Bowled Over

Grain bowls. Lately I’ve been inspired by the idea of stacking food delicately into a small, fetching bowl. At its heart, a healthy grain or rice forms the base, then a good dose of well-flavored vegetables are arranged atop, with a smaller amount of protein tucked in for a balance meal in a bowl.

The concept hits all the right notes, it’s quick and easy. A bowl holds less food than a plate, and it’s a great way to round up a flavorful meal with odds and ends—or leftovers, in some circles. Of course the creative license to mix and match at will is powerful. There are no rules. Better than that, break the rules!

The key to the grain bowl’s success is to have a supply of pre-cooked rice or a grain such as farro, barley, or quinoa ready to go. For example, spoon a healthy amount of your grain or rice into a small, tall bowl, top with a generous handful of a pre-mixed blend such as spinach, pak choi, and mustard greens, fill in with a poached or fried egg to break up, much in the manner of a sauce.  Finish with some fresh herbs and a big punch of flavor, the likes of harissa or gochujang.

This past weekend I was on fire, filled with the anticipation of throwing together my own grain bowl.  A little low on supplies, I had only millet, but it was a fine start when simmered with a dash of turmeric and a bay leaf. Mostly, I was excited to take advantage of my latest rhubarb chutney, waiting for its own 15-minutes of fame.

At the farmers market I picked up a couple of beautiful zucchini and a few gorgeous carrots, a nice combo for a quick veggie add-on. In the fridge I had a small pork tenderloin. This was coming together more like a banquet that a small meal in a bowl. But, it’s the weekend!

When dinnertime rolled around I was running late, getting very hungry, and certainly glad this was going to be a fast, easy meal.  The pork was quickly rubbed with olive oil, Moroccan spice, salt and pepper.  I gave it fast sear and popped it in a 400° oven for about 25 minutes. While that was happening I deglazed the pan and made a quick sauce flavored with harissa.

The zucchini and carrots were quickly sliced into ribbons, tossed with a few drops of sesame oil and garam masala. Opa! We’ve got big flavors everywhere!  About 5 to 7 minutes before the pork was done, I added the veggies to the roasting pan and tossed them lightly with a little of the pan juices.  Once out of the oven, the tenderloin was tented for a few minutes to rest before slicing.Pork grain bowl

I had just enough time to pull it all together. It was then, that I was faced with the truth. A charming, small bowl would not do justice to the fine collection now waiting to be plated—or bowled, if that is a word.

This was worthy of a pasta bowl, of the first order.  Facing reality, I spread the thinnest possible layer of millet into the bottom of the bowl.  One of the grain bowl rules is to use more vegetables than protein. I smartly swirled a portion of the zucchini and carrots across the millet, allowing for three lovely medallions to arc around the corner, and finished the pork with a drizzle of the harissa sauce.  Rounding out the bowl, a small handful of spicy Asian greens became a mere place holder for the honored rhubarb chutney—and of course, a sprig of cilantro.

Good news!  No heartburn, or negative reaction to the epic grain bowl.  Delicious, all of it!

Epic Grain Bowl with Pork Medallions and Harissa Sauce

Ingredients
For the Pork
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pork medallion
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Moroccan spice
salt and pepper
For the Harissa Sauce
1 cup beef stock, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon harissa paste
salt and pepper to taste
For the Vegetables
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon garam masala
For the Millet
1 cup millet
3 cups water
salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
To Finish
1 cup Spicy Asian Greens (spinach, pak choi, mustard greens)
½ cup rhubarb chutney
few sprigs cilantro

Directions

  1. For the millet, combine the millet, the turmeric, bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for approximately 35 minutes, until water is absorbed.  Set aside to cool.
  2. For the pork, rub the pork with olive oil, then with Moroccan spice, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet with coconut oil over high heat and sear pork on all side, about 5 minutes. Remove to baking pan and roast at 400° for approximately 25 minutes.
  3. For the harissa sauce: deglaze saute pan with ½ cup of the beef stock, let it cook down briefly while scraping the bottom of pan. Add the remaining ½ cup stock combined with 1 teaspoon cornstarch.  Add the harissa sauce and let reduce. Taste for seasoning add salt and pepper as need.  Keep warm.
  4. For the vegetables:  using peeler or spiralizer thinly slice zucchini and carrot into long strands.  Toss with sesame oil and garam masala.  About 5-7 minutes before pork is done, add veggies to the roasting pan. Toss with the pan juices and heat.
  5. Remove the pork and veggies, tent with foil and allow to rest briefly while preparing grain bowl.
  6. To finish: re-heat the millet and spoon into the bottom of bowl. Spread vegetables over half of the top. Slice the pork into ½” or thicker medallions.  Nestle in the pork and drizzle with a little of the harissa sauce.  Add a small handful of greens and top with a dollop of Rhubarb Chutney.  Add a sprig of cilantro and enjoy. Yield: 2 or more servings.

Entertaining Rhubarb

For years we had a rhubarb plant tucked in an obscure corner of the back yard.  We gave it little thought other than to acknowledge its intended purpose. The rhubarb stood heel-to-heel with a huge holly bush, our sentries assigned to guard a tiny crawl space under the house.

No one ever fell into the well, thanks to the prickly holly and its partner the rhubarb, whose large wide leaves served as great visual cover. When winter arrived, the rhubarb would fade away and return the following spring to rise up and do its job all over again.

At one point early on, I got to wondering about the rhubarb long enough to learn that its leaves are poisonous due to high levels of oxalyic acid.  After that, I viewed it with caution and never entertained the idea of bringing it into the house. When rhubarb was listed on menus I would pass. I was not interested—besides, there were plenty of other good things to eat.

All of that changed recently when a friend dropped off a few stalks of rhubarb, proudly sharing the latest in spring offerings from his garden.  We got to talking about rhubarb in chutney, which he claimed delicious.

Chutney! The magic word.  Before I knew it, I was firing up my Instant Pot pressure cooker ready to see how fast I could whip up my own batch. These rhubarb stalks were small and tender, unike the big thick hummers that I recall. I could have used one of my many chutney recipes, but rhubarb’s sour bent makes it quirky.

I opted for a Bon Appetit recipe from April 1994 from Epicurious.  Still, I tweaked it, cut it in half (the reluctant one here), and added a Gala apple for a touch of natural sweetness to counteract the astringency of the rhubarb.

Thanks to my glorious pressure cooker, chutney which normally takes 40 minutes or longer to cook down was out of the pot and stored in its own container in under 30 minutes. As with other chutneys, an overnight rest will blend and further improve flavors.

This rose colored chutney is complex and nuanced—I am certainly a believer now, and I will return to the well! All channels are open for rhubarb.

 Rhubarb-Apple Chutney, 15-Minute Pressure Cooker

Inspired by a Bon Apétit recipe from 1994, via Epicurious.

Ingredients
1/3 cup white or brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peel and grate
2 teaspoons garlic, peel and mince
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh rhubarb, about 1 pound in cut into small cubes
1 gala apple, peel, seed, chop into small cubes
1/2 cup red onion, small chop
2 tablespoons dried cranberries

Directions

  1. Heat the brown sugar, cider vinegar and flavorings through the dried red pepper flakes until the brown sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Set pressure cooker for 5 minutes, allow the pressure to reduce naturally for about 5 minutes and use the quick release.
  3. It will be slightly separated. Mash or press with a spoon to break up chunks and forms a cohesive sauce.  Allow to cool and chill overnight if time allows.  Yield: about 2 cups.

The Ultimate in Slow Cooking:  Meet the Instant Pot

I received a new gadget for my birthday.  Actually, this unit is beyond any gadget previously known to man. For some, the latest Instant Pot could represent a state-of-the-art crockpot. To others it’s a digital pressure cooker, or a reliable rice cooker, a steamer, or a sauté pan.  In fact, it does all of that and much more—with precision and ease.

No, I’m not being paid to review or promote the Instant Pot, I am just another huge advocate of its approach to sustainable and healthy cooking.  My 5-quart pot uses only 900 watts of electricity.  In comparison, if you’ve analyze other appliances in your kitchen, you know that a toaster can easily burn up 1800 watts.

In the Instant Pot’s many digital cooking applications the real turning point for me was the realization that I could brown or sauté vegetables or meats before launching into slow cook or other modes.  I have shared a number of wonderful slow cook recipes here, and my sole reservation to crockpot cooking has been that without the browning of meats and vegetables dishes can become one-dimensional.  The luxury of combining the browning step into the slow cook method opens up all sorts of possibilities previously unavailable in most models.

On the pressure cooking side, I was relieved at the fail-safe measures built into the system.  Following simple directions, even the quick method of releasing steam is safe and near foolproof.  Now, I often use the very fast pressure cooking method as a highly convenient option, without angst or intimidation.

For the tiny kitchen, the Instant Pot is paramount to having an entire stove top and a fleet of pots and pans available for daily cooking needs. It can be used to simply simmer or boil as you would on the stove.  The heavy duty stainless steel liner is easy to clean, and it is of course dishwasher safe.

One of my first attempts at tackling the Instant Pot was to prepare a lovely barley risotto of sorts. In this case the barley was pre-cooked, allowing for an easy 1 hour slow cook. Delicious on its own, it became the backdrop for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Spring Garlic Scapes

Ingredients
2 slices bacon, chop
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, peel and mince
6 oz. cremini mushrooms, clean, slice
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh sage
1-1/2 cups cooked pearl barley
½ cup tender green garlic scapes/shoots, or green onion, chop
2 cups beef broth, approximate
½ cup baby tomatoes, slice in half
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh parsley, chop
Accompaniment:  ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese, optional

Directions

  1. Heat the pot to sauté medium, brown the bacon in a drizzle of olive oil and remove.
  2. Add the shallot and cook to soften, then add the herbs and stir until aromatic. Add a portion of the beef broth, stir to deglaze the bottom the pan and loosen any surface bits.
  3. Add the barley and the remaining broth, stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer. Reduce to slow cook medium and cook covered for an hour, until the barley is creamy and thick.
  4. Add the garlic scapes or green onion, baby tomatoes, cook an additional 15 minutes to heat.  Stir in fresh parsley, the reserved bacon, and serve.  Pass the parmesan cheese.  Serves 4

Note: to pre-cook barley, allow 1:3 ratio barley to liquid. Bring to a boil, cover and cook 35 minutes.

Donut Holes—Made Easy

Yes, donut holes with all of the taste, none of the frying, and cute enough to warrant packing one away in each cheek. The real secret to these light, cakelike bites is the coating of cinnamon-sugar that’s held firmly in place by a whisper of butter thinly brushed onto their exteriors while still warm.

Muffins are one of the easiest quick breads to bake, and actually benefit from the least amount of handling. Dust off a mini-muffin pan or two and bake up a batch in absolutely no time. As with any cake donut, we want the contrast of crispy exteriors and light interiors. Here are a few tips to get you there.

For even distribution and rising, sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Over stirring makes tough cone-topped donuts. Combine the liquid ingredients separately and add all at once to the dry ingredients in as few strokes as possible. A few lumps are fine. For consistent cup filling, use a small ½-ounce scoop; a tablespoon will also work.

Muffins are done when they are well-rounded with a light golden color and the centers spring back when pressed. For maximum crispiness do not cool in pan. Run a knife around edges to loosen and turn out onto cooling rack.

While warm lightly brush each donut hole all over with butter and roll in cinnamon-sugar.  Let rest 15 minutes to allow sugar coating to crystalize, and have at it!

Donut Hole Muffins

Ingredients
1½  cups all-purpose flour
2   tablespoons cornstarch
1½  teaspoons baking powder
½   teaspoon salt
½   teaspoon nutmeg
1   egg
⅓   cup vegetable oil
½   cup granulated sugar
¾   cup milk
Topping
¼   cup butter, melted
½   cup sugar
1   teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° and thoroughly coat mini muffin cups with cooking spray.
  2. Sift flour, cornstarch, and baking powder into a medium sized mixing bowl.  Add the salt and nutmeg and mix well.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, oil, sugar, and milk.  Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients just to combine.
  4. Using ½-ounce scoop or a tablespoon, fill the cups with batter and bake for 20 minutes, until they begin to turn golden brown and the tops spring back when pressed. Turn muffins out onto cooling rack.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small wide bowl. One at a time, lightly brush each muffin all over with melted butter and then roll in the cinnamon sugar. Place on baking rack and repeat. Allow to set up about 15 minutes and serve.  Yield: 24-30 donut holes.

Layered Lentil Salad—in a Jar

If you are looking for ways to add more salad to your life here’s a fun, make-ahead solution that even includes its own dressing!

Photo by Danbury Poage

Pull out a wide mouthed Mason jar, pour in a little salad dressing, then pack in ingredients—layering heavier items on bottom and ending with more fragile vegetables and lettuce on top.  While at it, make a few extra to pull out as needed; they will hold several days in the fridge without lettuce becoming soggy.

The star of this salad is the nuanced peppery le Puy lentil, a firm, dark green variety that holds its shape very well.  They can be found in better grocery stores and in most bulk food sections; but if not available substitute garbanzo beans.

Radishes, fennel or celery are all excellent salad companions here, along with contrasting narrow strips of young zucchini.  At the base of the salad dressing, a spicy or grainy mustard not only provides a bright bite, it also acts as an emulsifier to bind the dressing from separation while it stands.

Photo by Danbury Poage

When ready, give the salad a good shake and empty contents into a pasta bowl or other wide bowl.  Toss well to distribute dressing and enjoy.

Layered Lentil Salad in a Jar

Ingredients
2 to 3 tablespoons Mustard Dressing (see below) or favorite salad dressing
¼ cup thinly sliced fennel or celery, or a combination with a few fronds or leaves
¼ cup radishes (about 8), cut lengthwise in eighths
⅓ cup le Puy lentils, cooked, or garbanzo beans
3 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup cherry tomatoes, halved + 3 sliced Kalamata olives
½ baby zucchini, cut into spirals or shaved strips with a potato peeler
1-2 cups mesclun, or other lettuce blend
1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seed
Mustard Dressing (enough for 3- 4 servings)
2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
3 tablespoons Spicy Brown or Grainy mustard
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
salt and pepper
⅓ cup olive oil

3-4 cup wide mouth Mason jar
Pasta bowl or other large wide bowl
 
Directions 

  1. To prepare dressing, combining vinegar, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper, then add the olive oil and whisk or shake until thorough incorporated.
  2. In a mason jar pour in 2 to 3 tablespoons dressing.
  3. Pack ingredients in individual layers in the order listed. Substitute similar items as desired, placing heavier, denser on bottom, followed by beans and proteins, then softer ingredients, and finish with lettuce or sprouts.  Serves 1.

Scones: fresh from the oven!

A beautiful scone beats a biscuit hands down—in my humble opinion. For most Southerners, those could very well be fighting word.  But, since this is my blog, I will continue.  Scones make a handy quick bread for breakfast, a special brunch, or an afternoon snack with tea.  These have real character. Their rough-hewn shape shouts, ‘Hearty country, made with love! Fresh from the oven!’

Blueberries are outstanding in these scones, but they also worthy of Oregon’s Marionberries or even pitted cherries.  In this batch I’ve substituted ¾-cup whole wheat flour for ¾-cup all-purpose flour, and for fruit, dried cranberries and apricots.  Dried fennel, other herbs and spices are obvious additions, whether in lieu of fruit or as a complement.

Scones are a snap to make with a food processor, but I have made them using 2 knives to cut the butter into the flour—much like making a pie dough.  Beyond that, it’s a simple matter of stirring the liquid into dry and forming the dough into two loaves, with the least amount of possible fuss.

The secret to light scones is minimal handling and a moderately hot oven for fast rising.  To do this, quickly form into two rounds and score the tops—instead of shaping individually.  Cool briefly before slicing into portions and enjoy hot with butter, jam, or straight up.  Store whole loaves lightly wrapped, reheat, and cut to order. For more ideas, check out the variations that follow.

Basic Scones

Ingredients
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup chilled butter cut into small chunks, or shortening
2 large eggs, beaten with enough milk to equal 2/3 cup
Optional finishing for tops:  2-3 tbsp. milk, 2-3 tbsp. demerara or cinnamon-sugar

Directions

  1. Butter a baking sheet or line with silpat. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. In a mixing bowl sift the flour through salt.
  3. Using a food processor or 2 knives, cut the butter into flour mix until it becomes a grainy texture.
  4. Make a well in the center of the butter-flour and pour in the egg-milk liquid. Stir briefly to bring ingredients together and fold in fruit or other additions if using (details below).
  5. Turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead if shaggy and form a round. Divide mound in half and pat into 2-6″ rounds, about 3/4″ thick. Mark the tops into 5-6 wedges with a sharp knife.
  6. Place on a greased sheet. Brush the tops evenly with milk and dust with sugar. Bake at 375° approximately 20 minutes, until golden brown.  Yield: 10-12 scones.

Berry Variation
1 cup blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, etc. (fresh or frozen, defrosted)
2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
Dust the berries with flour and cinnamon. Gently add to the flour-fat mixture after the egg-milk liquid.  Proceed as directed.

Dried Fruit Variation:   to dough add 1 cup dried fruit such as cranberries, apricots, dates, cherries, or any combination

Jammer Variation
Score each round into 6-8 wedges.  Dust thumb with flour and press down into middle of each section, making 1/2″-3/4″ wide hole. Fill each impression with favorite jam (about 1/4 cup total).   Brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar and bake.  Serve hot.

Forget Dinner

I should have known better. I did not expect much, and I was wrong. Maria Speck’s book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals has been a reliable resource in my kitchen for quite a while now, and it has rarely let me down.

It’s one of those recipes I have considered on several occasions but moved on, opting for something else. Perhaps it is because she offers it as primarily a breakfast dish—and it needs an overnight soak. Apparently, I have trouble thinking that far ahead.  Sad.

Maria calls it an Anise Oatmeal Puff.  That sounds interesting. But then she adds an egg, clearly something I’ve had difficulty imagining. Well, for anyone who is a rice pudding fan, take another look.  You receive all the instant gratification, plus it’s made more nutritious with oats.

Maria and her family must surely like it, because her recipe makes enough for 8 stand-alone servings.  This morning I decided to test her idea. I would resize the dry mix and forgo the prescribed overnight soak method.

It’s another microwave wonder:  true bliss in under 5 minutes. Tasty, filling, entertaining, and fast. In fact, I would even make this for dinner—or dessert—and forget dinner.

In all fairness to Maria, I offer her original recipe from sister book Simply Ancient Grains, because it is probably worth making in batches and investing in the overnight soak.  However, if you are like me, and in your first excursion would prefer to pass on the wait, those adjustments also follow.

Anise Oatmeal Puff

Inspiration from Simply Ancient Grains, Maria Speck
 
Ingredients
Dry Oatmeal Mix – 8 servings
2 cups old fashion rolled oats or rolled grains
2/3 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
1 teaspoon crushed anise or fennel seeds
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Oatmeal Puff – per serving
1//3 – 1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon maple, agave, or other syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
A few grapes or other fruit such as fresh pear or apple, dried cranberries, dates or prunes
Powdered or cinnamon sugar for dusting, optional

Directions
Prepare the dry oatmeal mix and combine well.  Store airtight.
Allow per serving:

  1. The night before: In microwave safe mug or bowl place 1/3 cup dry oat mix with milk, syrup and vanilla. Cover and chill.
  2. The next morning: In a small bowl beat the egg with a fork until well blended.  Stir it into the mug mixture to combine.  Stir in 3-4 grapes or other fruit.
  3. Place mug in microwave and cook on high 1 minute 20 seconds – it will rise possibly above the rim, but will not spill over. It is done when a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Cook 10 seconds and test.  Let set a few minutes to firm up.  Top with more grapes, dust with cinnamon and serve.

Individual Anise Oatmeal Puff recipe for 1, without overnight soak

  1. In an ovenproof mug combine:
    1/3 cup quick oats
    1 tablespoon dried fruit: cranberries etc.
    Pinch crumbled anise seeds
    Scant 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  2. Add to the oats and mix well:
    1/3 cup milk
    1 tablespoon agave, maple, or other syrup
    Dash almond or vanilla extract
  3. To expedite soaking, warm mixture in microwave for about 40 seconds, stirring every 20 seconds to absorb some of the liquid and expand the oats, but not thoroughly heat.
  4. Beat 1 egg and incorporate in the oat mixture.
  5. Microwave a total of 1 minute and 20 seconds. Half way, rotate the cup for even rising. It is done when a pick or narrow knife inserted in center comes out nearly clean. Let rest about 3 minutes to set up.
  6. Top with a few fresh berries. If desired, sprinkle with powdered or cinnamon sugar.