter the better, so I did not do that.  I just tore the stems off with my fingers and threw the whole peppers into a blender.  When you are working with the peppers, do not touch your face - especially your eyes.  If you do, you'll find out what it feels like to be an Occupy protester at UC Davis, only not as much.  If you have sensitive skin, wear latex gloves while you do this.

Into the blender went (I didn't measure anything, quantities are approximate. Adjust to taste.):
  • the peppers
  • the roasted garlic cloves
  • about 1/4 cup of cider vinegar
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 Tbs sugar
  • few drops of liquid smoke
I blended until it was smooth and stored in a tightly closed glass jar.

My sriracha is not as smooth and more garlicky than the commercial product and it is quite a bit hotter.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it chili garlic sauce.  Nevertheless, it is really delicious and I've been using it instead of rooster sauce lately, and will for as long as it lasts.  Next spring, I think I'll plant some pepper bushes of my own.  Thanks Alan!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chicken Soup with Rice & Maurice Sendak

The blog's been on hiatus for a few months while I concentrate on my web development business and keeping my affairs of daily living in order, but today, in honor of Maurice Sendak, I bring you Chicken Soup with Rice. (Vegan friends, you will probably want to stop reading right about now).

This 'chicken soup with rice' is more accurately a chicken congee. A congee is a thick, soft, hearty rice dish that is eaten in almost every culture - especially in Asia. If you haven't encountered congee before, think of it as the peasant version of risotto, without the cheese. Congees are often served to people who are recovering from illness because they're easy to digest and are also eaten for breakfast because of their simplicity.

It's a great way to get a lot of food out of a small amount of protein. I've been living on a very low budget lately and so when I buy something like a whole chicken, I want to get as many meals out of it as I possibly can. On Saturday I roasted the chicken in the oven and spent several days slicing off the meat and enjoying it with mushrooms, vegetables, and in sandwiches. By Monday, I was ready to make a congee.

If you need to get the most out of your food money, never throw away the bones and what's left after you pick off the meat. Put them in a pot of water and simmer them into a broth. If you store your cooked chicken on a plate in the fridge like I do, you'll also find some gelatin on the plate. Put that in! It's the good stuff.

After you've simmered the remains of the chicken for an hour or 2, use a slotted spoon to get all the parts back out of the broth. Put it on a plate and let it cool. Chop up an onion and some celery and throw it into the broth. Throw in some frozen peas. I had some leftover mushrooms and I also added some dried shitake and tree ear mushrooms. Now add some rice. The idea is to cook the rice so it absorbs most of the liquid but is still soft and squishy, so the way to go about this is to estimate the volume of liquid you have and then add about 1/3 of that in rice. In other words, if you have 6 cups of broth, you should add 2 cups of rice. You don't need to be very precise about it, just eyeball it and make a guess. You can always adjust later. If the liquid is mostly absorbed but the rice is still firm or crunchy, add some water. If the rice is soft but there's still a lot of liquid, call it soup and enjoy it as it is.

Let it cook on low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally. When it's almost done (taste it, the rice will be al dente at this point), throw in leftover cooked vegetables. I like to add frozen greens (any kind you like) at this point. Pick through the chicken parts and throw any bits of meat you find into the pot.

Season with soy sauce, black pepper and Sriracha sauce. This is great to store in the refrigerator and heat up for a quick simple meal.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 10: Occupy Thanksgiving!

Are you cooking for an Occupation? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write about their experiences of the Occupy movement and their food. Please contact me here (note: this link will take you to another website)

photo by Jeff Green
Thanksgiving 2011 was one of the most joyful days at Occupy Poughkeepsie so far and one of the most memorable Thanksgivings of my life. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I know the history of it is fraught with injustice and worse, but for me, what it has become is a day dedicated to gratitude. As Meister Eckhart said, If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice.”

Understanding that gratitude, a day of rest, and community outreach can all happen at the same time, the Occupy Poughkeepsie Moms & Dads got together to organize and host a community potluck and meal. We invited people by word of mouth, by making announcements at general assemblies and rallies, by posting it on the Occupy Poughkeepsie website and Facebook, and with a cardboard sign at the side of the road. As is the case in events like this, when the day arrived, we had no idea if anyone would come, if we'd have enough food, or if the weather would cooperate. At the end of the day, plenty of people came, we had more than enough food, and a beautiful sunny day.

When we arrived and started to set up, there was even a reporter there from YNN. He spent the day with us and enjoyed a plate of food. Click the picture below to watch his report:

As food arrived, we set it up on long tables. Volunteers, like Nikki & Russell (below), made sure that hot food stayed hot and cold food stayed cold by setting it up on wire frames with cans of sterno below.

We covered the tables with white paper and laid out crayons so that kids of all ages could decorate for us.

Lots of neighborhood kids joined us for dinner. After shooting hoops, their motto turned out to be 'Eat dessert first'. After they sampled the pies, some did actually try the mashed potatoes and I may have even seen one young boy try the green beans. We had enough food left over that some of the kids made up plates to take home to family members who weren't able to be in the park with us.

People brought turkey, Tofurkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, collard greens, green bean casserole, mushroom salad, green salad, cranberry salad, lasagna, macaroni & cheese, oh my! Marina brought her signature rice & peas and a small friend.

And then there was dessert. I made pumpkin bread pudding. We also had pumpkin pie, apple pie, apple cake, homemade chocolates, crumb cake, cheese cake, blueberry crumble, and even the kids couldn't eat it all.

We sat on the bleachers next to the basketball court and enjoyed our meal together. Our conversation turned to gratitude and we discussed what we are grateful for in our personal lives. Many of us talked about the Occupy movement as a focus of gratitude and change. For me, it is a celebration of the death of apathy. Cars drove by just a few feet away. Many beeped and waved, a few shouted 'Get a job' and one yelled 'Happy Thanksgiving, Hippies' in a not-nice way. None of that put a damper on our spirits.

photo by Jeff Green
After we had eaten our main course, a group of about 8 of us assembled a large tray of food - turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pie - and walked down to the Poughkeepsie Police station. In gratitude that the relationship between police and occupiers has been very positive here in Poughkeepsie, unlike some other cities, and in solidarity with working people who are required to be on the job on holidays we shared our abundance with the police officers. One of the ways we aim to change society is to see one another as real people instead of as resources to exploit and to treat others as we'd like to be treated.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 9: the Quaker Bellydance Peace Team

Are you cooking for an Occupation? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write about their experiences of the Occupy movement and their food. Please contact me here (note: this link will take you to another website)

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
-- Leonard Bernstein

So far, in this blog, I've talked about nourishment only in terms of food - but it's not the only way to nourish. Our bodies and spirits need to be nourished in other ways as well. This post is about nourishment in the form of dance and music - in other words in beauty and joy.

Occupy Poughkeepsie held a big rally and march, 'the People's Day' on Nov 12, 2011. Often, what motivates people to get off their sofas and onto the street is anger. That is useful as a first step but it's not sustainable and ultimately it doesn't build the kind of movement or society that we want to live in all the time. Joy and beauty are much better long-term responses to injustice. In most rallies, you have a mixture of both. As an activist and organizer, I feel that we can be deliberate about fostering one energy or the other. I choose to promote beauty.

One way of doing that is through music and dance. I'm a drummer and I've seen that when one introduces rhythm into a gathering - if it is done well and is not so overpowering that no one can hear themselves think - something happens. If one observes carefully, you can see a subtle shift in body language even in people who appear to not be paying attention.

Direct action is about putting our bodies into the play of creating change in the world. That means being aware of our bodies and managing how they feel. In the face of threat or challenge, adrenaline floods our bloodstream and we experience a 'fight or flight' response that makes holding a discipline of non-violence more difficult. We ignore our bodies at our peril.

One way to help our bodies, minds, and spirits connect to our best intentions is through movement and dance. The Quaker Bellydance Peace Team is about doing that. My collaborator, dancer Donna Barret, and I are not a performance group. We are a participation group. Our goal is to invite others to play and dance with us and experience the movement of positive energy towards peace and justice.

On Saturday, Nov 12, we were scheduled right in the middle of a long lineup of speakers and performers. The overall tone was very positive and about building community and reinventing the institutions of our society as much as about tearing down the power structure of oppression. We began by inviting the crowd to join us in a moment of silence and then began slowly to drum and dance. As the tempo increase, Donna passed out some little tambourines and encouraged people to clap, shake, and dance. After a moment, a man sat down next to me with a saxophone and asked if he could join in.

He started to play, and right away, I heard a beautiful trumpet joining in from across the park. I searched with my eyes to find the source of the amazing trumpet counterpoint, and finally found a grey-haired man standing behind a cluster of people holding signs. In a moment, 2 clarinets, a trombone and a tuba joined in. As this spontaneous band improvised to an Egyptian rhythm, Donna encouraged more people to dance. Some members of a women's drum circle supported the rhythm on buckets and drums. Within minutes, the park was filled with dance and music

What amazed me the most, personally, is that Donna & I came with the intention of shifting angry, protest energy into defiant joy and ultimately, we weren't needed. The joy was already there and we simply added our small measure. We did, however, demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, Quakers are not 'just like the Amish'.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 8: Guest Blogger Jill Ferguson & Occupy Columbia SC

Vonn's Note: Jill Ferguson has been cooking for Occupy Columbia in South Carolina. She has also compiled a series of recipes she prepared during the 2008 presidential election called Obama Campaign Cookery. She generously contributed her reflections and a recipe here for Cornish Pasties.

Are you cooking for an Occupation? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write about their experiences of the Occupy movement and their food. Please contact me here (note: this link will take you to another website)

Why I do this.
One of the Barrigan brothers (Dan or Philip) was asked why he poured blood on draft cards at Catonsville back in the '60s. His answer was, "My whole life." That fits my answer as well. From the peace and civil rights movements to 'Keeping Biafra Alive,' to feminism and many other causes, not least the 2008 Obama campaign, I've been active and have used my very limited talents and abilities to effect progressive change. After the 9/11/2001 attack, I sent cookies and care packages to the troops in the Middle East.

Cooking is something I enjoy doing. The Occupy movement is, in my view, this is the opening salvo of the Second American Revolution--or the First Global Revolution. Corporatism has replaced nationalism as the major threat to peace and human well-being; perhaps even existence. It's certainly a serious threat to democracy and an open society. In 1776, our forefathers rebelled against taxation without representation, calling it tyranny. Today, our representatives' loyalties can be purchased by the wealthy as campaigns become more expensive and the Supreme Court allows corporations to donate as persons. It's a challenge to every patriotic American.

As a senior citizen, I'm not able to spend a lot of time demonstrating. My involvement is demonstrated in my little kitchen.

The Occupiers thank me for my contributions. They are in all weather, staying outside and moving around. As a former Child Feeding Adviser for UNICEF, and also as a nurse and American Red Cross volunteer, I understand the need for calories under these circumstances. During the course of dropping off food and receiving schedules and other emails, as well as meeting other food providers, I've become a part of a group of supporters. Also, I'm trying to use what connections I've developed in this community (I've only lived here for 6 years) to help meet the Occupiers' needs.

One group of recipes I discovered online recently was for Cornish pasties (pass-tees). They were a favorite in the older generation of my family--my great-grandfather came from Cornwall, England and was a coal miner. Pasties are a tradition among miners, because they can be held in one hand and are a complete meal. I never ate one until I looked up the recipes. Here's one I used:

Cornish Pasties

A layer of rutabaga slices (I boiled them in beef bouillion)
A thicker layer of potato slices
A layer of diced steak or lean roast (or whatever meat one has)
A layer of sliced onions
A little gravy or meat sauce
Salt and pepper

A half pound (one cup) of lard
Four cups flour
1/4 cup of water (or maybe more)

Cut the flour and lard together and knead, adding salt and water as needed. Roll out the dough on a floured board and cut a circle the size of a dinner plate (or whatever other size you want--some use saucers). Put the filling on one side of the dough, leaving space at the edges. Brush the bottom edge with water, bring the sides together by folding over the empty side and crimp the edges. Brush the tops of the pasties with beaten egg or milk and be sure to cut openings in the tops with a knife to let juices escape. Bake in a 400 degree oven until browned, about a half hour.

For other recipes, use your online browser. There are a lot of them, as well as interesting stories about the tradition. Enjoy your pasties. One consumer wanted "dipping sauce," so maybe some gravy on the side would be good.

Thanks, Jill!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 7: Red Curry Pumpkin-Peanut Soup

Are you cooking for an Occupation? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write about their experiences of the Occupy movement and their food. Please contact me here (note: this link will take you to another website).

This autumn, I find myself in the very happy situation of having an abundance of pumpkins.  Pumpkins are one of my favorite foods and are a wonderful medium for creative cooking.  They are not just for jack-o-lanterns or pie, but are a great basis for both savory and sweet dishes.

This Sunday, I looked at my pile of pumpkins and started a free improvisation soup composition.  The result: a savory Red Curry Pumpkin Peanut soup that was heartily enjoyed by guests from Occupy Wall Street and Vassar College at the Occupy Poughkeepsie encampment.

This soup is packed with protein, fiber, flavor, and thermal inertia.  You might be a nerd if you try to convince someone to try a bowl of soup based on its thermal inertia, but those are exactly the words I heard come out of my mouth, standing on the dark streets of Poughkeepsie.  By that, I meant it 'holds its heat', once warm, it stays warm for a long time and will keep your body warm too.

For this soup, I started with 2 pumpkins of 2 different varieties.  One 'Long Island Cheese' which is shown cut open above with the seeds mostly cleaned out, has a dull pale outer skin and a deep orange flesh.  When you cut into one, you'll get an aroma like a sweet melon.  These pumpkins are as big as the jack-o-lantern pumpkins that most people don't eat, but they have a much more flavorful and dense flesh. 

The other pumpkin was a smaller 'sugar' or 'pie' pumpkin.  It has a deep orange outer skin and pale, but sweet flesh on the inside.

After scooping out the seeds (I'll toast them later for snacking), I laid them face-down in backing dishes, put a little water in the bottom of each dish and roasted them in the oven at 375F.  I tested after about 45 min.  They are done when you can insert a fork into them easily.  The large one took about an hour to be done.  They smell really good while they're baking. When they were done, I set them on the counter to cool.

While the pumpkins were roasting, I soaked 6 oz dried bean thread (a/k/a cellophane) noodles in hot water and rinsed and soaked 10 dried shiitake mushrooms in a separate vessel of hot water.  Dried shiitakes are one of the best ways I've found to provide that richness of flavor called umami into vegan food.

I chopped 1 large onion and 3 large cloves of garlic and sauteed them in hot oil in my largest soup pot.  When they were translucent, I added a couple quarts of water. a couple cups of split red lentils (masoor dal) and a little salt and brought to boil. I cooked this at a rolling boil until lentils disintegrated.  I decided to add the lentils for 2 reasons: first, to add protein to make the soup more nutritious; second to give the soup a smooth, thick texture (and thermal inertia).  Red lentils are about the same color as pumpkin and fairly neutral in flavor so they did not interfere with the overall aesthetic that was developing.

When the lentils were nearly disintegrated and the pumpkin cool enough to handle, I scooped the flesh out of the pumpkin with a large spoon and plopped it into the soup.  The lentils and pumpkin simmered together for a moment while I went upstairs to borrow my landlady's immersion blender.  Being very careful, not to burn myself with molten pumpkin and lentils, I blended until the contents of the whole pot were nice and smooth.

I drained and chopped the softened bean thread noodles....

and shiitake mushrooms, and threw them into the pot.

I seasoned the soup with several Tbs of Thai Kitchn brand red curry paste, about 1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter, a dash of salty ume plum vinegar. a generous dash of soy sauce (I would have used fish sauce but I was making this soup be vegan), a splash of cider vinegar to brighten the flavor, a large dollop of tamarind concentrate and a squirt of Sriracha sauce for a bit of heat.  I was dismayed to find my fresh ginger had given up the ghost in the fridge, so I used some dried ginger, but fresh would have been much better.  As you might guess, this was not a precise process.  I rummaged through the flavors in my spices and condiments and added a bit of this and that, tasting as I went along.  This is the fun part!  I recommend you try it and don't worry too much about conforming to any standard.  Just balance salty, sour, sweet, umami, hot, and bitter and keep going until it makes your mouth happy.

The flavor was nicely balanced and the texture was almost there.  The broth was smooth and rich on the tongue.  The mushrooms were nicely chewy and the noodles were fun, but it needed a bit of crunch.  I had a purple kohlrabi in the fridge from the last CSA pick up of the year.  Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage/turnip.  It has the texture of a very crisp apple and a flavor like very sweet brocolli.

I cut the kohlrabi into matchsticks and used them as a crunchy garnish with color contrast.

Who says occupation dining can't be elegant?