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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Orzo with Chickpeas, Goat Cheese and Oregano

Occasionally I look to old issues of Bon Appetit magazine for dinner inspiration. This recipe is from the June 2008 issue. I’ve made this dish nearly a dozen times in the last year or so. It’s tasty, healthy, vegetarian, quick, easy, and made with inexpensive ingredients. I can’t recommend it enough!

Orzo with Chickpeas, Goat Cheese and Oregano
1 1/2 cups orzo (about 9 ounces)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 5-ounce log goat cheese, crumbled

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add orzo and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain the orzo and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Add the chickpeas, orzo and oregano. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir in the goat cheese.

Olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic:

Fresh oregano mixed into the olive oil mixture:

The finished product:

Dessert! Organic dark sweet premium cherries from a local orchard here in Washington:


• Don’t skimp on the oregano. It adds flavor to an otherwise simple dish. You could probably also add more freshly ground black pepper, or experiment with other herbs like basil, rosemary, or thyme.

• Sometimes all you can find in the grocery store is a 4 oz. container of goat cheese, so I typically use 4 ounces instead of a full 5. It’s plenty cheesy for my tastes, but your mileage may vary.

• I obviously mixed the olive oil in a small bowl (oops!). When it was time to add the orzo and chickpeas, I transferred everything to a larger bowl. Save yourself the trouble and extra dish washing and start with a large bowl.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blueberry Orange Loaf

This post goes out to my pal Nicki Terry, a dear friend and old roommate who used to beg me to make this recipe on at least a weekly basis. Love you, Nicki. Miss you dearly.

Blueberry Orange Loaf

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice, divided
4 teaspoons grated orange peel, divided
1 egg
1 cup sugar
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh blueberries, or frozen blueberries (thawed)
2 tablespoons honey

Put boiling water in a small boil; add butter and stir until melted. Add 1/2 cup orange juice and 3 teaspoons of the orange peel. Beat egg with sugar until light and fluffy. Add sifted dry ingredients, alternating with orange liquid; beat until smooth.

Fold in berries. Bake in a greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pan in a 325° oven for about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Turn out onto a rack or tray. Mix 2 tablespoons orange juice with 1 teaspoon rind and the honey. Spoon over hot loaf; cool before serving.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Alien Vegetables

Sometimes, though not often, I entertain the thought of having children. And almost every time I have these thoughts, I think about being the mother of a little boy.* And when I think about being the mother of a little boy, I can’t help but wonder if he will be like little Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is exactly what I imagine a son to be. He makes me laugh, cry, cringe, roll my eyes, and face palm. But at the end of the day, you just want to overlook his craziness, give him a big hug and a kiss on the forehead, set him down by the fire and bring him his tiger, a comic book, and a plate of soda crackers with peanut butter and honey.

But Calvin at dinner time? Well. That’s another story.

I used to hate oatmeal. I refused to eat it. I recall sitting at the breakfast table one Saturday morning. I must've been about 6 at the time. For at least 2 hours after everyone had cleared their dishes, I defiantly stared down my parents while my cold oatmeal congealed into a lump of inedible grainy goo. When my father told me I would eat my oatmeal or sit there all day, and didn't change his mind despite begging, pleading, tears, and bargaining on my part, I took a bite and promptly vomited all over the dining room rug. Drama Queen, much?

Later that year, my parents had a few concerns after taking me to the pediatrician for a check up: 1. I was eating way too many lemons. To the point that the enamel on my teeth was starting to disintegrate. (More on that here). 2. I wasn't drinking enough water. I suppose this might be a common concern for small children, but according to my doctor, it was a huge problem for me. My dear parents tried bribing me with rewards, giving me a 'special cup' to drink out of, threatening to not let me read my books if I didn't finish my glass of water (Hey, shut up. I was a bookworm, okay? Book-deprivation was the highest form of punishment as far as I was concerned), and everything else short of pinning me down in a headlock and pouring water down my throat.

Finally, one summer day, my dad had an epiphany that changed my life forever. "Aimee," he said, "I have something very special for you. Come look." Together we went to the refrigerator. Dad pulled out a bluish-green, pear-shaped, smooth glass jug. It had a cork in it instead of a screw-top lid, and appeared almost translucent as the water swirled around inside. I'd never seen anything like it. The container in front of me was beautiful, and I was completely enthralled. He set the bottle on the counter and it immediately began to attract tiny droplets of condensation. "Aimee," Dad said, "see this water in this jug? This is water like you've never tasted before. It's as cold as a river. It's the water I drink when I come home after a looong day at work. It's Daddy's special water. It keeps me strong so I can protect you and your brother and your mom. Now that you're old enough, I'm going to let you try it, too."

Well. You can probably guess what happened after that. I was drinking so much water I probably wet the bed at least a dozen times that year. I refused to drink water straight from the tap, and would only drink what I eventually started calling "Coldy River Water" (cold-as-a-river water). I wonder whatever happened to that enchanting glass jug.

Anyway. Considering the grief I gave my parents, I have a hunch I’m going to end up with a persnickety child who only eats smooth peanut butter and seedless raspberry jam sandwiches on white bread (not the weird grainy bread!) cut diagonally. Toasted. With a half-glass of milk (in a special cup) on the side. And potato chips. But not any of them that have brown spots or are broken in half.

Sigh. I probably deserve it.

I like to cook. I like to experiment with new spices, ingredients, and recipes. I like to try exotic unique foods and different methods of preparation. Often, my experiments are pleasant and satisfying. Occasionally, they’re a culinary train wreck. Someday I may face the arduous task of feeding a family and planning healthy meals, rather than stuffing whatever sounds good at the moment into my gaping maw, or skipping a meal altogether because I’m too lazy to throw on sweatpants and head to Safeway. I mean let’s face it: a family can’t survive for 4 days on Nutella, lemons, and Life cereal like I can.

But I digress. The point is, someday I’m gonna make a meal, and it’s not gonna be all perfect-Martha-Stewart-let’s-invite-the-Jones-over-for-dinner, and my family is probably gonna suffer. And I might get some grief from that future persnickety son who now only remains a figment of my imagination.

Like this:

Doesn't your heart just go out to Calvin's poor mother? I thought of her the other day when I stumbled upon a curious vegetable at Pike Place Market: Romanesco. A broccoli/cauliflower hybrid. I believe the colloquial term is "broccoflower". It's bright green. It's pointy. It's a vegetative oddity, and it looks like it came from Neptune. See?

I'd never tried it before. Ergo, I had to buy some.

Now since this stuff was supposedly a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, and according to the charming produce guy who sold me the mystery vegetable (along with the last 2 lbs. of bing cherries that he practically forced on me), it has a "sweet, peppery flavor", I figured the best way to prepare it was using the method I always use when I cook broccoli or cauliflower: roasted.

Here's what you do. You cut up your veggies. Preferably in bite-size pieces, but for the sake of a cool photo, here's a broccoflower autopsy straight down the center:

Next, stick those pieces in a bowl and drizzle about 2 Tbsps of good-quality olive oil over the mess. Toss to coat. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Lay it all out on a cookie sheet. I opted to make this a light meal and added a slice of Great Harvest jalapeno-cheese cornbread sprinkled with Tillamook cheese on the side. Both the veggies and the bread fit nicely on the pan.

Pop everything in the oven at about 425 and cook for roughly 20 minutes. (Please note, if you're also cooking the bread, DO NOT leave it in for 20 minutes. Take it out after about 5 or 6 minutes, just long enough for the cheese to bubble and the bread to toast.) Be sure to stir the veggies every 5 minutes or so to allow them to crisp up evenly. Yums!

Now, you're probably wondering what all this has to do with Calvin and/or me bearing my future fastidious children. Well, dear readers. Just like Calvin's fantastic mom, I plan to feed my child healthy, wholesome foods. Including vegetables (I know! How could I??). And when the little bugger protests, or pulls the "I'm gonna vomit on the dining room rug" card, or refuses to eat anything but PB&seedless-raspberry-jam on white bread cut diagonally with a special cup and perfect potato chips. Well. I'm gonna buy me a bunch of Romanesco, and tell him I found it in the back yard, and oh my goodness look how weird this is, have you ever seen anything like it? Why, it must've fallen out of a UFO. I bet it got left behind by some alien family. Maybe we should cook it up and see what it tastes like, hmm?

Thanks, Dad. And thanks, Bill Watterson.

*Yes, for some reason I have a hard time entertaining the thought of ever having a little girl. Don't know why...I just seem to connect with boys better. Unless, of course, I had a little girl like Amelia.