Tuesday, June 18, 2013
0 Cheese, Please: A Cautionary Tale of a Dairy-Loving Lass and Her Ensuing Internal Conflict :-D (Part 1)
Since this post has expanded from its original conception, I've decided to break it up into multiple, more easily digestible parts. :)
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
From the photo, I realize that this sweet, no-bake treat might look like a cookie, but it's not. However, if you'd like to imagine it's a cookie while you're eating it, of course, that's perfectly fine too. :) What it is, actually, is a healthy, quick, and easy-to-make snack that's great to eat as a pre- or post-workout snack, and of course, that's why this recipe will be appearing in The Athlete's Cookbook. This recipe can literally be made in a matter of minutes! So, it's perfect for busy athletes, families on the go, or for those times when you just want to eat a quick snack without putting a lot of effort into the process. In other words, it's for those moments when both your brain and your stomach are screaming in unison, "FEED ME NOW!!!!" :)
During the recipe creation phase, the idea was to take the classic Mediterranean combination of dates and almonds and do something a bit more unexpected. Instead of just making these ingredients into another bonbon or energy bite recipe, (although you could certainly do that if you'd like!), I thought it'd be fun to turn them into a new kind of bite-sized snack. And thus, this is how the idea for this snack was born.
Date & Almond Clusters
1 c. Deglet Noor (common) dates, pitted*
1/4 c. slivered almonds
1/2 c. almond meal
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
12 raw, unsalted almonds
Directions: Place all ingredients, minus the whole raw almonds, into a food processor and pulse until well combined. Spread a large piece of wax paper across a large, clean plate and set aside. Wet your hands first, then roll a piece of the dough in your palms to form a half-dollar sized ball, and place onto the wax paper. Repeat this process until all dough has been rolled into balls. Then rewet your hands and flatten each ball into a disc. Press an almond into each cluster, then refrigerate for 10-15 minutes to solidify. Serve and enjoy! Refrigerate any leftovers.
Yield: 12 clusters.
Chef's Notes: *Be sure to use super fresh and soft dates to avoid damaging your food processor. :)
If you're going to make a batch for future use, I'd advise wrapping each cluster in wax paper before storing them in a sealed container or resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator. Or alternatively, you can place a layer of wax paper on the bottom of a wide, shallow container, followed by a layer of clusters, and then another layer of wax paper, etc., and then seal it with a tightly fitting lid. Even after refrigeration, they can still be a bit sticky, so the wax paper will ensure that you won't have to pry them apart, or force yourself to eat 6 clusters at once. ;)
Friday, June 7, 2013
I created this version of a Creole classic and Mardi Gras favorite for my friend, Brian, who asked for an easy beans and rice recipe to eat as a pre-race meal for his upcoming Eagleman Half Ironman (70.3) this Sunday. He'll be competing in this race -- as well as the Nations Triathlon this September, and the Seagull Century Ride and Marine Corp Marathon, both of which are in October -- to help raise funds to find cures and more effective treatments for blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma. This will help to vastly improve the quality of life for patients and their families. To help make a difference and donate to this worthy cause, please visit his TNT Team Lewis Contirbution Page. Good luck with your race this Sunday, Brian!
Beans and rice make for an excellent pre-race meal, because they are a great source of complex carbs, protein, and fiber, and thus, have a lot of staying power. So I hope that this recipe will help power Brian across the finish line! :)
And of course, since this recipe is perfect for (endurance) athletes, it'll be appearing in The Athlete's Cookbook. So thank you, Brian, for being the source of inspiration for this recipe. :-D
Although every Louisianan seems to have their own version of red beans and rice, there are some common elements, namely, well, beans and rice. :) At any rate, I've kept this version fairly straightforward and traditional -- red beans, rice, hot sauce, celery, green pepper, onion, Creole seasoning, etc. The only place where I've strayed a bit from tradition is the use of black rice (a superfood) instead of white (for its antioxidant/health benefits) and canned red beans versus dried ones, which, let's face it, take forever to soak and cook. Of course, the latter substitution was done in order to expedite the cooking process. We endurance athletes are a busy lot, and most of us don't have an eternity to spend cooking.
This version is just straight beans and rice, although it's typical for NOLA natives to add various forms of "oink." There's a very small list of (unprocessed) foods I won't eat, and that's one of them. (You can add liver, tongue, and meatloaf to that list as well. Lol.) At any rate, since chefs often like to make recipes their own, feel free to add whatever other complementary ingredients you like. Just be aware that any additions to the recipe might alter the balance of ingredients, so you might have to make some adjustments to even out the amounts, particularly with regard to the water, onions, celery, and seasoning. Of course, cooking is all about ratios, and baking, even more so. If you need to add more water, the way to incrementally calculate cooking time is as follows: For every cup of water you add, add 10 minutes to the total cooking time.
Anyhow, I hope that you will enjoy this simple but flavorful classic! Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Red Beans and (Black) Rice
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. uncooked black rice (a.k.a. Chinese "Forbidden Rice"), washed
1 c. yellow onion, peeled and finely diced (about 1/2 medium-sized onion)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 c. celery, finely chopped (about 2 celery stalks)
1 large bay leaf
4 c. water
1 15.5 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. green bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 tsp. (or more) cayenne pepper hot sauce (optional) (for authenticity, use the Crystal brand, which Louisianans swear by)*
2 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Creole Spice Mix Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
3/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (or substitute 1/8 tsp. ground chipotle pepper, if you prefer a smoky flavor)**
Directions: Combine Creole spice mix ingredients in a small bowl until well blended. Set aside. Heat olive oil on high heat in a large stock pot until glistening. Reduce heat to low, then add the uncooked rice and brown for 2 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure the rice is completely coated with the olive oil. Let rice crisp but do not burn. (Crisping the rice seals its exterior to keep it from getting mushy when the water is added.) Then add onions, garlic, celery, and bay leaf, and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Add water (it should sizzle when it hits the pan), then stir in kidney beans, green bell peppers, hot sauce (if using), and spice mix. Thoroughly combine ingredients. Turn up heat to high and bring to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to low again, quickly cover pot with a tightly fitting lid, and simmer for 40 minutes. IMPORTANT: To perfectly cook the rice and maximize its fluffiness, do NOT, under any circumstances, lift the lid and peek at the rice while it's cooking. Only after the 40 minutes is up should you check the rice to see if it's ready. If necessary, use a clear (glass lid) so that won't be tempted to peek. :) When rice is done, remove from heat. At this point, the water should be fully absorbed and all of the rice grains should've split open. Rice should be fluffy, not dry or sauce-like. If grains are still hard and haven't yet split, add another 2 cups of water and cook for another 15-20 minutes or so. Allow rice to steam, uncovered and undisturbed, for 5-10 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Gently fluff with a fork. (For a more authentic consistency, you can mash the beans with a fork.) Garnish with parsley and serve hot.
Yield: 3-4 servings.
Chef's Notes: *Tabasco sauce or other hot pepper sauce can be substituted for the cayenne pepper sauce in a pinch.
**Chipotle pepper can be used as a substitute for the smoky flavor that would typically be provided by porcine products. :)
Please note: If you'd rather use dried red (kidney) beans instead, you'll have measure out about 1/2 lb. dried beans, and then soak them overnight in a large bowl of water. (The ratio of water to beans should be 2:1.) They'll also need to be boiled in water for about 2-3 hours (!) to soften them before combining them with the other ingredients. And this, my friends, is why my recipe calls for canned beans. :)
Also, avoid using stale dried beans, because they either won't disintegrate or will take a lifetime to do so. I realize that the expression, "stale dried beans" might seem like an oxymoron, but even dried beans can get stale to the point of being über-rock-hard and unusable. (Plus, they'll be completely unpalatable as well.) The hallmark of well-made red beans and rice is a nice thick sauce-like consistency, and the beans need to be broken down as they're cooked in order to achieve this. If your beans don't break down, you can always use an emulsion blender, or mash the beans and add them back to the pot, but of course, it's easier to just use dried beans that haven't been in your kitchen pantry for ten eons. :)
If you're going for a super authentic end product, go with Camellia red (kidney) beans, a popular new Orleans brand used for this dish. Southerners will obviously have more luck finding this brand locally. However, this product can be ordered online, directly from their company website. However, when you factor in shipping, it actually costs less to order them directly from Amazon.com. To ship a 1 lb. bag, which costs $2.49, Camellia's site charges $10.20! For the same 1 lb. bag at a more or less comparable price, one Amazon third-party vendor charges $6.20. (Third party vendors aren't eligible for free shipping using Amazon Prime.) However, the best deal is to buy directly from Amazon.com, so you can use Amazon Prime. The only option I saw was to order 6 2-lb. bags for $20.70. Of course, when you buy in bulk, the unit price is less expensive, at 11¢ per oz., as compared to 18¢ per oz. if you were to buy a 1 lb. bag from the aforementioned third-party Amazon.com vendor. Then again, if you buy 6 2-lb. bags, you'll have to make a lot of dishes using red beans. :) However, dried beans will keep for a long while, so it's not like they'll be spoiling anytime soon.
Alternate cooking methods: You can also make this recipe in a slow cooker (i.e., a crock pot). Since I haven't yet made it this way, I'm not going to provide precise instructions at present, although I guestimate that the process will take somewhere around 6-8 hours on low heat and about 3-4 hours on high heat, in order to fully cook the dish in this manner. (In general, when you're cooking rice in a slow cooker, just remember that the harder the grain of rice that you use, the longer it will take to cook. For example, white rice will cook faster than brown or black, which have a tough outer hull, and therefore take longer to cook) Also, the order that you add the ingredients during cooking would be very similar. At some point, I'll try using a slow cooker, and will then update the instructions at that point.