Got Vegetables? Make Soup

It can be a challenge cooking for two. When I made a big batch of Baked Garden Vegetable Stack the other day, I had a lot of tender vegetables left over. I turned them into creamy soup in 30 minutes.

The thin slices of potatoes and tender ribbons of cabbage seemed to demand caraway, that distinctly flavored seed typically found in rye bread. I used to love ladling my mom’s sauerkraut dotted with caraway seeds over creamy chunks of boiled potatoes.

I started the soup by sauteing chopped onions and caraway seeds in hot oil. I tried a bit of the Butter Olive Oil I bought at Oh! Olive, a cute little shop in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. The oil is organic with natural butter flavor, but is dairy-free and contains no animal products. I’ve discovered it’s perfect for popping corn, or drizzling over a bowl of hot popped corn. Anyway, when the onions began to turn golden brown, I dumped in all my leftover vegetables (I had quite a bit — only two of us ate a meal from that big pan of veggies), poured in a few cups of vegetable broth and let it all simmer together for about 20 minutes.

The potato slices were falling apart at that point and the green beans and carrots were very tender.

I used my immersion blender to puree the soup right in the pot. Of course you could use your blender or food processor for the job. I wanted to have control over how chunky the final product would be. And then, I just stirred in about a cup of milk and seasoned to taste. A sprinkle of minced fresh parsley over the top gave it the final touch.

The soup was so satisfying. The dark caraway seeds softened during the saute and simmer and added that German-style flavor I remember from years of eating the sauerkraut and dumplings my mom used to make whenever she wanted to make my dad’s day.

Either use up some vegetables you’ve already cooked or follow the recipe below.

Turn leftover Baked Garden Vegetable Stack into Creamy Caraway Vegetable Soup.

I plan to bake another big batch of Baked Garden Vegetable Stack, just so I can have more of those vegetables to turn into soup.

Creamy Caraway Vegetable Soup

First, cook the vegetables. Serve some up as part of a meal, then use the rest for soup. Here’s how to bake the vegetables:

  • Olive oil, for preparing pans
  • Yukon Gold potatoes, about 2 to 2½ pounds, peeled
  • Carrots, about 1 pound, peeled
  • Onion, 1 medium, sliced thin
  • Green Beans, 5 to 6 ounces, topped and tailed (trimmed), cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
  • Cabbage, about 4 ounces, sliced thin

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare 2 shallow baking pans or baking dishes that are the same size. Two jelly roll pans (11- x 15-inch) if you are feeding a family or 2 to 4 gratin dishes if you are cooking for one or two. Lightly coat the inside of each baking pan or dish with olive oil. Set aside.

Use a sharp knife or a mandolin to slice Yukon Gold potatoes and carrots 1/8-inch thick, keeping them in separate piles.

Salt and pepper the inside bottom of one pan. Arrange about half of the Yukon Gold potato slices, shingle style, in the prepared pan, covering the bottom completely. Make another layer with all of the carrots, arranging them the same way. Sprinkle the onion slices, green beans and cabbage over the potatoes. End the stack with a layer of the remaining Yukon Golds, arranging them shingle style. Push the mixture down with your hands to pack it in to the pan tightly.

Brush olive oil over the top layer and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Set the other prepared pan upside down over the pan of vegetables. Wrap the pans up tight with heavy-duty aluminum foil to hold them securely together.

Bake in 400-degree preheated oven for 30 minutes. Carefully flip the pans over (be sure to use oven mitts) and bake for another 30 minutes.

Remove from oven. Allow the baked stack to rest for 5 minutes, then very carefully remove aluminum foil.

Lift off the top baking pan. Lay a large cutting board over the top of the baked stack and flip the stack over onto the cutting board. Carefully remove the baking pan. Slice the hot stack into squares or rectangles and serve. Refrigerate leftovers to save for soup.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 3 (approximately) cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dairy or non-dairy milk
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Minced fresh parsley, for serving

In a large soup pot, heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and caraway seeds. Saute until onions just begin to turn golden brown. Add all of the leftover vegetables to the pot. Add enough broth to just cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat, cover pot and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are falling apart and cabbage and green beans are tender.

Add milk.

Puree to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle some fresh parsley on each serving. Makes about 6 servings, depending on how many vegetables you started with.

 

 

What would Julia do with a load of fresh vegetables?

I think Julia Child would love Bemidji, the community in northern Minnesota I’ve called home for 11 years. I never had the opportunity to meet the woman who brought French cooking into American home kitchens, but I’ve read a lot about her and I’ve visited with people who knew the wonder woman who suggested good fun, good food and good flavor go hand-in-hand in the kitchen.

I know Julia Child demanded fresh ingredients. She would be thrilled with the two farmers markets we have in our community, offering shoppers appreciative of good food prime pickings from local gardens.

She might like to teach some cooking classes in the community kitchen at Harmony Co-op, centrally located downtown just a few blocks from the farmers markets. She’d love to visit some of the community gardens where families have an opportunity to grow some of their own food.

I’m sure she’d be amazed at all of the sharing, caring and friendly people who live in Bemidji. One of those people is Doris Swedmark, who spends 8 hours a day working in her vegetable garden that measures 30 feet x 60 feet. All of her hard work pays off — her cabbage won a blue ribbon at the county fair this year. She keeps plenty of plastic bags on hand, ready to share the bounty of her garden with others.

Swedmark shows off red cabbage in her garden.

I am one of the lucky people to come home from Doris Swedmark’s garden with a load of

Swedmark with mangle beets.

vegetables. She yanked some enormous orange mangle beets from the soil, picked some beans, carved out a chubby red cabbage with her very sharp knife, pulled some carrots, cut some kale and gathered some tomatoes. She invited me to grab some fennel and dill on my way out of the garden.

I’m not sure what Julia Child would do with all of these fresh vegetables — ratatouille, maybe? I did know what to do with my treasured loot.

I pulled out my Clay Coyote cazuela and started in on a Greek-style vegetable dish.

I weighed out a pound of beans from one of the bags, chopped an onion, minced some garlic, squeezed the seeds from some tomatoes and chopped them up, and diced a small zucchini. I sauteed the vegetables in olive oil in the cazuela, then added some water, tomato paste and a bundle of mixed fresh herbs that are commonly found in Greek cooking.

I do have luck growing herbs when I tuck them in around my flowering perennials. It took a quick trip around my gardens to collect Italian parsley, oregano, Greek basil, rosemary, thyme and marjoram. I tied the sprigs together with kitchen twine, feeling very Julia Child-like, and tucked it into the mixture in the cazuela. And then, into the oven it went for about 40 minutes. As it bubbled in the heat, a wonderful aroma wafted through my kitchen.

I planned to serve the Greek-Style Vegetables with orzo. None in the pantry. I chose some brown rice Caserecce instead. It was a good pick.

You could top the baked dish with crumbled feta cheese before serving. I didn’t. The meal was aromatic, satisfying and delicious. It’s not French, but I’ll bet Julia would approve.

Today is Julia Child’s birthday. If she was living, she’d be 100 years old. Celebrate with good fun, good food and good flavor in the kitchen — French or not. Bon Appetit!

One pound of beans from Swedmark’s garden ready to go into Greek-Style Vegetables.

Greek-Style Vegetables

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
  • 3 chubby cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound of green beans, topped and tailed (trimmed) and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups seeded and chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small zucchini, chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or beef soup base
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 sprig each of: Italian parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley, for serving
  • 1 cup crumbled Greek feta cheese, optional

In a large skillet or cazuela, heat olive oil. Add onions and saute until tender. Add garlic and beans and saute. Add tomatoes, zucchini, water, soup base, tomato paste and lemon zest. Stir to mix. Bring mixture to a boil. Tie sprigs of fresh herbs together with kitchen twine. Tuck them into the bubbling mixture. Cover the skillet or cazuela with aluminum foil and bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve with cooked orzo or pasta of choice. Offer feta cheese at the table. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

P.S. Greek-Style Vegetables is one of the dishes I’ll be preparing on Saturday, August 18th during my cooking demonstration at 11:00 at the Lakes Area Farmers Market in Detroit Lakes.

 

 

Summer salad easy to tote to Independence Day picnics.

If you’ve been to a Twins baseball game at Target Field on a Sunday afternoon, you may have satisfied your hunger pangs with a refreshing healthful salad from the Roots for the Home Team Garden Goodies Cart.

A couple of weeks ago, along with with other members of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter of , Les Dames d’Escoffier International, I had an opportunity to have a taste of one of the salads created by young people who are participants in the Community Design Center of Minnesota (CDC), a youth development program on the east side of St. Paul.

Bryan and Ly’s Epic Quinoa Salad was tossed together on an outdoor patio at Swede Hollow Bakery and Cafe by two young CDC program participants who work in organic, sustainable vegetable and flower gardens in several locations in east St. Paul. One of the gardens borders the Swede Hollow patio.

Garden at Swede Hollow Bakery and Cafe planted and cared for by Garden Corps interns with the CDC.

As they dumped prepared ingredients into a large mixing bowl, the girls told us that quinoa is an ancient grain that is very good for us. When all the vegetables, fruit and herbs had been tossed together, they added an Asian-inspired dressing. This salad recipe was created by CDC members.

Bryan and Ly’s Epic Quinoa Salad prepared on the Swede Hollow patio by youth participants in the CDC.

I made the salad over the weekend and packed it into jars. They traveled well in a cooler on my weekend road trip. The unusual, refreshing combination of quinoa, kale, vegetables, grapes and mint gets a little kick of heat from chili garlic sauce in the dressing. It was a very satisfying meal in the park on an afternoon with temperatures over 90 degrees.

This easy-to-tote salad is perfect for 4th of July picnics and meals on the boat.

The Twins still have several home games scheduled for Sundays at Target Field. Stop by the Roots for the Home Team Garden Goodies Cart and try one of the fresh, flavorful and healthful salads. Roots for the Home Team makes it so easy to eat well at the ballpark.

Dates you’ll find the Garden Goodies cart at Target Field:

  • July 15th and 29th
  • August 12th
  • September 9th, 16th and 30th

 Bryan and Ly’s Epic Quinoa Salad

(recipe from Roots for the Home Team Garden Goodies Cart)

Dressing

  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Salad

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups packed shredded kale leaves (remove thick ribs)
  • 1 cup red cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup red grapes, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 4 cups mixed spring greens
  • 1/2 cup roasted & salted sunflower seeds

1. Mix all dressing ingredients in large bowl. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Rinse with cool water; drain well.

2. Place quinoa in bowl; toss with half of the dressing. Add kale, tomatoes, grapes, cucumber and mint. Gently stir until well blended. Serve on top of spring greens. Drizzle each serving with remaining dressing and sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Tips from the cook

  • I’ve discovered peanuts are a delicious substitute for sunflower seeds in this salad.

Cool Breakfast in a Jar

Several years ago, when I was visiting an out-of-town friend, she served oatmeal in a very interesting way. She told me we were eating breakfast Portland-style. That’s where she had chilled oatmeal for the first time.

She called it Swiss Muesli, which I think of as a wholesome and hearty granola-type cereal. This was different. The night before serving she had mixed uncooked old fashioned oats with skim milk, brown sugar, dried fruit (she used dried blueberries and cranberries), low-fat vanilla yogurt, salt and chopped pecans. She covered the mixture and chilled it overnight. At serving time, she scooped the mixture into cereal bowls. No cooking and no heating involved. It was very good, and what a convenient way to serve a nutritious breakfast to overnight guests.

I’ve taken my friend’s breakfast idea a step or two further by making it with dairy-free milk and yogurt and portioning the mixture into wide-mouth jars for individual servings. This makes it an easy grab-and-go breakfast and a very convenient way to serve a house full of summer weekend guests or a husband who heads to the golf course very very early on weekend mornings.

This time of year, fresh berries are a must in this thick breakfast soup. I packed chopped fresh strawberries on top of the oatmeal mixture. You can stuff chunks of toasted pecans just under the lid of each jar. If my cool breakfast in jars will be eaten at home, I leave the crunchy nuts out of the jars and offer them in a bowl at serving time for each person to add as they wish.

A pint-size wide-mouth jar is just the right capacity to hold a serving of chilled oatmeal along with plenty of berries and nuts, but any wide-mouth jar will do the trick.

Children will enjoy eating their breakfast from a jar. In fact, everyone will find it fun to eat breakfast from a jar.

I served chilled oatmeal last week with Strawberry-Rhubarb Scones that I posted not long ago. It was a great taste and texture combination.

If you like the idea of the ease and convenience of preparing and serving meals in a jar, check out the Cool Veggie Bliss In A Jar that I have in my column this week. It’s a great lunch.

Now all you need to do is make room for all of these jars in your refrigerator.

Chilled Oatmeal In A Jar

  • 2 1/4 cups uncooked old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 1/4 cups plain almond milk or flax milk
  • 1 1/2 cups Greek-style dairy-free vanilla-flavored yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh berries (strawberries (chopped), raspberries, blueberries)
  • Toasted pecans, broken

In a large mixing bowl, blend oats with milk, yogurt, brown sugar and salt. Spoon the mixture into wide-mouth jars. Scoop berries on top of the oat mixture. Top with nuts. Seal jars and refrigerate overnight. Makes about 6 servings.

Tips from the cook

  • Skim milk and low-fat vanilla yogurt can be used for the dairy-rich version of this recipe.
  • The original recipe I got from my friend calls for 3 tablespoons dried fruit and 3 tablespoon chopped nuts to be stirred into the mixture in a large bowl before overnight refrigeration.
  • I used Greek-style SO Delicious dairy-free cultured coconut milk vanilla yogurt.

Green Scene No-Bake Energy Bites

I was on a mission. I needed more Green Scene No-Bake Energy Bites. I had been to the cozy organic market and deli just the week before. The half dozen Energy Bites I grabbed from the Green Scene deli lasted only minutes in the car on my way home. I did save a couple for the peanut butter monster I live with. Now, I was on the road to Walker for more of those addictive Energy Bites.

The sweet fragrance of onions and garlic cooking together in a pan hit my nose when I walked into Green Scene. I could see Chef Kristin Melby working at the stove in the open stainless steel kitchen situated in a corner of the small organic market in Walker, Minnesota. The owner of Green Scene, Erin Andrus, was visiting with a customer. It was Thursday, and this customer had come to pick up one of the weekly organic produce boxes Andrus has been offering to people in her community way before she opened her store on June 1, 2011.

Green Scene was started by a woman with a mission. In 2007, when her local grocery store stopped carrying organic produce, Andrus got a special permit from the city and with her friend, Theresa Bilben, started a business in her garage. Her customers would drop their coolers off at her house on Wednesdays. She would pack them with organic and local produce she sourced from farmers in the area and from the Twin Cities. Her customers came back on Thursdays to pick up their loaded coolers as well as recipes Andrus supplied so that people would know how to prepare the fresh vegetables and fruit they took home.

“I grew up in a food-obsessed family,” said Andrus. “My grandpa had a large vegetable garden. I would pick green peppers and eat them like apples. When my family ate meals together, we’d talk about what we’d eat for our next meal.”

It was this appreciation for good-tasting food and her desire to educate people about good food that brought the energetic young mother from one garage to another. Green Scene is housed in a building that was once a body shop garage.

I browsed the few short aisles of gourmet organic groceries. Sun semi-dried tomatoes from Italy and a bag of dried sprouted mung beans went into my sack. I couldn’t pass up a bag of granola made of sprouted organic buckwheat groats, organic dates, sprouted flax seeds and organic raisins. I had to add a loaf of the locally-made artisan bread to my stash on the counter. Strolling through Green Scene is a food-lover’s delight.

When Andrus looked over my purchases, she immediately kicked into her excited good-food educator mode. “Oh, mince up these sun semi-dried tomatoes and put them on a dish along with the oil the tomatoes are packed in. Dip thick slices of that bread into it. It’s amazing.”

I was offered a taste of the Balsamic Green Beans with Kale that Chef Kristin was working on when I arrived. Turns out the aroma of onion and garlic that drifted to my nose was shallots she had sautéed for the green bean dish. Delicious.

Goods in the Green Scene organic produce box I purchased

I left the store with a bag full of groceries, a box of fresh organic produce, some spinach hummus with the recipe and No-Bake Energy Bites with the recipe. Mission accomplished. Oh, happy day!

Use a strong spoon to blend the ingredients for Green Scene No-Bake Energy Bites. Honey sweetens the mixture of peanut butter, oats, ground flax seeds, chocolate chips and coconut. Children will have fun rolling the no-bake dough into balls. It’s best to keep the Energy Bites in the refrigerator. The two dozen peanut buttery balls did not last long in my refrigerator. The peanut butter monster in my house ate them right up.

These Bites are a good snack to have in the refrigerator for children this summer. Runners can get a burst of energy after popping a couple of Energy Bites. Anyone can satisfy a sweet tooth just by eating one or two or six Green Scene Energy Bites.

The recipe for Green Scene Spinach Hummus is in my column this week. Click here to get to that recipe.

Green Scene is located at 617 Michigan Avenue in Walker, Minnesota, right next to Super One Foods and the Sanford Clinic. It’s just a block or two off of the bike trail, making it a convenient stop for weary bikers to grab a snack from the deli.

Learn more about Green Scene’s weekly produce boxes, their deli and catering and their cooking classes by visiting their web site. Click here.

Green Scene No-Bake Energy Bites

Recipe provided by the kind people at Green Scene, Walker, MN
 
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup coconut flakes
  • ½ cup ground flax seeds
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly blended. Let mixture chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Roll into 24 balls and enjoy. Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Celebrate Earth Day with Mushroom Crostini

Mushroom Crostini

I’ve spent most of my life turning up my nose at mushrooms. That all changed last summer when I discovered the sublime flavor of chanterelle mushrooms plucked fresh from the forest floor and sauteed in butter with garden-fresh sage leaves. I blogged about my foraging experience in Duluth with Dick Ojakangas last summer. Beatrice Ojakangas immediately transformed our chanterelle harvest into a luscious appetizer. You can read that blog post by clicking here.

That foraging experience was followed by my weekend at Mushroom Camp. After that, a visit to Dallas Flynn’s farm in Frazee, Minnesota. He sent me home with some of the shiitake mushrooms he raises. Those beauties went into a pasta dish. I became hooked on mushrooms.

On this Earth Day weekend, I’m making Mushroom Crostini. Buttery cremini mushrooms or creamy and light shiitakes are both good choices for this appetizer or snack. It’s so easy to make.

First, toast some baguette slices. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil. I toast them in a grill pan. When the weather is nice, use your outdoor grill.

Then, saute thinly sliced mushrooms with dried Italian seasoning blend. When I made this treat during a “Cooking with Herbs” demonstration for the Lakes Area Garden Club in Detroit Lakes the other night, I added a sprig of fresh thyme and a sage leaf to the pan as the mushrooms cooked. Some garlic, salt and pepper is all that’s needed for the finishing touch of flavor.

Serve the warm mushroom mixture on the little toasts, or crostini.

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than enjoying a gift from its soil?

It will soon be time to hunt for morel mushrooms. Won’t those be the perfect treasures to create this delicious crostini? I can’t wait!

You can watch as I prepare Mushroom Crostini on my weekly Lakeland Public Television segment, Good Food, Food Life, 365. Click here to go right to the video.

Mushroom Crostini

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces cremini or shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed, sliced thin
  • Italian dried herb blend, to taste
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons dry sherry or white wine, optional
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Baguette slices, toasted

Heat olive oil in saute pan. Add sliced mushrooms and Italian seasoning. Saute until mushrooms are soft and tender. Add garlic and optional dry sherry or wine. Continue to saute for a minute or two, just long enough for garlic to lose its raw flavor. Season mixture with salt and pepper.

Serve warm on toasted baguette slices. Makes about 8 crostini.

Tip from the Cook

  • Brush both sides of baguette slices with olive oil before toasting in grill pan or on outdoor grill.

 

Wok Cooking with Stir-Fry Grace

When we got married, my husband and I received a gift of a wok. It wasn’t electric, it wasn’t non-stick — it was made for function, not beauty. I looked at the metal  pan with the rounded bottom and wondered what I would do with something that wouldn’t even balance on a burner on our apartment stove. And, what would I do to prevent the thing from turning into a bowl of rust?

If only I had owned one of Grace Young’s cookbooks at that time.

I met Grace Young a couple of weeks ago when I attended a demonstration she did at the International Culinary Center in New York during the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference.

The petite, dark-haired woman handles a wok the way a seasoned pizza maker handles dough — with ease, confidence and passion. Grace Young, also known as Stir-Fry Grace, calls herself a certified wok therapist. If you’ve got any problems having to do with woks or wok cooking, she is the person you need to contact.

What did I learn from Grace Young? Lots. But here are five things everyone should know:

1. Never use a non-stick wok. They don’t hold up to the heat necessary for stir-fry cooking. Grace Young claims she has a non-stick radar. Watch out.

The home cook should use a 14-inch carbon steel flat-bottom wok.

As a traveling cooking teacher, Young packs her carbon-steel wok in her carry-on bag. It sends the security agents into a frenzy. Eventually, she makes it through.

Grace Young suggests two New York Chinatown Wok Sources:
Hung Chong Imports Inc.
14 Bowery
New York, NY 10013
212-349-3392
An excellent source for flat-bottomed carbon-steel and the traditional Chinese made castiron woks. Also, carries sandpots, spatulas, bamboo steamers, and a large selection of
Western cookware. Be careful when shopping as they do carry nonstick woks.
KK Discount Store
78 Mulberry Street
212-513-7043
This small shop is packed full of Chinese cooking equipment including 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel woks. Their prices for woks tend to be a little less expensive than Hung Chong.

2. Wok cooking has been around for 2,000 years. In ancient times, the wok was used for drying grains and tea leaves. Now, there are 8 uses for the wok: pan frying, deep frying, boiling, braising, poaching, smoking, steaming and of course, stir-frying. In other words, a wok is a sort of all-purpose pan.

3. Because stir-frying vegetables, meat and seafood over high temperatures takes little time, it’s very important to use fresh, in-season ingredients.

4. Use an oil with a high smoke-point. Peanut oil and grapeseed oil are good choices for stir-fry cooking. Be sure the wok is hot before adding the oil, swirling it down the sides of the wok.

5. It’s important to season your wok. Grace Young calls it wok-bonding time. In the photo at the top of this blog, she is showing our group how to season a carbon steel wok.

 

Seasoning a Carbon-Steel Wok with Scallions and Ginger

by Grace Young

1 bunch scallions
1/2 cup sliced unpeeled ginger
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed vegetable oil
1. Wash the inside and outside of a carbon-steel wok with hot water using a stainless steel
scrubber and liquid dish-washing soap. Rinse with hot water. Dry the wok on a burner
over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes until no water droplets are visible.
2. Open the windows and turn the exhaust fan on high speed. Heat the wok over high heat
until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the oil and add
the scallions and ginger. Reduce heat to medium and stir-fry 15 to 20 minutes, pushing
mixture up sides of the wok to the edge. If the mixture becomes dry add an additional
tablespoon of oil. Remove from heat and allow the wok to cool. Discard the scallions and
ginger.
3. Wash the wok with hot water. Dry the wok on a burner over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes
to make sure the pan is totally dry. The wok is seasoned and ready for cooking.

6. (a bonus!) I must go shopping for a carbon-steel flat-bottom wok and purchase Grace Young’s most recent cookbook, “Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories.” The cookbook won the 2011 James Beard Best International Cookbook Award.

Grace Young prepared Classic Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimp as part of her demonstration. She was adamant that we eat it immediately after it came out of the wok. That is when you will experience the best wok hay. In Cantonese, hay means energy, life force or breath. Wok hay is the highly prized but elusive taste that food achieves when properly stir-fried in a wok and served immediately.

Learn more about Grace Young and her cookbooks and find some of her recipes at her website. Click here.

Classic Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimp

used with permission from Grace Young

There are many versions of this beloved dry-fried stir-fry. The absence of liquid in the stir-fry allows you to experience a concentrated shrimp flavor accented by the garlic, ginger, chilies, and Sichuan peppercorns. For this reason it’s imperative to use the freshest ingredients. Frozen shrimp will work just make sure it’s quality shrimp. (GY)

  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon roasted and ground Sichuan
    peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno chili, with seeds
    1. In a large bowl combine 1 tablespoon of the salt with 1 quart cold water. Add the shrimp and swish the shrimp in the water with your hand for about 30 seconds. Drain. Add 1 more tablespoon salt to the bowl with 1 quart cold water and repeat. Rinse the shrimp under cold water and set on several sheets of paper towels. With more paper towels, pat the shrimp dry. In a small bowl combine the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, sugar, and ground peppercorns.
    2. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the oil, add the garlic, ginger, and chili, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 10 seconds or until the aromatics are fragrant. Push the garlic mixture to the sides of the wok, carefully add the shrimp and spread them evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the shrimp begin to sear. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and stir-fry 1 minute or until shrimp just begin to turn orange. Sprinkle on the salt mixture, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the shrimp are just cooked. Serves 2 as a main dish with rice or 4 as part of a multicourse meal.

Drink green on St. Patrick’s Day — and I don’t mean beer

A few weekends ago I listened in to several free call-in webcasts, all part of a two-day Conscious Foods Summit. It was the description of the event that caught my interest:

“The Conscious Foods Summit sessions cover the physical, emotional, mental and – yes, spiritual – benefits of eating healthfully. If you’re like most people on a path of transformation, you’re always on the lookout for ways to create more vitality that are good for the planet, too.”

Yes, I am always looking for ways to be the best me I can be. I listened to several of the live sessions. It was time well spent.

One of my Facebook friends, Jill Nussinow, also known as The Veggie Queen, presented a session titled: Why Eating Plants Can Change Your Life. The registered dietitian and cooking instructor convinced me that I must  invest in a pressure cooker. I’m one of those people who has always been a little squeamish about pressure cookers — they can explode, after all. Well, that’s what I thought. Jill Nussinow said she has used pressure cookers in the classes she teaches at Santa Rosa Community College for more than 20 years, and there has never been an exploding pot. I guess I’ll start shopping for my own.

Nussinow also inspired me to experiment with green smoothies, blended concoctions of vegetables and fruits, nothing like the protein powder and berry drink I usually make for breakfast.

My pretty green smoothie came together after a recent dinner at True Food Kitchen in Phoenix, Arizona. A list of natural refreshments on the menu included Kale-Aid, a mixture of kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger. It sounded like one of those green smoothies Jill Nussinow recommended drinking. I may have tried the health drink, but at the time I spotted it, I was already sipping on an Acai Pomegranate Mojito — a different kind of health drink.

I’ve been concocting a green drink of my own and I think it’s good. It must be. I saved some of my last batch in the refrigerator. This afternoon, when I needed a boost of energy, I went right to the refrigerator to get my powerful green liquid. It had disappeared. This evening, my husband confessed to drinking up the potent elixir before he went to bed last night. And he liked it. What?? It must be good.

It makes sense to drink green on St. Patrick’s Day. When you think of all of the health benefits this drink delivers, it makes sense to drink it everyday. It’s a great way to get some fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.

Sparkling Green Power Juice

  • 1/2 to 1 cup water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 of a seedless cucumber, unpeeled, cut into chunks
  • 1 apple, unpeeled, core removed, cut into chunks
  • 6 chunks crystallized ginger, or to taste
  • 2 kiwi, peeled
  • 2 large kale leaves
  • 1 handful baby spinach leaves
  • Sparkling water, for serving

Place ingredients, except sparkling water, in blender in order listed. Turn on blender and puree mixture until smooth.

Pour through a fine mesh sieve and allow to drain into a bowl or pitcher. Cover juice and put in refrigerator to chill.

At serving time, pour juice into glasses and top off with sparkling water. Makes about 2 cups green juice.

Tip from the cook

The pulp that remains in the sieve can be spooned into plastic trays and frozen. Transfer frozen cubes to freezer-strength zip-top bag. Seal tightly and store in freezer. The cubes are a great addition of chilled cucumber soup made with yogurt for summer meals. In fall and winter, add frozen cubes to soups and stews for additional flavor and nutrients.

l.c. finn’s roasted pears warm the soul with cinnamon extract

Some say it makes no difference what kind of vanilla is used in cookies, cakes, quick breads and custards. Some home bakers are sure artificial vanilla flavoring works just fine for giving the best flavor to their baked goods. Others would argue that you shouldn’t waste your time baking if you use artificial flavoring. Only the real deal, pure vanilla extract, will work for giving the best flavor to desserts.

I’m a member of the pure vanilla extract club. I would never use an imposter in the custard for our family’s special banana cake, layers upon layers of homemade vanilla custard, sliced bananas and vanilla wafers covered with a thick blanket of real whipped cream. My special pound cake would have something missing if it was made with artificial vanilla. Pure vanilla extract costs a bit more than its artificial look-alike, but to me, it’s worth every penny.

Chad Gillard and Lee Zwiefelhofer favor the real deal, too. The two Twin Cities guys were discussing the absence of locally-made vanilla extract – extracts of any kind, really, as they downed some Finnegans together. They decided they’d make it themselves. In 2010 they started a company called l.c. finn’s Extracts, l. for Lee, c. for Chad and finns for those Finnegans that were downed as the business ideas developed. A few months ago, they launched their first three extracts: vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom.

When Gillard (you may also know him as the Aunt Else’s Aebleskiver guy) sent me the three extracts to try, I quickly opened the brown, glass bottles and sniffed each one. A whiff of cardamom extract brought floral, citrus fragrance to my nose. I thought how much it would be appreciated by Scandinavian bakers who smash whole cardamom pods to get the seeds they sprinkle liberally in their cakes, buns and pastries. How much easier it will be to use l.c. finns cardamom extract.

The cinnamon extract smelled sweet, warm, homey and exotic all at once. I added it to a batch of granola I mixed up that afternoon, along with some l.c. finn’s vanilla extract. The next morning, a splash of cinnamon extract was a fine partner to my fresh red grapefruit for breakfast.

l.c. finn’s vanilla extract has a rich, full-bodied, slightly earthy aroma that has brought new flavor to my homemade granola. I plan to use it in my next batch of Power Balls.

Organic cinnamon sticks, organic green cardamom pods and Madagascar vanilla beans soak in alcohol for weeks in an incubator kitchen in Minneapolis to produce l.c. finn’s Extracts. The flavor is given plenty of time to develop. Zwiefelhofer and Gillard have an approach to extract that takes plenty of time – they aim for full flavor with no additives.

Gillard and Zwiefelhofer give a portion of their profits to a scholarship fund they have created to give financial assistance to potential food entrepreneurs. The scholarships will give these students an opportunity to attend Kindred Kitchen, a training program in north Minneapolis that can help them start their own businesses.

Last month, Heavy Table named Gillard and Zwiefelhofer as food entrepreneurs to watch in 2012. When I visited with Gillard by phone recently, I asked what we might expect to see. “We’ll soon be introducing anise extract and chocolate extract. We’re working on pecan and almond extracts,” he said. “And, we are developing hibiscus extract. Tea lovers are enjoying hibiscus. We think there are many other ways to enjoy the flower that research suggests may help control blood pressure.”

Right now, l.c. finn’s Extracts are available in select stores in the Twin Cities area. You can find a list of those locations on the l.c. finns web site. You can also order extracts on the l.c. finns web site.

A recipe for roasted pears came in the box with the extracts I received. They are quick, easy, elegant and versatile. Serve for dessert with ice cream or whipped cream. They were delicious chopped and stirred into granola or oatmeal.

Only the real l.c. finn’s deal will do.

l.c. finns Roasted Pears

1. Slice pears in half and remove core. Place in lightly greased baking dish.

2. Mix olive oil, Cinnamon Extract and salt together.

3. Spoon mixture evenly over pear halves (or apples).

4. Roast for 45 minutes at 400 degrees F.

5. Serve warm, with dollop of Cardamom Whipped Cream or scoop of vanilla ice cream.

l.c. finns Cardamom Whipped Cream

1. Chill large glass or metal bowl and mixer beaters in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Pour heavy whipping cream in the ice-cold bowl.

3. Beat whipping cream with ice-cold beaters until peaks are just about to form.

4. Add sugar and Cardamom Extract.

5. Continue to beat until peaks form. Do not over-beat, cream will become lumpy and butter-like.

A Valentine’s Day treat that will make hearts happy, too.

I would never let Valentine’s Day go by without sharing at least a little bit of chocolate with you. In these sweet bite-sized hearts, a little chocolate goes a long way.

The recipe comes from my friend, Joyce. I stopped by to see her just before Christmas. She was busy creating menus in preparation for her family who would be coming home for Christmas. She was hunting for gluten-free recipes she could prepare for her granddaughter. She told me about Power Balls, a gluten-free treat that had become a family favorite.

Joyce moved to the refrigerator as she offered me a Power Ball. Alas, the Power Balls must have been left in the refrigerator of their other home. Rather than a taste, she sent me home with her recipe so I could make some of my own.

I’ve made several batches of Power Balls since that visit with Joyce. They are a snap to mix together in a food processor and they need no baking. All it takes is walnuts, Medjool dates, dark chocolate chips, some pure vanilla extract and a bit of sea salt.

Once February arrived, Power Balls became Power Hearts. I simply patted the date mixture out in an even slab on a silicone baking mat and used a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to shape the sticky mixture. I keep the ready-to-eat treats in the freezer or the refrigerator.

Large, plump Medjool dates are sweet, creamy, low-fat packages of  protein, fiber, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins. Walnuts are a rich source of heart-healthful monounsaturated fats and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, offering protection to the cardio-system and providing anti-inflammartory benefits. Add some dark chocolate to the mix  and you may be helping blood flow through the arteries that supply the heart and the brain. Now, that’s a Valentine treat with power, for sure.

Whether you shape the magic mixture into balls or hearts, they will be a treat appreciated and enjoyed by all.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Power Hearts (or Balls)

(from Joyce Henderson)

  • 1 cup Medjool dates  -  pits removed
    2 cups walnuts
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate morsels
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Pulse dates, walnuts and chocolate morsels in food processor until the mixture looks like coarse gravel. Add vanilla and salt and pulse to mix. Add 1 teaspoon water, if necessary, to form balls.

To make hearts, pat mixture into an even layer on a silicone baking mat. Cut with cookie cutter. Refrigerate hearts in a sealed container for up to a couple of weeks. They can also be stored in freezer for a couple of months.

Or, form into 1-inch balls. Makes about 3 dozen when formed with a #100 portion scooper.
Makes about 3 dozen formed with a #100 portion scooper.

Tips from the cook

  • Medjool dates are often found in the produce department of well-stocked grocery stores.
  • Lightly spray the cookie cutter with non-stick cooking spray before cutting to make release of the sticky mixture very easy.
  • You can watch me make the healthful Valentine treats on Good Food, Good Life 365 at Lakeland Public Television. Click here.