Mole, please

With the changing seasons I’m already thinking of more robust meals and nothing makes my heart beat faster than a high flavored mole, the national dish of Mexico. This unique dish is a throw back to esteemed concoctions originally made by the Aztecs and later nuanced by the Spanish nuns of Puebla.

Mole!

A traditional mole sauce can vary in color from red to green and in-between, depending on what it contains and where it is made, but often includes a range of chiles, nuts, seeds, spices, fruits, and even chocolate.

With all of these moving parts, this complex labor of love can require a day or longer to create—thus, it is often held for special occasions. Once prepared, the triumphant sauce is simmered with chicken, turkey, pork, or beef and served with plenty of warm tortillas, local vegetables such as chayote or squash, and rice.

North of the border, we are more likely to come up with a compromise meal solution that’s attainable in far less time—but just as festive. We could 1) devise our own “simplified” sauce, perhaps include dried chiles, spices, peanut butter, and chocolate, 2) run to the closest local Mexican market for their prepared house blend, or 3) pull out a jar of Doña Maria Mole, a dense paste found at your local grocery store.

Doña Maria Mole Sauce helps makes an impressive meal—even mid-week.  I still like to dress it up with more garlic, chile powder and seasoning before adding the mole base. It needs copious thinning with stock or other liquid and then the sauce is simmered briefly to blend flavors.

Turkey Mole

Browned-off portions of chicken, pork, or beef—or my favorite, turkey breast—are added to the sauce and simmered until tender. If you have an Instant Pot, this entire project can be accomplished in about an hour.

As you would expect, mole actually improves overnight, and reheats beautifully.  The sauce thickens mightily and goes much further than you would expect. Like a good soup, extend with more water.

Mole, please

EZ Turkey Mole

Ingredients
turkey breast, 2-3 lbs. boned, with skin (or equivalent cut-up chicken, pork or beef)
½ tsp both salt and pepper, or more
1-2 Tbsp canola oil
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup liquid: coffee or water
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup prepared mole blend (such as Doña Maria Mole Mexican Sauce)
3-4 cups approx., stock or water to thin
1-2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds, ½ cup cilantro

Instructions

  1.  Season the turkey breast with salt and pepper, heat the oil in a pot over medium high and brown the breast on both sides,10-15 minutes total. Transfer to a holding plate.
  2. Reduce heat to medium/low. If necessary add enough oil to yield 1 tablespoon in pan. Stir in spices, then the garlic; cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add liquid, stir to loosen and combine pan drippings. Blend in the tomato paste.
  3. Stir in the mole base adding enough liquid to thin into a medium sauce. Adjust seasoning and bring to a simmer; it will continue to thicken as it cooks. Return the turkey breast (and any accumulated juices) to pot.
  4. Set Instant Pot for 20-30 minutes (9 mins/pound) with 10 minute release, or simmer on the stovetop 45-60 minutes, until tender.
  5. Adjust seasoning, it may need a touch of orange juice or sugar. Serve sliced portions with sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds and fresh cilantro. Pass warmed tortillas. Serves 4.

Singin’ the Blues

When you’ve got fresh blueberries the world looks brighter.

Fresh Blueberries

Here in the beautiful state of Oregon, I’m reminded of that fact—while across the state we are under siege from uncontained fires and COVID-19.

I can handle this. I am reminded I’ve survived the heat and turmoil of multiple hurricanes and their aftermath. Yet, after a week of approaching hellish fires capable of creating their own weather systems, we haven’t reached an end point. Thick, oppressive smog and particulates weaken our lungs—further exacerbating those threatened by the lurking COVID virus among us.

At this minute I am safe, and so I cook. I bake, use what I have on hand, and I keep it very simple. Lucky for me it’s blueberry season and in my cupboard I find cornmeal. A heavenly pair.

Food nourishes the spirit, the soul, and the body—and I become grateful as I cook. I give the gritty cornmeal a blast in the blender to eliminate any potential coarseness. It delivers a sweet earthy scent, a fine texture with a slight crunch.

I take my time, hand whisk the batter and meditate. It develops a gentle lightness, just enough to support the blueberries and allow them to float freely within. I love nutmeg with blueberries so I add a pinch for good luck. We need it.

Shareable Blueberry Cookies

I am rewarded with glorious, golden packages alive with juicy bites of blue goodness— shareable with neighbors.

Blueberry Cornmeal bite

I am restored. Life is beautiful… even in this bleak cloud.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cookies

Ingredients
4 Tbsp butter, softened
⅔ cup granulated sugar, or half brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 heaping Tbsp plain yogurt
¾ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup AP flour
⅔ cup fine cornmeal or polenta
½ tsp each baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
⅔ cup fresh blueberries

Instructions

  1. Combine the flour through salt on wax paper and set it aside. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat the butter until light and cream in the sugars. Beat in the egg, then the yogurt, and vanilla.
  3. Dust blueberries with a bit of the flour mix and set them aside.
  4. Fold the flour blend into the egg mixture, it will be thick. Gently add the blueberries.
  5. Drop rounded tablespoons of batter onto lined or sprayed baking sheet 1-2” apart. Bake 11-15 minutes, until raised, golden and set on top; don’t overbake. Let rest 2 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool.
  6. Can be sprinkled with turbinado sugar before baking or dusted with confectioners’ sugar after. Store covered. Yield: 18-20 cookies.

Free! Green Onions

There was little doubt that my latest science project would work, but I wanted to know how long it would take and whether it was worth the effort.

I’d been reading that green onions will grow indoors in a mere glass of water with roots attached. Now, that’s appealing.  Rather than throwing trimming away, I love the idea of recycling onions for another growth or two.

This summer my doorstep garden has kept up a steady supply of my favorite herbs, but I’ve missed fresh picked chives or green onions. When I returned home from grocery shopping with another bag of very healthy green onions, I was more than ready.

I got busy, grabbed a handful of green onions, chopped all the greens off, down into their whites and set the pile aside for later use.

Scallion starts

I located a small jar, perched the 2-inch rooted starts around the edge and poured an inch or so of filtered water into the bottom. Like most sun loving plants they do best with at least 6 hours of sun per day, and my summer kitchen window supplies that and more. They get a daily change of water and grow so fast it’s like having a live YouTube channel for entertainment.

Free scallions!

By the end of week one, the green onions had grown from 2-inch starts to 6-7 inch lengths. Now, that’s cause for celebration! I cut 4 onions down to 2-inches again.

Scallion Pancakes

Enough to make a batch of scallion pancakes.

Scallion Pancakes

Ingredients
½ cup AP flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Montreal Steak Seasoning or salt & pepper blend
2 Tbsp minced green onion
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup water, approx.
½ Tbsp canola oil

Instructions
1. In bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Add the minced green onion and blend well.
2. Beat the egg and stir into the flour.  Add enough water to form consistency of pancake batter.
3. Heat skillet over medium-high heat with oil.
4. Drop 1 tablespoon or more batter onto skillet, cook cakes until bubbles form on top, turn and cook 2-3 minutes per side.   Makes 6-12 cakes, depending on size.

Finish idea: top with thin sliced smoked salmon, salted yogurt, and a sprinkle of green onion.

Instant Ginger Beer, shockingly good

Summer coolers come in all sizes and shapes. Ginger beer is one of my favorites; I’m always on the lookout for an unusual one, and there are plenty—once you take notice.  Some are dark, sweet and spicy, while others are light and refreshingly tart.

Over this home-bound summer, I’ve gotten used to going with whatever food and drink is easily available.  While browsing old files recently, a short recipe caught my attention for an easy ginger-based drink. Labeled Indian Sparkling Panakam, it included ground dried ginger and very few other ingredients, with no resting or aging process needed.  An instant ginger drink.

I had the basics on hand so I gave it a try. I mixed dried powdered ginger, cardamom, a dash of salt, and lime juice together and combined it all with agave syrup.  Incredibly, the ginger syrup was full-flavored and packed a nice zap of heat.

Instant Ginger Beer

Either an individual glass or a full pitcher can be prepared by diluting the syrup to taste with sparkling or soda water. I was doubly excited as I am always ready for an opportunity to pull out my trusty soda syphon, on stand-by, poised and waiting in the fridge door.

A taster glass is a good way to check for flavor, balance, and sweetness. I pour one tablespoon of the ginger syrup into a glass and give it a short blast of soda water. The mixture suddenly comes alive, rises up out of nowhere, forming a brown, creamy head—an apparent reaction to the ginger. It calms down, I add more soda and have a taste.  For simple pantry items this is quite the concoction!

Since then, I’ve enjoyed this sassy ginger cooler at different times of the day with all manner of food.  It’s a bubbly and utterly refreshing instant spritzer.

Instant Ginger Beer 

A mildly sweet ginger drink; adjust to taste. Inspired by Sparkling Panakam from Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson.

Ingredients
¼ cup agave nectar or simple syrup
2 tsp ground ginger
⅛ tsp ground cardamom
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
⅛ tsp sea salt
4 cups seltzer, soda or sparkling water, chilled
ice cubes
Garnish:  mint, Thai basil, or lime slices

Instructions
1. Create the syrup in a container: combine ginger through sea salt and stir to dissolve, combine with agave.
2. For an individual glass, measure in 1-2 tablespoons of the syrup, add seltzer water to half fill, stir to muddle. Add ice, top off with more seltzer and garnish with basil, mint, or lime slice.
3. For a pitcher: place the syrup in a pitcher. Add a splash of seltzer and stir to dissolve. Add the remaining seltzer, stirring to mix well. Add more ice cubes to chill well. Garnish as desired. Serves 4, or 1 quart

This is personal…

The burger police say “No!” to rare hamburgers.  If I’m going to have a burger, I want it fat, juicy, and rare—not sawdust dry.

I’ve come up with a very workable solution. It requires a good quality, lean ground beef seasoned with a blend reminiscent of Spanish chorizo: equal amounts smoked paprika, garlic, thyme, salt and fresh ground pepper. It chills for a good 4 hours, as this needs time for the flavors to sink in and come together.

Seasoned beef

The meat is formed into thick patties—almost as thick as they are wide—call it ‘football’ shaped. They don’t need to be that big.  Just fat. The bread is moderately important—not a lot of it, a mere platform to hold the patty.

Actually, this small open-faced patty affair ends up becoming more like a bruschetta of sorts, also very good for appetizers and small party bites. This works for me because I can easily have T-W-O of them.

Bruschetta Burger

The toppings become key, because they are front and center. On the bottom, I like to spread a garlicy mayo or aioli. Then the hot grilled burger.  A crunchy finish is nice, like the previous charred corn salsa/salad.  A spoonful of avocado cream on the burger nails it and keeps it all together.

Just a bite….

A few microgreens are a nod to healthiness.

Bruschetta Burgers

Ingredients
1 lb excellent lean ground beef
1 tsp each: crushed garlic, smoked paprika, fresh thyme, sea salt, fresh ground pepper

1 medium baguette, sourdough, or other rustic bread
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp evoo

½ cup aioli, or ½ c mayonnaise or mashed avocado blended with 1 clove garlic, 1 tsp lemon juice
charred corn salsa
1 cup micro greens, ¼ cup sliced green onion

Instructions
For burgers, combine seasonings with burger meat and thoroughly blend. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours to blend flavors. Divide into 6 equal portions, shape into football shaped ovals and flatten slightly. Grill on medium hot grill 8-10 minutes for rare to medium-rare. They should be well seared, juicy and give lightly when pressed in center.

For bruschetta, cut bread at an angle into 12 ½” thick slices. Rub with garlic, brush with olive oil and grill to toast on both sides.

To assemble, set hot burger on bruschetta spread with aioli. Top with more aioli or avocado cream, finish with charred corn salsa and a dab of  microgreens and green onion. Makes 6 bruschetta.

Along comes Corn

Something was nagging at me as I headed into the home stretch, back from running errands. I ticked off my list, I was done and ready to get on with other business. Then it hit me.

It was corn.

Rumor had it that the neighborhood farm stand up the hill was selling fresh corn. Did I really want to go and see if it was true? Fresh corn sells out in a hurry.  I deliberated, and made a fast U-turn. Yes, it was worth it, nothing says “Welcome to Summer” like freshly picked corn.

freshly picked corn on the cob

Corn on the cob is fabulous, but I was also ruminating over a charred corn salad.  The basis was already in the fridge; it stemmed from 2 small fat red peppers picked from my new pimento plant.  Apparently, the same little peppers are dried and ground for paprika. They have a robust, sweet flavor with a slight heat—absolutely delicious.

Along with the luscious red pepper, there was crunchy fennel, celery, shallot and cucumber, plus fresh herbs and a light vinaigrette. Tasty, but I pictured it including charred corn.

With the beautiful fresh corn in tow, I returned home.  Later I fired up the grill and prepped the corn. I pulled back the husks, removed their loose silk, and twisted a handful of husk from each for convenient handles. Once well-heated, the corn goes on the grill.  The sound of popping corn is warning that the kernels are beginning to sear and near ready to turn. They are done when evenly charred on all sides.

After the corn cools, the kernels need to be carefully cut from the cob. To remove, hold the corn upright and slice downward from the top with a sharp chef’s knife.

Sweet roasted corn is addictive, it needs nothing.  Save one cup or more for the prepped salad; brighten with fresh lime and season to taste with more salt and pepper. For the height of enjoyment, serve the salad as soon as possible—but it’s still very good the next day.

Charred Corn Salad

This also makes a delicious salsa atop pork or grilled burgers; spice it up a bit more with hot pepper flakes. Add it to pasta for instant pasta salad…

Charred Corn Salad

Ingredients
½ cup fennel plus fronds, thin slice
½ cup celery plus leaves, thin slice
½ cup seedless cucumber, thin slice
½ cup red peppers, seed thin slice
½ cup shallots, or green onion, thin slice
⅓ cup cilantro, chop
2 Tbsp fresh herbs, such as thyme, marjoram, and/or savory
Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh herbs: thyme, marjoram and/or savory
¼ tsp each salt and pepper
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 ear corn, 1 cup charred kernels or more
1-2 Tbsp lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Prepare all vegetables except corn and toss with vinaigrette. Chill or set aside.
  2. To prep corn, peel the husk back and remove all silk. Save some of the husk to maneuver corn on grill.
  3. To roast the corn, heat outdoor or stovetop grill to medium/high to high. Place the corn on the grill with husks extending off the grill as a handy handle. Turn corn as needed to roast kernels on all sides; this will take 5-10 minutes depending on grill and heat. Remove the corn, and cool.
  4. To remove kernels, stand corn upright on board or in wide bowl and run a chef’s knife down the length of the corn, quickly cutting the corn off the cob and turning until all corn has been removed.
  5. Add the fresh roasted corn to the marinating vegetables and toss well. Drizzle with fresh lime juice, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. For salsa, add a bit more lime juice and spice it up with hot pepper flakes to taste. Serve fresh or chill. Makes 4 cups.

In Defense of Fat

This is a follow up to the previous post on keto-friendly Tomato Sauce.  In the process of developing and writing about the sauce from a higher fat, low carb perspective I realized my approach to fat has changed.

There was a time when fat was considered the enemy and popular nutrition made a shift away from fatty foods to no-fat, fat-free, and low fat alternatives. It took quite a while before we could accept that this wasn’t a solid nutritional solution and substituting fat for sugar or other chemical derivatives had its own problems. So I avoided fat as much as possible.

Somewhere along the line I finally grasped the concept that fat serves a purpose. I knew that fat made things taste better, but still held out, looking for ways to up my flavors without fat.  Then, I slowly and selectively eased unsaturated oils (and yes, butter) back into my cooking and noticed improved appearance, texture and flavor—in everything from salad dressing to cookies and cakes.

Fats serve many purposes. Current science tells us we need good fats for energy, that some vitamins and minerals actually need fat for the body to absorb and process them; that fatty acids can fight depression, improve eye care, and brain health.  Fats can improve blood cholesterol levels, protect our organs, and decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It gets confusing when sorting out the good from the bad fats. Rule of thumb on daily intake: 20-35% of total calories. Other than manufactured trans fats, it’s all good in moderation. Moving from best to worst: monounsaturated fat (15-20% of daily calories), polyunsaturated fat (5-10%), saturated fat (less than 10%), trans fats (none).

Take tahini for instance.  It’s a nut butter made from sesame seeds that’s high in omega-6 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fat.  (1 tablespoon has 89 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams carbs, 8 grams fat, 2 grams fiber.)

It is all relative.

Tahini is not an oil, but it is oil-rich and a fortress of nutritional value. It is loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins B and E, and minerals including copper, phosphorous, selenium, iron, zinc, calcium. It’s good for the blood, bones, and the body, plus it aids in fighting heart disease and cancer.  Call it pro-active.

Here’s a quirky example of a bar that turns a simple sweet into an nutritional powerhouse.

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

It’s built with bland white beans, rich in minerals including potassium, and fiber for structure. Tahini is included for nutty richness, fiber, and moisture.  Chocolate looks like a candidate for flavor, but we opt for a small amount of cocoa powder.  It’s all we need, we can utilize tahini’s flavorful oil base to enrich the cocoa and bring it fully alive.

The result: a moist, mysterious fiber-rich bar with all the charm of a light butterscotch-amped blondie laced with cocoa nuttiness for sex appeal. What’s not to love?

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

Ingredients
⅓ cup AP flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
15 oz can white beans, rinse & drain, @ 1 cup mashed
1 Tbsp butter
⅓ cup each brown and granulated sugar
½ cup tahini
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp demerara sugar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Line 8×8” pan with foil and spray well.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa power, baking powder and salt, set aside
  3. In 1 cup microwaveable measure, melt butter, stir in sugar, heat 30-60 seconds to melt. Transfer to mixing bowl and cool briefly.
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  5. Meanwhile, mash beans well and set aside.
  6. Stir the tahini into the cooled butter/sugar mixture. Whisk in the eggs, then vanilla. Stir in the beans. Mix in the dry ingredients to lightly combine.
  7. Evenly spread batter into baking pan and sprinkle top with demerara sugar.
  8. Bake 20-30 minutes until set in center. Cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove foil and bars to rack and cool 10- 15 minute longer. Cut into bars; these should be light and moist but not gooey. Store lightly covered in fridge. Yield 12-16 bars

Tomato Sauce, Keto-style

When my daughter Shannon recently sent her favorite recipe for Five Minute Keto Pizza I was off and running.  She has long been a keto fan, and a terrific source of the latest information.

Ketogenics is not new; it was developed nearly 100 years ago at the Mayo Clinic as a treatment for epilepsy.  It has gained a huge following by those interested in weight loss or other heath issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, epilepsy, and more. The keto diet focuses on the restriction of carb-rich foods, forcing the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates, resulting in a metabolic state of ketosis.

Turns out the pizza crust is made with eggs for protein, psyllium husk for fiber, and Parmesan cheese. The blended mixture thickens to form a bread-like base when cooked in an oil lined skillet for a couple of minutes.  Rao’s Tomato Sauce and mozzarella cheese are spread on and quickly broiled. Its fast!

No doubt this is a good recipe for those seriously interested in adhering to the keto program as ingredients and quantities are set out to meet specific criteria. On the hunt for psyllium husk, I found a small vaguely marked bag in the back of a cupboard.  I wasn’t sure if it was a powder form or whole, and this matters when it comes to the gut and intestinal processes.  I set it aside for later.

I turned my attention to the sauce;  as a recipe developer this looked like a good challenge.  Unlike other fruit, tomatoes are considered keto-friendly, thanks to their low sugar net carb status. Who knows what Rao had in mind, but I could surely make a homemade tomato sauce that stays within keto boundaries—and acceptable to me.

I zeroed in on Bagna Cauda, the incredible “hot bath” from Italy’s Piedmont region traditionally made with copious amounts of olive oil plus butter. It’s simmered with loads of garlic and anchovies and served as a hot dip, fondue-style. I would begin there. For a win/win, I’d cut back on the oil and butter and substitute a heritage tomato such as a San Marzano or Oregon Spring.

There are so few ingredients in this sauce, each one is important.  It needs a fruity, full flavored extra virgin olive oil, at least 1 clove garlic per serving, and red pepper flakes for a hit of heat. The anchovies give a mysterious umami boost, any fishiness fades to the background, and it’s not too salty.  The tomatoes should be thin-skinned, meaty, low in acid, with few seeds. If using a canned San Marzano, look for one with no sugar added.

Simple Tomato-Bagna Cauda Sauce

As the bagna cauda base and tomatoes simmer away, they break down together and develop into a richly rounded sauce. Serve with chicken, fish, pasta, or pizza.

Tomato-Bagna Cauda Sauce

Ingredients
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, mash and mince
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
8 anchovy fillets, dice
4-6 large heirloom tomatoes such as San Marzano, chop
salt and pepper
1-2 Tbsp fresh basil, torn

Instructions

  1. Heat a wide pot over medium-low, cook olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and anchovies. Slowly cook; mashing the anchovies until melted, smooth, and aromatic, 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, partially cover set to a low simmer an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until thick. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in fresh basil. Makes 2 cups or more.

 

Five Minute Keto Pizza

Source: Ruled.me
Ingredients
2 large Eggs
2 tbsp. Parmesan Cheese
1 tbsp. Psyllium Husk Powder
1/2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
Salt to Taste
2 tsp. Frying Oil (I use bacon fat)
1.5 oz. Mozzarella Cheese
3 tbsp. Rao’s Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp. Freshly Chopped Basil

Directions

  1. In a bowl or container, use an immersion blender to mix together all pizza crust ingredients.
  2. Heat frying oil in a pan until hot, then spoon the mixture into the pan. Spread out into a cirlce.
  3. Once edges are browned, flip and cook for 30-60 seconds on the other side. Turn the stove off, and turn the broiler on.
  4. Add tomato sauce and cheese, then broil for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is bubbling.

Mushroom Cookies, seriously

If you like playing with your food, here is one entertaining cookie.  I’ve made them several times now and find them totally irresistible, both to eat and to make.  Similar to a sand cookie, these pale small batch bites have a light flavor and texture—and yes, they visually resemble fresh mushrooms.

Mushroom Cookies

This version is inspired by Turkish Mushroom Cookies found at the resourceful blog, My Excellent Degustations.  This past spring I liked including a few as a charming surprise tucked amid a basket of assorted cookies.

The dough mixes up easily into a soft pliable dough. There is a simple trick to forming their quirky mushroom shape—one that kids of all ages can pull off.

First, locate a small glass beverage bottle with a screw top. Dip the bottle rim into water, then in cocoa powder, and gently punch into the center of a small round of dough. Remove the bottle and you will have created a freshly harvested mushroom, stem and all.

That’s it!  These are best when kept to under a 1” sized round as they will spread; a batch should yield 18 cookies. They hold very well when stored airtight.

Mushroom Cookies, Small Batch

Ingredients
¾ cup AP flour + 2 Tbsp
¼ cup + 3 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
¼ cup + 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
1½ tsp vanilla
½ cup water
1 Tbsp cocoa
Tools/Props: 1 small screw topped glass beverage bottle

Instructions
1.  Sift flour, cornstarch, and baking powder and set aside.
2.  Cream the butter and beat in the sugar until light, then the egg.
3.  Mix in half the dry ingredients; then mix in the vanilla. Add the remaining dry. It should form a soft smooth dough. If sticky chill for 20
minutes.
4.  Line 1-2 baking sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll dough into 1” rounds, using rounded teaspoon, and set 1-2” apart; these will
expand.
5.  Place water and cocoa in 2 small bowls. Dip the rim of bottle in water and then in cocoa. Press the rim into each round to form the stem and mark
it with cocoa/dirt.  Repeat with all. Wipe the bottle top to form clean bond between cookies.
6.  Bake 14-18 minutes, until set but not colored. Cool on rack. Makes 18 cookies.

Forbidden Rice for Everyone

Here’s a rice with benefits worth knowing about. Yes, rice is a staple in much of the world—it comes in a variety of strains from white, to brown, and even black.  I’m late coming to the rice party, perhaps reluctant, in thinking it lacked nutritional value. That was until I became acquainted with black rice.

Forbidden Rice

Black rice, often referred to as Emperor’s Rice in China, harkens back to ancient times when it was prized for its medicinal attributes and thought to contribute to longevity.  So rare, it was reserved as tribute food for those of the highest status.

Times have changed and these days strains of black rice are available throughout Asia—where it is recognized as a source of anthocyanins, those coveted antioxidant wielding phytochemicals found in blueberries and acai. Interestingly, its black color transforms into a muted purple when cooked.

Black rice is considered a whole grain since the husk and germ remain in tact. It has more fiber and protein than brown rice and is also gluten-free. Studies have found black rice may reduce cancer, act as an anti-inflammatory, and even help with memory functions. Its toasty flavor and chewy texture are reminiscent of wild rice.

On the stove top, black rice can take up to an hour to cook, but I’ve come up with a more efficient method. I discovered Forbidden Rice from Lotus Foods, a heritage black rice that cooks in 30 minutes and now available in most well stocked markets.

Soaking rice also reduces cooking time. It’s worth noting than many sources believe the addition of an acid such as lemon juice during the soaking process is helpful in removing phytic acid, which can inhibit mineral absorption.

Steamed Forbidden Rice

In tandem with presoaking, steaming black rice in the Instant Pot or other pressure cooker can cut cooking time down to a mere 12 minutes. Once the pot is disconnected, a 6 minute natural release of pressure has just enough residual heat to finish the cooking process and allow a brief rest to separate and swell the rice.

Zucchini Rice Patties

The prepared rice is ready to use in any recipe calling for cooked rice. Forbidden Rice is not regarded as a sticky rice, but it does hold together when necessary. Here, Zucchini Rice Patties assemble quickly for a  tasty appetizer, a nutritious side dish, or entrée. They shine with a squeeze of lemon, or dress them up with raita or other light yogurt sauce.

They are even good the next day topped with an egg.

Zucchini Rice Patties

Ingredients
1 medium zucchini or summer squash, (1 generous cup, grated)
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp green onion, fine chop
2 Tbsp parsley or 1 tsp fresh minced thyme, dill or fennel fronds
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup cooked black, brown, or white rice (see below)
¼ cup flour + ½ tsp baking powder, approx.
2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil

Instructions

  1. Place grated zucchini and salt in a strainer lined with paper toweling or a coffee filter to draw out excess liquid. Let drain 30 minutes and squeeze well.
  2. Combine the zucchini with green onion and herbs; add the egg, salt and pepper. Lightly blend in the rice. Stir in enough flour and baking powder to thicken and bind.
  3. Divide heaping tablespoons into 6-8 rounds and shape into patties.
  4. Heat skillet over moderate heat with enough oil to coat bottom of pan. Add patties, gently flatten and cook 3 minutes per side until lightly browned. Drain on toweling. Cook in batches if necessary. Makes 6-8 patties.
  5. Serve with lemon, raita or yogurt herb sauce.

To presoak Forbidden Rice
1 cup Forbidden Rice
1 cup water
1 Tbsp lemon juice (optional)
Rinse and drain rice.
Combine lemon juice and water and pour over the rice.  Cover and let stand 7-8 hours. Use as is or rinse and drain.

To cook soaked Forbidden Rice in Instant Pot
1¾ cup water, divided
pinch salt
Lower trivet into liner; pour in 1 cup water and set pot to Sauté Normal to begin preheating.
In a heat proof dish or steamer, spread the soaked rice in bottom and add a pinch of salt; barely cover it with ¾ cup water. Cover with foil or a lid and set on trivet.
Seal pot and manually set to Hi Pressure for 12 minutes. When complete, turn off pot and disconnect; let pressure release naturally for 6 minutes. Carefully remove lid and lift out cooking container.
Fluff rice with fork and proceed as needed. Yields 3-4 cups.