Category Archives: grain

finally, a piece of NOLA

July.  What a busy month this has been.  I know I’ve said that a lot these last few months, remarked often about the quick passing of time and my inability to sit behind my computer to put words on this digital page of mine.  Are you tired of that yet?  I sure am.  So, rather than dwell on my mile-long ‘to do’ list I’ve decided to share with you one of my favorite places. A city that my mind escapes to when life gets hectic and all I want is a cool spot in a shady courtyard, an ice-laden cocktail in my hand and notes of jazz wafting on the breeze. Am I procrastinating? Maybe a little.  But “write a flippin’ post for Bella Eats!” is definitely on my list, so I AM accomplishing something…

It is difficult to explain the draw that Brian and I have to New Orleans.  It just…is. We feel it as soon as we step off the plane, a bubbling of emotion from deep within, a giddy excitement that manifests itself as raised hairs along goose-bumped arms. Neither of us have ever lived in the city, we have no family in the area, our first visit together occurred just seven years ago. Yet after that initial stay in the Big Easy we were hooked. Completely and totally.

NOLA is so much more than Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras and frozen drinks in phallic cups. The city has soul, and to find it one needs only to spend a few hours walking slowly down her cracked sidewalks. Underneath the peeling paint, the sagging balconies, the leaning cottages, and the rusty ironwork is a humble elegance steeped in history and perseverance. She keeps her chin up and dances to her own soundtrack; a mix composed of melancholy notes from a jazz clarinetist on Royal, the rumble and clang of a street car on Saint Charles, the clink of an oyster shell tossed on a pile behind a bar, a “what can I getcha, baby?” from the busy woman behind a restaurant counter.

Her natives are loyal, devoted to the place they’ve called home for most, if not all, of their lives. They are drawn to her magic, held hostage by an appeal that keeps them coming home even after high waters threatened to wash that possibility into the Gulf. Sit down at a table in any well-established restaurant and learn that your waiter has worked there for 40+ years. He loves his job and has been well taken care of for all that time, because that’s how they do things in the Big Easy. Filter in and out of shops and restaurants in the French Quarter and be thanked not only for visiting that particular address, but for visiting New Orleans. “Come back soon, y’hear? This city needs you.”

We do go back, as often as we can. With each visit we try to experience new places, new food, new music; but it is difficult to stray from those that have become favorites. It just wouldn’t be a weekend in NOLA without a black ham biscuit, beignets and cafe au lait at midnight, a muffaletta, blackened Louisiana drum, Fritzel’s, Doreen. Tell any lover of New Orleans that you’re planning a visit and watch their eyes light up as they rattle off their own list of places you must see, meals you must eat.  But most of all, they’ll be excited that you’re going to New Orleans, and that the city will have another set of fans to add to her list.

We last visited NOLA in May.  You might remember me mentioning our trip and making promises to share recipes inspired by the fabulous meals we had while there. Oh, and photographs…I promised those too. I also mentioned the stifling heat we experienced during our stay and my relief that we’d be spared from such temperatures in Virginia for another two-ish months.  Ha. If only I had knocked on wood after hitting ‘publish’ on that post…

The record-breaking temperatures have kept us from doing much cooking in our kitchen, as even the thought of turning on the stovetop raises a bead of sweat at my hairline. I’d just about given up on the idea of sharing red beans and rice with you anytime before October when I read this article on The Kitchn about slow-cooking in the summer. I know that it seems counter-intuitive to pull out the Crock Pot in the middle of a heat wave, but it actually makes quite a bit of sense.

For this recipe, which I adapted from a traditional stovetop variation, all of the preparation was completed in the morning before work when my house was cool and the setting sun wasn’t blaring through the west-facing kitchen window. The ingredients were tossed in the Crock Pot, I turned the heat to low and out the door we went.  When we arrived home that night the house smelled amazing and dinner was ready without either of us laboring over a hot stove.  We ladled up the beans, poured ourselves cold cocktails, and settled into our dark den. Not exactly a shady New Orleans courtyard, but a respite all the same.

These beans were really fantastic; smoked and earthy with just a hint of spice.  My ingredients are very close to Chef Prudhomme’s; it was really just the process and the color of the bell peppers that I altered. Also, Brian and I don’t have quite the tolerance for spicy heat that most native New Orleanians do, so I knocked that back a bit as well.

Red Beans + Rice with Andouille Smoked Sausage

recipe adapted from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen

serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried red kidney beans
  • water
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 2 cups diced red bell pepper
  • 2 large smoked ham hocks, about 2.5 pounds total
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground red pepper (preferably cayenne)
  • 1 pound andouille sausage links
  • salt to taste
  • Basic Cooked Rice (recipe below)

Method

  1. The night before, place the dried red beans in a large saucepan and cover with water 2-inches above the beans. Let soak overnight.
  2. The next morning, drain the red beans and rinse thoroughly.  Refill the saucepan with fresh water to cover the beans by 2-inches.  Bring to a brisk boil and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove the beans from the heat and drain.
  3. Place the boiled beans in a slow-cooker (crock pot) and add ten cups of water over top. Add everything but the andouille sausage, salt and Basic Cooked Rice to the pot and stir well.
  4. Set the slow-cooker to the ‘low’ setting and let cook for 6 to 7 hours, until the beans are tender and just starting to break apart. (I came home for a late lunch to check on the beans, and turned the slow-cooker to the ‘warm’ setting for the remaining 4 hours of my work day).
  5. Add the andouille sausage links (split in half or quarters, depending on the size of the links) to the slow-cooker and continue to cook for 1 additional hour.
  6. Salt to taste.
  7. Serve over Basic Cooked Rice.

***UPDATE***

Thank you to InternationalRoutier for bringing to my attention the fact that dried red kidney beans cooked in slow cookers have been known to cause food poisoning!  You can be protected from this possibility by soaking the dry beans for at least 5 hours, and then boiling the beans briskly for at least 10 minutes prior to adding them to the slow cooker.  I’ve modified my recipe above to reflect this change.

Basic Cooked Rice

from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen

makes about 6 cups of rice

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked rice (I used brown rice)
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 tbsp very finely chopped onions
  • 1 1/2 tbsp very finely chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 tbsp very finely chopped bell pepper (the recipe calls for green, I used red because I love them)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • a pinch each of white pepper, ground red pepper (cayenne), and black pepper

Method

  1. In a 5x9x2 1/2-inch standard loaf pan, combine all ingredients and mix well. Seal pan snugly with aluminum foil. Bake at 350º until rice is tender, about 1 hour, 10 minutes. Serve immediately.*

* I made the rice the night before.  If you are planning to do the same, DO NOT use green bell peppers, as they tend to sour quickly. Reheat the rice in a skillet with a bit of melted butter.

We can’t even begin to imagine the affect that the explosion of the DeepWater Horizon oil drilling rig will have on the Gulf, the coast, the country, the world. The stories and images are devastating. If you are able and would like to help the recovery, I’ve provided links below to organizations that would appreciate your contribution.

Greater New Orleans Foundation

National Wildlife Federation

International Bird Rescue Research Center

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on a whim

As Spring quickly approaches, I’m finding that the evening meal has become a very relaxed affair. With daylight extending itself to an hour that allows for chatting with a glass of wine on the back deck after work, thoughts of dinner don’t start to cross the mind until the sun dips behind the trees and the temperature drops to a point that requires either a move inside or the addition of a lightweight sweater. It is only then that we notice the clock (and our bellies!) telling us that it is past 7pm, and time to pull something together in the kitchen.

I haven’t been planning our meals very far in advance, something that is unusual to my character. Typically our weekly menu is fully laid out by Saturday afternoon, neatly written in bright-white across our pantry doors coated with black chalkboard paint. I consider the menu carefully before finalizing my grocery list, receiving feedback from Brian and swapping days according to the longevity of ingredients to be purchased. The planned meals may vary slightly after Sunday’s trip to the store, when I discover that there are perfect golden beets that I hadn’t counted on calling my name, or that red cabbage has been particularly popular lately, and therefore its typical spot in the produce department is empty save for one sad, wilted purple leaf.

Lately our trips to the grocery have been more rushed than usual, the product of two very busy schedules finding only slivers of overlap in which to make the drive to and wander the aisles of the market. Oftentimes we wind up stopping in on our way to or from other errands, on days not typically designated as ‘grocery days’, leaving me standing in the middle of the produce department, overwhelmed and without a list. And so we rely on stand-by ingredients, items we purchase most weeks religiously, and add in whatever else looks or sounds good at that moment. I quickly assemble meals in my head, substituting ingredients in and out of pastas and soups, making sure that we’ll be able to use whatever we purchase and not be left with a bag full of yellow brussels sprouts at the end of the week. It still happens occasionally, but at least I try.

Which brings me back to the weeknight, post-7pm. Brian and I stand in our kitchen, him ravenous and me a little chilly, peering into the pantry and refrigerator, pulling out ingredients to assemble a spontaneous meal together. Our preferences are changing with the season, moving from heavy and hearty to light and bright.  ‘Quick’ is a new requirement now that we’re getting started on preparation later in the evening, and ‘warm’ still plays a role for me after having been outside, barefoot and sweater-less, after the sun has set. The results have been fantastic; pasta tossed with leftover chicken, local ham and a light parmesan broth; a mélange of roasted chickpeas, potatoes and brussels sprouts; an on-a-whim creamy soup of potatoes, parsnips and asparagus.

The best part has been creating these recipes, together, according to our own at-that-moment preferences rather than the recommendations of a book, magazine or blog.  It is easy, when I have a plan, to lose myself in the kitchen to the preparation of dinner, excusing Brian to take care of one of the many items on his ever-growing ‘to do’ list. But when there is no plan, and the task is to create quickly, we come at it from both sides, each tossing in our own suggestions to make a dish that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

I’ll admit that this egg drop soup is a recipe that has been in our repertoire for years, but it is so simple and satisfying, and we nearly always have its ingredients in our kitchen, that it is perfect for a spontaneous lunch or dinner.  It is not enough on its own, which lead to the creation of the vegetable fried rice variation below, on a whim.

Egg Drop Soup

serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
  • chunk of fresh ginger root, 1/4-inch thick by 1-inch diameter
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh scallions
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk

Method

  1. Reserve 3/4 cup of the broth, and pour the rest into a large saucepan. Add the salt, ginger and scallions, and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. In a cup or small bowl, stir together the remaining broth and the cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk together using a fork. Drizzle the egg a little at a time from the fork into the boiling broth mixture. The egg should cook immediately.
  4. Once all of the egg has been dropped, stir in the cornstarch mixture gradually until the soup is the desired consistency.

This dish was nearly spontaneous, the only forethought being that I made extra brown rice a few days prior, so that it would be ready and waiting in the fridge for some version of fried rice that had yet to be determined.  It just so happened that the night we decided to make egg drop soup was also the night that the leeks were starting to look a little haggard, and I wanted to use the brussels sprouts before they reached that same state.  Thus, a new star was born.

Fried Rice with Leeks and Brussels Sprouts

serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp peanut oil, divided
  • 2 medium leeks, sliced thinly
  • 1 pound brussels sprouts, ragged outer leaves removed, sliced thinly (a food processor is a wonderful tool for this task)
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 cups steamed brown rice, cold (ideally, leftover from the night before)
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the sliced leeks and brussels sprouts, and saute’ until tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. Wipe skillet clean, then heat over high heat, until a drop of water vaporizes upon impact.  Add the remaining 1 tbsp peanut oil, swirling to coat pan evenly, and heat until just starting to smoke.  Add eggs, tilting pan and swirling eggs to form a thin, even layer, and cook for 30 seconds.  Add rice and stir-fry, breaking up eggs and letting rice rest several seconds between stirs, until rice is hot, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the brussels sprouts and leeks, stir-frying to combine and heat through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

winter’s setting sun

Winter and I have had a rocky go of it this year. We’ve waffled back and forth in a love / hate relationship that rivals the one I’ve currently got going on with my gym membership. On one hand, I’ve loved the quiet beauty a good snowstorm lays gently across my world and the resulting desire to cozy up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and a season of Entourage. On the other, I am tired of feeling stuck indoors, the outside ice, mud and frigid air enough to keep me hibernating under a quilt with the lights turned low. The result has been a bit too much cozying, and my motivation to cook, write, or log miles on the treadmill seems to be hiding in the same dark place as the sun. I am lost in the monotony of February, floating through scenes of white and gray, desperately seeking a reprieve in the form of a warm day, tiny chartreuse buds on the backyard Maple tree, fresh produce from local farmers that isn’t squash or cabbage.

There have been some brighter moments lately, a few shrieks of excitement released from my heart after witnessing the sun pierce a hazy layer of clouds, revealing a small patch of brilliant blue sky. I was thrilled to notice last week that two copper-toned birds have chosen to make a nest in the cold, drab ally outside my office window, and just this morning heard a woman excitedly discussing the yellow crocuses popping out from under a blanket of snow in her yard. All are sure signs of Spring’s impending arrival and moments I am desperate to capture permanently. Should snow fall again in the coming weeks I’d like to have a photograph stashed away in my back pocket to remind me that the end is near, that productivity will return with a sunshine-filled sky and baby birds chirping on the sill.

In the meantime, the meals I am managing to cook seem to have several similar qualities.  They are simple.  They are hearty and warm and filling.  They incorporate some ingredient that brightens the dish at multiple levels; to the eyes, to the nose, to the tongue. Whether it be golden citrus tossed in a salmon salad, vibrant leeks bobbing amongst emerald isles of kale, the scent of fresh lime wafting from my oven, each recipe is very carefully chosen to lift our spirits and carry us through these last (25!) days of Winter.

This salad is no exception to my new rules.  Hearty grains are joined by warm, earth-scented mushrooms to create a salad base as warm and satisfying as a family quilt enveloping shivering shoulders. Jewel-toned grape tomatoes and bright flecks of fresh parsley are the harbingers of this dish, reminders that Spring, followed closely by Summer, will be joining us soon. Served over a bed of spicy arugula and layered with shavings of Pecorino Toscano, this salad makes for a lovely, filling, early dinner, and is best enjoyed beside a window in the rays of Winter’s setting sun.

Warm Barley Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Mushrooms

adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop

serves 4 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 medium shallots, thinly sliced
  • 5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 quart water
  • 1-1/2 cups pearl barley
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 6 cups packed baby arugula, spinach, or mix
  • 4 oz Pecorino Toscano, feta or goat cheese, diced or crumbled (I used a hard pecorino, shaved over the top of the salad)

Method

  1. Move an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 425*.
  2. Toss the mushrooms, tomatoes, shallots and 2 tbsp of the oil together on a rimmed baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Toast the veggies, stirring once, until the mushrooms and shallots are browned nicely, about 25 minutes.  Let cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, bring water, barley and pinch of salt to a boil in a large saucepan.  Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender but still a bit chewy, about 30 minutes.  Drain the barley well in a strainer and transfer to a large bowl.
  4. Toss the barley with the remaining 3 tbsp oil until coated evenly.  Add the roasted vegetables and parsley and toss to combine.  Cool slightly and then season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Divide the arugula or spinach among four large plates.  Spoon warm barley salad over each plate, sprinkle with cheese, and serve.
  6. Store barley salad separately from arugula or spinach and reheat for lunch the next day, if desired.

a healthy alternative

As much as both Brian and I LOVE to cook, there are still nights when we get home from the office and dread stepping into the kitchen.  Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have some leftovers floating around in the fridge, other times we resort to ordering steamed veggies and tofu (and maybe some crab wontons, ahem) from the Chinese restaurant down the street.  Even though this happens every few weeks, it has been years since I’ve ordered fried rice.  I think I had a few too many disappointments with too-old, slightly crunchy, oddly clumping take-out fried rice in the past, and have stuck with steamed for as long as I can remember.  Plus, steamed is healthier, and it makes me feel a little less guilty about the crab wontons I shove in my mouth the minute we close the door behind the delivery boy.

rice 1

But recently, we discovered how easy it is to make fried rice.  And that really, when you make it at home, its not that bad for you. Yes, you throw a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil in your pan, but we all know that the right oils in moderation are actually good for you, and when you divide this dish up into four hearty servings  you’ve got nothing to worry about.  Add the fact that we used brown rice instead of white and threw in some colorful veggies loaded with vitamins and you’ve got yourself a healthy alternative to take-out.  And I guarantee that you can make it faster than the delivery boy can get the bad stuff to you.

rice 2

It does help to have some forethought – you want to have rice already made in order to enhance the texture of the dish and cut down on preparation time.

Several Saturdays ago we picked up a couple of beautiful pork chops at the farmer’s market from Double H Farm (no website) along with some of their gorgeous eggs.  Pork chops on the grill seemed like the perfect accompaniment to the veggie fried rice I’d been thinking about, so I cooked up some brown rice that weekend and one night after work we put this meal together.  It was quick, simple and incredibly delicious, not to mention colorful.  I briefly thought about healthify-ing the rice even further, by using only egg whites, but when it came time to discard those beautiful orange yolks I just couldn’t do it.  I’ll leave that up to you, if you wish.

rice 4

The flavor of the pork was very good, I’m just not a big pork chop fan.  I ate a few bites and then passed my chop over to Brian, whom I knew would enjoy it far more than I would.  For me, the vegetable fried rice was the star of the show.

Vegetable Fried Rice

adapted from Gourmet Magazine, via Epicurious

makes 4 large servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped finely
  • 2 tsbp fresh chives or scallions, minced
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 cups steamed brown rice, cold (ideally, leftover from the night before)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp Asian sesame oil

Method:

  1. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a wok or large nonstick skillet (12″) over medium-high heat.  Saute’ the carrot and bell pepper until tender, then remove to a separate bowl and set aside.
  2. Wipe skillet clean, then heat over high heat, until a drop of water vaporizes instantly upon contact.  Add the remaining 1 tbsp peanut oil, swirling to coat pan evenly, and heat until hot and just starting to smoke.
  3. Add eggs, tilting pan and swirling eggs to form a thin, even layer and cook for 30 seconds.  Add rice and stir-fry, breaking up eggs and letting rice rest several seconds between stirs, until rice is hot, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the carrots, peppers, chives or scallions, salt and sesame oil to taste, stir-frying until well combined.

Pork Chop Marinade

from Weber’s Big Book of Grilling, by Jamie Purviance and Sandra S. McRae

enough for 4 pork chops, about 1-1/4 inches thick

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

Method:

  1. Whisk together all of the ingredients.
  2. Place the chops in a large resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade.  Press the air out of the bag and seal.  Turn the bag to distribute the marinade over the pork chops.  Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Remove the chops from the bag and discard the marinade.  Allow to stand at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before grilling or baking.
  4. Cook as you wish.  We grilled them, over direct high heat for 12-15 minutes.  Turn them over halfway through.

rice 3

We also whipped together a cucumber salad, to help with our abundance.  It was nice and refreshing on the side, but you really need to like sesame if you’re going to enjoy this salad.

Asian Cucumber Salad

from Vegetables Every Day, by Jack Bishop

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium cucumbers – peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut on the diagonal 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet until golden brown (we left these out, and the sesame flavor was still really strong)

Method:

  1. Toss the cucumbers with the salt in a colander.  Set the colander in the sink and let the cucumbers sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour, to drain excess liquid.
  2. Whisk the vinegar, oil, sugar and pepper flakes together in a small bowl and set aside, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Thoroughly rinse the cucumber slices under cold, running water and pat dry with paper towels.  Toss the cucumbers with the dressing and sesame seeds.

other stuff

If you live in or near Charlottesville, the 5th Annual Farm Food Voices Virginia event is this Sunday, August 2nd, from 2:00 – 7:30pm.  Come out to Monticello High School to learn more about current agricultural and local food issues in Virginia.  I’ll be there!

Food, Inc. has finally opened in Charlottesville!

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