Monday, July 21, 2014

Ohio Winner of Healthy Lunchtime Challenge

Abby Cornwell, winner of Michelle Obama's Healthy Lunchtime Challenge for Ohio, has just returned from Washington, DC, where she attended the 2014 Kid's State Dinner at the White House. Her winning entrée was Sunrise Tuscan Chicken.  There will likely be other events and opportunities that come her way. Abby told me that a guest celebrity chef from Ohio may visit her school, East Elementary, later this year!

This is a clip of our meeting about her participation in the event. A big thanks to Abby's mom, Jenny Messina,  for hosting and to Sam Girton for recording the video. It was edited by a newbie, yours truly.

Abby has been interviewed a few times in recent days:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Suan La Tang Chinese Hot & Sour Soup

Cravings for Chinese food hit randomly. We go on egg roll making sprees and stash them in the freezer. Egg rolls taste almost as good heated in the oven as they do fresh out of the fry oil . This is a favorite with egg rolls at my house. There is a stash of lilly buds and wood-ear ever ready in the pantry. Fresh tofu and ginger are often in our fridge so the ingredients are easy to gather together. Increase the heat by adding more black pepper. I go for middle of the road heat.

Suan la Tang Chinese Hot and Sour Soup
Serves 3 to 4

Tiger Lilly Buds, 20 buds
Cloud Ear Fungus/Wood-Ear/Ki-kurage, 2 Tbsp dried
Chicken stock, 3 cups
Garlic, 1 clove peeled & smashed
Fresh Ginger, 1 knob peeled & smashed
Soy Sauce, 1 Tbsp
Salt, 1/2 tsp
Black pepper, 2 grinds
Rice Vinegar, 1 Tbsp
Corn starch, 2 Tbsp + 2Tbsp Water (more for thicker soup)
Firm Tofu, 1/4 block finely cubed
Scallions, garnish, chopped 1 tsp per serving
Sesame oil, garnish with a splash

  1. Rehydrate Tiger Lilly Buds and Cloud Ear in hot water until softened, about 5 to 10 minutes.  
  2. Over medium heat, bring chicken stock to a boil with smashed garlic and ginger.
  3. Add soy sauce, salt, black pepper, and vinegar to stock.
  4. Mix the corn starch with water and slowly add to the soup stirring vigorously until you have the consistency you want.
  5. Dice tofu and scallions. Add tofu to stock and simmer 1 to 2 minutes until heated throughly.
  6. Turn off the heat. Garnish with scallions and a splash of sesame oil. Serve with egg rolls if you have them.
Suan La Tang Chinese Hot and Sour Soup

Crispy Kosher Dill Pickles

This recipe is based on the Bell Blue Book recipe but it does use less sugar. Do follow proper canning procedures and review a resource if you're new to canning or it's been a while. These pickles are great on burgers, as a side, and can be eaten the next day, but the point of making them is to put them up for later. 

I'm slowly learning how much to make of things in terms of a year's supply now that I have a basement. Pickles are best made with fairly small cucumbers, about 4 to 6-inches long. This size cucumbers can easily be found at farmers markets, roadside stands, and produce auctions. If you take up pickling to any degree, you'll likely find the best deals come from either your own garden or a produce auction. However, I did get this peck (a big box with a handle) at the Athens Farmers Market.

Crispy Kosher Dill Pickles

Yields 3 quarts.

Useful Equipment
Quart jars with lids and bands for pickling
Water bath Pot for canning + canning equipment

  • Cucumbers, 4 to 6-inches, 1 peck, wash, cut in half or quarters lengthwise (depending on size)
  • Water, 1 quart (4 cups)
  • White Vinegar, 1 quart (4 cups)
  • Sugar, 1/2 cup
  • Pickling Salt, 1/2 cup
  • Pickling Spice Mix, 1 Tbsp per pint jar
  • Dill head, 1 per jar
  • Bay Leaf, 1 per jar 
  • Ball Pickle Crisp, 1/4 tsp per quart jar
  • Clove of Garlic, 1 per jar (optional)
  • Dried Chili Pepper, 1 per jar (optional)
  1. Wash and clean jars and lids. Use new lids. Reuse bands.
  2. Heat jars in oven to 250ºF for 30 minutes.
  3. Bring lids to simmer in pot on the stove.
  4. Over low flame, heat pot for water bath with lid while preparing the pickles.
  5. Rinse, drain, and cut cucumbers.
  6. Add spice mix, dill head, bay leaf, pickle crisp, garlic clove (if using), and chili pepper (if using) to each jar.
  7. Bring pickling juice ingredients: water, vinegar, sugar, and pickling salt to boil over medium heat, stir until sugar and salt dissolve. Pour hot liquid into the jars over the cucumbers and spices. 
  8. Wipe rims with a clean damp cloth.
  9. Place lid.
  10. Seal with band to finger tight (just tight).
  11. Place jars into water bath and bring to boil. Start processing time from when it begins to boil, process for 15 minutes.
  12. Check seals. Anything that doesn’t seal, store in fridge and use within the week.
  13. Label jars.
  14. Use within a year

Ohio Summer Salad

Ohio Summer Salad should be made with fresh garden produce. It tastes best when made a few hours ahead of time or even with a day ahead so that the flavors can meld. My grandmother seemed to keep the same jar going all summer. It is great served with grilled meat, fresh bread, and corn-on-the-cob. It has long been a summer family favorite.

Ohio Summer Salad
Serves 6

  • Cucumber,  2, wash, peel, cut into rings
  • Sweet onion, 1 medium, sliced
  • Ripe Red Ohio River Tomatoes, 2 large, cut into chunks
  • Green Pepper, 1, rinse, remove seeds, cut into thin slices and then half
  • Salt, 1 1/4 tsp
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper, about 8 cranks— enough to form a disc on the top
  • Sugar, 1/2 Tbsp
  • Cider Vinegar, 1 cup
  • Vegetable Oil, 4 Tbsp (use a light oil with little flavor— no olive oil)
  1. Wash and cut vegetables.
  2. Place vegetables into a large bowl. 
  3. Add salt, pepper, and sugar.
  4. Pour cider vinegar and vegetable oil over the top, should just reach the bottom of the vegetables.
  5. Toss all together.
  6. Adjust to taste— should taste vinegary.
  7. Set aside to macerate for 1 to 3 hours.
  8. Toss before serving.
  9. Store leftovers in fridge in a jar— it gets better!

Cheese Rice Casserole

Repulsed by the appearance of can condensed mushroom soup, I created this homemade version of cheese rice casserole to replace it.  The combination of the American brown and wild rice adds texture and chewiness. Please note that I use American short grain brown rice which is not washed and differs from Japanese short grained rice though I'm not sure why or how, but it does-- it's not so starchy so perhaps is more polished, but I'm guessing. Make this ahead of time and then bake it just before serving though I do not mix the rice into the sauce until I'm ready to put it in the oven as the rice absorbs too much of the sauce even though it's cooked. According to my daughter, there is no substitute for the Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Cheese. We go to great lengths (and distances) to keep this particular cheese in stock around our house. This dish is the most requested menu item in our household and was after Mama and Dada, the most missed thing from home while at summer camp.

Cheese Rice Casserole
Serves 4 to 5.

  • Short Grain Brown Rice + Wild Rice Mixture, 2 ¼ cup (dry)= 3 JRC*
  • Water, 3 ¼ cups = 4 ½  JRC
  • Butter, ½ cup 
  • All-purpose Flour, slight ½ cup
  • Fresh Rosemary, ~½ tsp (1 sprig)
  • Chicken or Vegetable Stock, 4 cups
  • Salt, 2/3 tsp 
  • Pepper, 2 grinds or a pinch +
  • Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Cheese, 6 oz (170 gm), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Breadcrumbs, 2 Tbsp for garnish
  • Broccoli, 1 cup finely chopped (optional and not Xan’s favorite)
Useful Equipment
Rice cooker or heavy bottomed pan with a fitted lid
Rice Paddle
Medium Sauce Pan
Food Processor or a sharp knife
Casserole Dish, 4 quart

  1. Cook rice and water in either a rice cooker (follow device instructions) or use the stove top method. Stove top method: In a heavy bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid, bring water and rice to boil over medium heat. Immediately reduce heat to simmer and cover with the lid. Cook until the water is gone and rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Set aside. 
  2. In a medium pan, melt butter over medium low heat. Whisk flour into melted butter and cook about 2 minutes.  Add rosemary. Gradually whisk in stock and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes though it is still soupy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. 
  3. Bring pot of water to boil and add broccoli until bright green, about 2 minutes. Plunge into cold water, and drain. Place into food processor and pulse until finely chopped or chop finely with a knife.
  4. Cut cheddar cheese into cubes.
  5. Using a rice paddle, stir the rice into the sauce and gently break up any rice clumps.
  6. Add the broccoli, cheese, and gently fold together.
  7. Grease a casserole dish, add mixture, and sprinkle bread crumbs over the top. 
  8. Bake at 375ºF (190ºC) for 35 minutes or until bubbling and browned. 
*Japanese Rice Cup (JRC) equals ¾ cup

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Eat Your Vegetables: Quick Pickles

Determined to eat well, we tramp off to the store or the farmers market and buy handfuls of luscious vegetables. Then we return home, exhausted from all of the running about, and stuff things into the crisper. Later, the once beautiful produce is wilted and no longer looks appetizing. Temptation strikes-- the old veggies are tossed, the peanut butter jar is pulled out, and the food search slash hunger management exercise follows and not enough vegetables are eaten.

Having trouble keeping your vegetables in the edible state? Want another way to add vegetables to your diet? Japan to the rescue!

Pickles of varying types are traditionally eaten at every meal in Japan, yes, that includes breakfast. I had previously thought of pickling to be about cucumbers and water baths, but there is more to pickling, and quick pickling is a handy food preservation method. My cooking teacher, Nansai Sensei, demonstrated how to make quick pickles using a variety of vegetables all mixed together in a jar. This is a variation of her recipe then modified for the American pantry.

You can make and eat quick pickles the same day, though they do have a more intense flavor over time. It allows fresh produce to be stored in a ready to eat state that lasts beyond the usual day or two, and it adds texture and the zingy taste of vinegar to your palate.

Vegetables are best when cut into uniform shapes which is helpful for absorbing flavor. Some vegetables, such as cauliflower, beets, broccoli, carrots, and green beans, need a quick boil (1 to 2 minutes) followed by immersion into cold water to stop the cooking process, drain, and place into the hot pickling juice.  (TIP: Cauliflower will stay whiter if boiled with a slice of lemon).

Improvise with spices, use different types of vinegar, and tweak the recipe to your liking. Store quick pickles in a glass jar in the fridge up to 10 days. Now you can add vegetables to your lunch or easily eat them as a snack right out of the fridge. Heck, I serve them at parties. Combine the pickled vegetables with fresh vegetables for a textural and flavorful contrast in a salad.

Eat your vegetables!

Eat Your Vegetables Quick Pickles
Yield 4 pints or 2 quarts

Useful Equipment
Clean glass jar with lid, pint or quart size

Pickling Juice Ingredients
Water, 1 quart (4 cups)
White Vinegar, 2 cups
Sugar, 1/3 cup
Pickling or Kosher Salt, 2 Tbsp

Spice Options
Pickling Spice Mix, 1 tsp per pint jar
Dried Hot Red Pepper, 1 per jar (optional)
Bay Leaf, 1 per jar (optional)
Clove of Garlic, 1 per jar (optional)
Mustard Seeds, 1/2 tsp per jar (optional)
Ball Pickle Crisp, 1/8 tsp per pint jar, 1/4 tsp per quart jar (optional for cucumbers, beets)

Vegetable of Choice
  • Cucumber, wash, cut in half, cut to fit into jar
  • Carrots, wash, peel, cut in sticks, boil 1-2 minutes, plunge into cool water, drain
  • Cauliflower, wash, chop into pieces, boil 1-2 minutes with slice of lemon, plunge into cool water, drain
  • Turnips, wash, quarter, boil 1-2 minutes, plunge into cool water, drain
  • Beets, wash, chop, 1/4-inch slice, boil 1-2 minutes, plunge into cool water, drain (store by themselves-- turns the juice pink)
  • Green Beans, trim ends, wash, boil 1-2 minutes, plunge into cool water, drain
  • Daikon Radish, peel, slice into half moons, boil 1-2 minutes, plunge into cool water, drain
  • Asparagus, trim ends, wash, chop, boil 1-2 minutes, plunge into cool water, drain
  • Garlic, boil 1-2 minutes, remove peel and separate cloves
  1. Clean and prep vegetables.
  2. Add pickling spices and vegetables to jar(s). 
  3. Bring pickling juice ingredients to boil over medium heat, stir until sugar and salt dissolve.
  4. Pour hot liquid over prepared vegetables in clean jars. 
  5. Add pickle crisp (if using) to each jar of cucumbers, beets, etc.
  6. Label jar.
  7. Wait about 30-45 minutes before eating. Store in the fridge up to 10 days.

Film Cameo

I auditioned for a film role under duress. Though I did not get the role, I found the experience to be revelatory. I thought acting was about the desire for attention. However, in facing my fear that others would be looking at me,  I, instead, found myself tapping into an inner space that I didn't even know existed. The emotional flow felt amazing as it came out in the scene!

My friend, the film director Pearl Gluck, later came back and told me that she had several people unfamiliar with the players look at the screen tests. She said (flattery to ensue) that several of the unknown people mentioned my screen test. Though it was clear I was not a trained actress (the role went to a trained actress), she wanted me to do a cameo in the film. She then secured the deal by telling me that I could write my own dialogue. That lured me right over the edge of safety.

Last night I went to the film set of The Turn Out at eight in the evening. I left at three thirty in the morning, all for my brief appearance.

Despite having written the lines, though she did change the name of the role, I could barely remember the story I had concocted for myself, despite frequent re-readings, with my internal panic and all of the people looking at me. I can't imagine how the scene will appear on the screen. It was so intimidating to muster that inner emotional flow in front of a group of actors and the film crew. I did what I could do. I'm grateful and happy to have played a part in bringing my friend's story to the screen, but don't expect to see me in another role anytime soon. It's like messing with crazy power, and I'm not sure I want to know what is in the genie's bottle.

Stay tuned, there is a movie coming out of Athens at the end of summer. I keep learning again and again that art is vital to the human experience-- make some, see some, support some. Thank you for the opportunity Pearl!